If you mentioned to my friends that I am a camping enthusiast, they would chuckle and say, “Not the Princess”. I don’t really come across as an outdoorsy kind of gal, but the truth is, I love camping. However, I wasn’t quite prepared to take on the Survivor-type adventure that my then boyfriend (now husband) would spring on me for one of our first dates away. Visions of a romantic camping trip with just the two of us cuddled around the flickering light of a campfire danced in my head. I hit Alabama Outdoors in preparation for our weekend adventure and purchased the perfect camping outfit complete with a new baby blue North Face jacket and matching Merrill hiking shoes. I had my backpack crammed with all the essentials for an early morning touch-up: dry shampoo, a powder compact, and mascara.
The trip was supposed to start with a leisurely three-mile hike to our campsite. Unfortunately, what ensued was nothing short of a scene out of The Blair Witch Project. My new paramour led us down the wrong hiking trail for four miles, only to dead end in the deep brush where we were forced to turn around in the darkness and backtrack, for a total of eight miles. With zero cell phone service, I truly felt like I was stuck in an episode of Gilligan’s Island. There were a lot of tears shed on both our parts. He asked if I just wanted to go to a hotel. Heck no!! I did NOT hike eight miles to not be able to say I went primitive camping. We hung our hammocks 100 yards from the car and spent the night freezing our thermal underwear off. Yes, I still decided to marry him, but now I always make sure I carry the map.
Camping can be a fantastic family adventure that removes all the electronics and conveniences of home and provides an opportunity for family bonding time. After my first little camping adventure with the hubby, I have learned to be much more prepared when I take the kiddos for a night under the stars.
Packing for the Kids ::
There are plenty of great websites that have comprehensive camping packing lists, tips, and tricks to help with planning. I am including a few extra items that I have found to be fun additions for a camping trip with the kiddos.
Card games — Everything is a little more magical when played by the flicker of lantern light. We love Uno, but for the littles a game of Old Maid or Go Fish will be perfect. Leave home the board games with a million pieces, lest you be rolling over a Monopoly thimble or top hat all night.
Crayons and coloring books — Distracting activities are a must for younger children. This gives them something to focus on while you’re preparing supper and keeps them safely away from the fire.
Glow-in-the-dark bracelets, necklaces, and lanyards — Neon fun for the whole family with the bonus of being able to spot the toddler when he wanders off into the darkness.
Hats — I must admit I’m a little bit over-obsessive with potential for Lyme Disease, so I am a stickler for head cover while spending time in tick country.
Camp Chow ::
Pinterest is full of great ideas for camping cuisine, but I’m a fire roasted weenie and potato chips kind of campfire cook. S’mores is where I bring out my inner culinary goddess . . . can we say a Vosges Milk Chocolate Bacon bar melted between honey graham crackers with a perfectly toasted marshmallow?!! I also love to use Keebler Fudge Ripple cookies or bust out that extra box of Girl Scout cookies for the perfect Marshmallow receptacle.
Mommy, don’t forget to throw a few mini bottles of champagne in the bottom of the cooler for that perfect nightcap to accompany those delicious s’mores and perhaps a little stargazing with your honey after the kids fall asleep. You deserve to celebrate keeping your family tick-free and happy little campers all day.
Pitch a Tent ::
Horse Pen 40 — This campground is located in Steele, AL about a 45-minute drive from Birmingham up I-59 N. The big draw to this nature park are the incredible rock formations that are purported to be some of the oldest naturally exposed rocks in the world. Several on-site festivals are held at HP40 throughout the year. There are restrooms, shower facilities, and a general store on site for a little less primitive camp experience and a great entrée into camping for the newbie.
Sipsey Wilderness — Definitely a destination for the more experienced camper. The Sipsey does not have designated camping areas, so you might just be pitching a small tent in a clearing or sleeping under thick tree cover in your hammock. This is a “No trace left behind park”. However, braving the wilds with zero conveniences will reap great rewards with gorgeous hiking trails and a true return-to-nature vibe.
Cheaha State Park — A quick drive down 1-20 E, Cheaha State Park offers an array of camping options from cabins to primitive campsites. Hot summer days are perfect for taking a dip in Cheaha Lake, nestled in the foothills of the mountain. Also, the lake offers paddle boat rentals and fishing. Explore several waterfall hiking trails. Make sure to commemorate the trip by taking a picture at the famous Bald Rock sign after an easy ¼-mile stroll down the elevated boardwalk that leads you to the highest point in Alabama.
Oak Mountain State Park — One of the most convenient campgrounds, located just minutes from greater Birmingham. This park offers an array of accommodations from cabin rentals to backcountry camping. Oak Mountain is home to Treetop Nature Trail, an elevated boardwalk where you can see birds of prey up close and personal. Activities are plentiful. Highlights include a community archery park, playground, beach and Peavine Falls.
In retrospect, that first camping adventure could have made me a little gun shy on ever braving another night in the wild. In all honesty, it remains one of my favorite dates with my husband. We overcame adversity together, and I showed him what a trooper I can be. It sure did make for a good story (or a cautionary tale of proper map reading). Even if camping isn’t your forte, step out of your comfort zone for a night, and go create your own family camping adventure story.
Do you camp with your family? What are your favorite destinations?