State Park Adventures + Tips for Camping with Little Ones

COVID or not, one thing that luckily hasn’t changed in the past few months is our love of exploring a new trail in the mountains or an untouched beach here in North Carolina. Both options are just a few hours east and west of us. Through the State Parks here, we’ve learned about the Neuse River Waterdog, a species only found in the Neuse River, the state’s gold history, the saddening effects of pollution at Mt. Michell— the the highest point in the Appalachian Mountains, and so much more. Our tent has become our second home and we’ve discovered camping to be such a wonderfully fun, affordable way to explore a new place together and fully absorb each season for what it offers. During this time, when especially here in the Southern part of the U.S., people are exploring close to home, I thought I’d share a random collection of photos from the past year exploring state parks, along with a few tips for camping with small children. I hope this inspires you to catch our camping bug and I’m happy to answer any questions. 

Camping thoughts and tips:

Just do it! Just like any hobby, there is a learning curve for camping and especially camping with kids. Plan a weekend camping trip close to home and just to do it. You’ll get better, more organized, and relaxed each time. 

Relax on the bedtime and routine. Sleeping in a tent is an exciting thing for small children. Or it might be scary if you’re getting some bad weather. It’s in your best interest not to rush them to bed. Tire them out, take your time with the bedtime, and you’re more likely to succeed in getting them to sleep. Our kids rarely go to sleep before 9 pm during these trips. And if we’ve had a sleepless night, there’s nothing like a dewy morning with the prospect of hot coffee and breakfast outside to ease the tiredness. 

Come up with camping traditions. There are a few little things we look forward to each camping trip. In hindsight, I suppose these little rituals help make for mostly smooth sailing camping trips. S’mores is definitely one of them! We also love reading this entire book throughout the weekend. 

Pack as streamlined as possible because no matter what, camping requires a lot of gear. Between the tent and sleeping bags, cooking tools, chairs, it can feel like you’ve packed the entire contents of your house. And we pack minimally! Look for ways to streamline. We do as much food prep as possible before leaving and aim to bring just the right amount of food. We don’t bring toys or any other sort of entertainment outside of a few paperback books for the road. Making a camping packing list helps with this.

Leave the toys and gadgets at home. See above, and as many people have pointed out on this site, kids are great at using their imagination and do well with less. Trails, rocks, oceans, playing in the tent and more will entrainment them plenty 🙂

Plan everyone’s outfits, then add a few spare. Your kids will get dirty. Pack a few extra outfits. We also always pack a laundry line and a laundry bar to help with this.

Play camp at home! This likely happens organically, but if not, consider making a tent from a sheet or giving your actual tent a trial run. It can build up the excitement and help the little ones know what’s to come in terms of sleeping outside and being out in the dark.

Try camping in your backyard or renting a rustic cabin if you need a starting point. 

Look to your state parks. We’ve discovered some great state parks nearby that make camping so easy, with clean bathrooms a short walk away, dishwashing stations, and cabins too. Additionally, we’ve gotten really into the Passport Program (the National Parks does this too) which has made things even more fun. Our kids love getting stamps and stickers for their passports, meeting the park rangers, and doing some of the kids’ trails and activities. State Parks are a great away to explore new places both near and far, I can’t say that enough.

Involve the kids. Ours love helping with dishes and setting the tent up. Truly, some of these little things that seem like annoyances to us adults are the things they get most excited about when we camp.

Go with a group! Not only will you be spending time with your friends, if you have little ones, extra hands will help and it can lighten the packing load. Our kids love when we camp with friends.

For the curious-camping wouldn’t be the same without our Coleman Bayside tent, camping stove, and cooler. Our Eno hammock is great for rocking babies to sleep. This hook-on high chair makes things super easy when it comes to outdoor mealtimes. 

For clothes– TevasNatives, Mabo playsuits, Primary rashguards, and wide-brimmed hats are essential for kids. 

Courtney wrote a great post on camping here.

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