My first memories of camping are from when I was a young child in the early ’80s with my mom, dad and brother in our Volkswagen Westfalia Pop-Up Campervan. During my childhood summers, we took a couple of longer campervan trips — one traveling east and another west — and many shorter camping trips to Minnesota state parks.
As my brother and I got a little older and more independent, our family started doing some boat-camping trips on Namakan Lake in Voyageurs National Park. My dad had spent time during his childhood camping on nearby Lake Kabetogama.
The summer after seventh grade, I went on my first guided canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) through YMCA Camp Warren near Eveleth. And it wasn’t too long after that, that I started planning, packing and venturing out on my own Boundary Waters canoe trips with friends.
As a young adult, I continued to gravitate toward outdoor adventure. In college, I spent a lot of time camping and adventuring in Minnesota. I even ventured out of state and took a weeklong winter backpacking course in the Rocky Mountains from the National Outdoor Leadership School out of Missoula, Montana.
I know all of these experiences helped shape who I am today, what I value and how I live. And now that I’m a mom of four active children, I’m finding that these experiences have shaped how I’m parenting as well.
I’m working to instill the love for adventure and the appreciation for — and the connection to — the outdoor world in my children through the experiences I share with them.
Save the dates
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if you want to enjoy outdoor adventures with your family, you have to make them happen.
The first step is to make reservations and to get the dates on your calendar. If you don’t, the time will slip by, something else will come up and/or the whole idea will become too stressful because you won’t have enough time to prepare.
The next big step is to find all the gear you need. If you’re just starting out, you may want to rent or borrow gear. The nice thing about purchasing gear is that you typically just need to buy it once, especially if it’s of higher quality. Some of the gear we use (packs, pots and utensils) is the same gear I used as a child when I was camping with my parents!
Used gear can be a very cost-effective solution when you’re working to outfit your family as well.
In our family, we typically get one new thing each year to add to or replace a worn-out item from our camping supplies. This can make things more affordable, but also more comfortable in the long run.
When it comes to camping, you may want to start small — maybe even an overnight in the backyard. Then graduate to car-camping before you try a backcountry experience. This is how we started and already — with kids ages 7, 9, 11, and 14 — our family camping adventures have progressed to the point where we’ve had some wildly successful longer trips.
Last year, we spent a whole week island camping for the first time. We booked a reservation for another week this summer as well!
(Check out some of the snapshots of our family Voyageurs National Park camping adventures and check out my story on this hidden gem of a park.)
It’s worth it
We’ve had many great outings with our children. As a family, we’ve explored many state and national parks. My husband and I value time spent outdoors and we work to share experiences such as camping, boating, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, and skiing with our children.
If you’ve done any of these activities with kids, you know that every moment isn’t always full of smiles and sunshine.
Like anything, some days will be better than others. Don’t let one meltdown in the woods keep you from trying again. Focus on the positive experiences, and take it from me: Exploring the outdoors with kids might not be easy, but it’s possible, important, and can be a lot of fun!
⊲ 101 Outdoor Adventures to Have Before You Grow Up
⊲ The Ultimate Guide to Camping with Kids hikeitbaby.com
⊲ REI Camping with Kids: Tips & Checklist tinyurl.com/rei-kids-tips
⊲ Camping with Kids, U.S. National Park Service tinyurl.com/nps-kid-tips
⊲ Keeping bugs away mnparent.com/bugs
⊲ Kids in the wild mnparent.com/kids-wild
Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives in Northeastern Minnesota. Follow her blog Kids, Lakes, Loons and Pines.