We knew when these families registered for the Spring Family Camping Trip that this adventure would be special. Five of the kids are separated in age by only a few years and the parents are interesting, laid-back people. The trip also included a 14-year-old (and we love camping with teens) and a 15-month old (we’ll get back to that story in a bit)!
This camping trip included something for everyone: a cool stream to play in and friends to play with for the younger kids, a tree to climb for the 14-year-old, nap time for one mom, and blue skies for everyone!
The moment we arrived at our camp on the bank of the clear mountain stream near Raven Cliff Falls, the kids threw off their shoes and waded into the water. They built dams, skipped rocks, splashed, laughed (and got their clothes wet again and again). Watching this, the words of one of the dads are still with me: “In the woods, I feel like I can just trust my kids’ abilities and let them explore. It makes me feel like I’m a great dad!”
Some moments that I particularly loved seeing:
The 14-year-old grinned widely as we packed more and more of his family’s gear on his back. He behaved like an old-pro in the woods, despite this being his first backcountry camping trip.
After I taught her our dish and hand-washing system, one 5-year-old girl took it upon herself to make sure there was always fresh water so people could stay clean. I loved watching her periodically check the water, and then refill our portable “kitchen sink” from the creek as she felt it was necessary.
As we began cooking dinner on Saturday night, one mom went to her tent to get some supplies. We didn’t see her again for 45 minutes! When she emerged, she exclaimed, “I didn’t mean to take a nap, but it was GREAT!” I’m so glad a camping trip can be that relaxing for a mother of three.
Though rain had been forecasted for the weekend, the storm came through on Friday and the sun broke through the clouds the moment we turned on to the Richard Russell Scenic Highway. As a result, we leisurely set up camp and had a lunch of sandwiches, apples, and dried fruit. Afterwards, we set out on a day hike.
On our previous family camping trip at this location, a group that included a 3-year-old had completed the 5-mile hike to Raven Cliff Falls – a spectacular waterfall dropping through a fissure in the cliff. So we departed camp confident of reaching our destination. The 15-month-old was in a backpack and the second youngest child was four. After a mile of hiking, we took a break at an intermediate (and also beautiful) waterfall. We took off our shoes, waded in the water, and scrambled across rocks. All the kids got soaked, and who could blame them! After awhile, we put our shoes back on, and to my surprise all decided to hike back to camp and have dinner. It was a great decision for our group and solidified my belief that trip leaders must pay attention to the needs of the group, not the destination. So what that we didn’t make it to Raven Cliff Falls? We had a great adventure and got to have a leisurely evening around camp.
The 14-year-old, however, was a bit disappointed about our choice. He was good-natured and really cared for the younger kids (see the photo of him napping with his little sister), but he was also very athletic and energetic and wanted ADVENTURE. So that evening, after everyone else went to their tents, he and I took a night hike – without headlamps! We waited until our eyes adjusted and then used our intuition and the faint moonlight to take accurate steps along the trail. I’ve done this kind of hike with groups of teens, but never in such a small group. We usually make it 50 feet before the kids beg to turn the lights back on…but not with this young man. We walked almost two miles in the dark. We snuck past other campers huddled (with non-adjusted eyes) around their campfires, we found bioluminescence on a rock, and we scrambled down to a waterfall and sat in the moonlight next to the ghostly water. For someone who was new to camping, this young man was very impressive.
The next morning, we arose to coffee, tea, cocoa, bagels and oatmeal prepared by Dana. The kids wanted a fire, so I helped them build one. And while I was helping the adults pack up camp, Dana took the kids on a creek-walking adventure. They found a rope swing over the creek (which they later showed me) and did some bushwacking (a favorite type of adventure for kids). But the sweetest thing I saw that morning was that Adrienne (the mom of the famous accidental nap) finished styling her 4-year-old daughter’s hair and then proceeded to do both other girls’ hair as well. It was the first time I’ve seen participants leave the woods looking more stylish than when they arrived.
Finally, during all of our adventures, remember that we were accompanied by a 15-month-old. When Dana and I were helping the kids use the bathroom in the woods, her parents were changing her diaper. When we were eating our sandwiches, she was nursing. When we were hiking, she was on her daddy’s back.
She rarely cried and instead toddled around camp looking at snails and picking up sticks, all with a big grin on her face. On our last adventure of the weekend, wading through the creek, she even joined us in only her diaper.
Will we take another toddler on a camping trip? Yes, of course, but these parents have taught us the right questions to ask families beforehand: How does your child sleep in unfamiliar places? What are his eating habits? Does she mind being held by strangers?
Everyone who was a part of this trip was glad to have a 15-month-old along, and for my part, if I could take this group of families to the woods every weekend, I would!
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