A little over a month ago, our friends (Tyler, Jordan, Channing and baby Collin) got a wild idea to plan a family camping trip. Our fearless leader, Jordan had come across River Bottom Farms not too far out of town from where we live and decided it would be a fun adventure. We found an open weekend in October that worked for all of us and decided to book 2 side by side campsites for our families to all go tent camping for the first time. Our friends had been tent camping prior to kids and Brad has done it as well, however, I’ve just done the girl scout thing – cabins and permanent tents; never a pitched tent.
The campground advertised family friendly activities and a Halloween theme since we would be going in October. As a recent camping rookie, here’s how we prepped and packed as well as things I recommend knowing what I know now.
As family camping rookies, we didn’t have much in regard to supplies. I still have my LL Bean sleeping bag from my childhood but that’s about it! Several weeks ago, we spent an afternoon at Cabela’s looking at various tents, lanterns and other camping gear. After narrowing things down and filling our cart, we decided to put it all back in the end and walked out empty handed. Our friends had plenty of lanterns to share and we just felt very indecisive about what tent to get with so many (!!) options out there. We took the search to Amazon where we could read reviews and I too searched online for things like “best camping tents” etc. and found the one we wanted to try – the 8 person Coleman Montana. Yes, we are a family of 4, but we also didn’t want to be on top of each other. Head clearance was important to my 6’2” husband and we wanted room to be able to move around a little as well as get dressed easily. We literally ordered our tent on Monday, it was delivered on Thursday and we left on Friday afternoon. Gotta love Amazon prime.
The only other thing we ordered for the trip was a kids travel mattress, which we call “a boat.” We already had one from when Laney was younger but needed a second for Morgan. We call it “a boat” because it literally looks like a little raft once blown up. It has the toddler air mattress that fits into another inflatable that acts a fence so that your little one doesn’t roll off or out of the mattress. (a crib sheet with fit it) Everything else that I packed I either had at home or picked up at Target.
On the days leading up to our trip, I spent some of my carpool line wait time on Pinterest doing my research what and how to pack. Because this would be a new venture for us, I wanted to keep things simple. I didn’t want to overpack just to have a “cute” campsite nor did I want to get too adventurous with our meals. Keeping the stress level down was key for me as well as making sure things were kid friendly. And while we could have gotten more reusable items like silverware and plates, I opted for the easy button to just throw stuff away for simple clean up and not having to find places to store these new things back at home.
Meal Plan Options:
Hot Dogs + Chips
Chicken Kabobs with Baked Potatoes and Corn on the Cob
Peanut Butter Sandwiches
Toast, Eggs, Grits + Bacon
Groceries + Kitchen Items:
Hot Dog Buns
Reusable Cups for each person
Heavy Duty Foil
Salt & Pepper
First Aid Bag with meds, bandaids, bug spray, bite cream, extra batteries etc.
Pot + Spoon
Tent / Bedding Bin(s):
Outdoor Outlet Splitter
Towels for Floor/Dirty Feet
3 outfits for everyone
2 sets of PJs for everyone that can layer
Socks + Undies
Sweatshirts + Jackets
Extra pair of shoes for everyone
Trick or Treat Bags
Crayons + Coloring Books
Toothbrush + Toothpaste
Brush + Hair Ties
Shampoo + Soap
Check in for the campground is 4:00pm and because it’s an hour from our home, this allowed for Laney to complete her school day and for us to be sure we had everything packed prior to leaving. Once packed, we realized the fans we wanted to use were at Brad’s office, so after a quick Home Depot run to grab a couple and a stop at Starbucks (duh) we were on our way!
We got there around 5:30pm which meant we had to get moving since the sunsets a lot earlier now. Check in was fairly easy aside from feeling like I was taking up the lady’s time to do so. The campground is fairly small but has a good layout – one big loop with campers around the outside and on the inside are the tent campsites. The pavilion, the jumping pillow, the playground, horseshoes court and bath house.
The tents went up fairly easily, I got the beds blown up and put together, set up the tables, placed bins where they belonged based on our campsite set up and Brad put our chairs by the fire pit and put out the string lights. I ended up just bringing a bunch of old strands of Christmas tree lights – our tree is now pre-lit so if anything happened to these we could just trash them. We had enough to string through our tent and run the perimeter of both of our campsites. It made for a nice bubble to keep people walking around distanced and the kids knew exactly where we were at all times. It was nice that the playground was close to our campsite so that they could run back and forth. At this point, the sun was down and we needed to start dinner. It was technically past dinner time and the kids were hungry. This was exactly why I packed easy options as well like peanut butter sandwiches so that we could quickly feed them rather than them having to wait on hot dogs that would have to be roasted over a fire that hadn’t even been started yet.
Once fed, Brad and I went up to the campground store to grab firewood – one of the rules was no outside firewood so we couldn’t bring any with us. The same lady that checked me in was behind the counter. Someone came in to check in right as we were ready to check out with our wood and I couldn’t believe how much nicer the lady was to this person, giving her much more information to her than she did to me just a couple of hours earlier. It struck me a little odd. However it did confirm that this was probably who I had talked to on the phone the Wednesday before we left. I had tried to go on the site to see the weekend’s itinerary of activities but none of the links were working. When I called to ask about it, she said that she took the links down since they were just example itineraries and she was made that people were thinking they were the actual schedules. Ok, great so I had to ask again what to expect. Her answer – we would get the schedule at check in. So… “will there be trick or treating? Just try to get a slight idea.” And she gave me back a “yes” so there’s that.
Once back, we got the fire going but had to use the help of our blower and a fan to keep it going. Their firewood was not seasoned and therefore did not burn well, but we had no other option. During all of this, they were doing a Monster Mash Dance Party and Karaoke at the pavilion.
Tyler wasn’t going to be able to join us until that night, but got off work a little earlier than planned so we had him pick up Wendy’s. Oops, haha! Next time we would definitely try to get to our site sooner to have more sunlight for set up and more time before needing to start dinner. I have no regrets enjoying a frosty fireside though.
The kids went down relatively easy and we stayed up around the fire pit until just after midnight.
Our girls slept really well and we were up around 7:00am. I remember waking a couple of times because of mattress movement (we are spoiled at home with a mattress where we can’t really feel when the other person moves) and I got chilled at one point. Brad said he saw every hour on the our especially once he could feel the ground since our mattress lost some air during the night.
Tyler was excited to make breakfast Saturday morning so we let him have at it with eggs made to order, cheese grits, bacon and toast. It was so good! Most of the day was pretty relaxed – the girls did lots of running around and playing on the playground, they decorated pumpkins, did some coloring and us adults sat around talking.
We also went on a walk to explore the campground, see everyone’s Halloween decorations and explore the 3 ponds. We all forgot to pack our fishing poles, but others said that nothing was really biting. As we came around the the store and check in area, we went in the get the girls a treat and Brad some Diet Mtn. Dews. The camp owners and some others were sitting on the porch socializing, not paying us any bit of attention. I think we stood at the counter for several minutes before someone else in the back realized no one was there to help us.
By this point we fixed another easy lunch of peanut butter sandwiches (I forgot sliced cheese to make grilled cheese sandwiches!) and got the girls situated in the back on Tyler’s truck on the toddler air mattresses with a movie on the iPad. It’s the time of year in SC where it can be in the 50s at night but still get up to 80 degrees during the day, so we shifted our chairs to the shade of a large tree. As time passed most of us shifted to blankets and pillows on the grass for a quick afternoon nap.
We awoke to some young high school age boys playing football so my mom radar went up to be sure my kids didn’t hit with a ball. At that point, we decided it would be best to get our fire going so that we could start cooking our potatoes to be ready in time for dinner. Tyler ran up to the store but came back empty handed. Apparently, the winds were too high for them to sell firewood as well as allow anyone to start a fire in their fire pit. It really wasn’t that windy but could understand the precaution for the RV campers – they were very close together, however we were 6 car lengths from the closet temp campsite. Not to mention we could spot a handful of fires going around us. So Jordan decided she would try and after putting up an argument to be able to cook dinner, she was given one bag. Once the fire was started, a guy that used to work for Brad stopped by to say hi since he only lived a few minutes down the road from where we were. At this point, the front office made a point to drive by our campsite to monitor our fire (no one else’s) and proceeded to fuss at the friend for stopping by. He left shortly after and we decided to go on the tractor pulled wagon ride. Brad and Jordan stayed back at the site with baby Collin to keep an eye on the fire and dinner. Once Tyler, the girls and I got off, Tyler offered for Jordan to ride again to go with Channing so I asked Laney if she wanted to go again since they were offering multiple wagon rides, but the lady told us no. Back to our campsite we went – where we then found out the lady had come back around again to tell Brad and Jordan to put our fire out.
We had all already expressed some concerns about staying that night because it was going to get down into the upper 40s/lower 50s. Now that we seemed to be targeted by the lady running the campground for no apparent reason, we were feeling very unwelcome and now didn’t have a heat source going into the night. The store closed early that night to set up for their haunted house they were doing so even if the wind died down we wouldn’t have been able to buy more wood. Jordan walked down to a nearby site that had a roaring fire in their firepit and in a small tailgating grill to ask if they had been asked to put their fire out. They said no. They also had their own wood they had brought with them, which we had watched them chop up earlier that morning. The man said they had been to the campsite before and that sometimes the owners were like this, that you never knew what mood they would be in. Yikes.
So weighing our options after having a handful of unpleasantries, we decided that from the feeling of being unwelcome at this point, knowing our kids would be up late due to taking long naps, having no heat source and the fact that it was going to get very cold that night we decided to pack it up. While dinner continued to cook, we started breaking down our campsite and getting as much packed up as possible. We also did BYO pizza for the kids. I brought the premade pizza crusts which wasn’t the way to go. Since there wasn’t a way to warm the pizza from the top as well, we ended up burning the bottoms to get the cheese to melt. If you want to do something similar, I would go with English muffins which I had read about in my camping research.
After we ate dinner, we dressed the kids in their costumes and went trick or treating. Some of the RVs had some really fun Halloween decorations! Once back at our site, we changed the kids back into comfy clothes, tossed the last few things in the cars and drop off just after dark.
Back on our side of town, we made a pit stop at Chick-fil-A for a snack and then met our friends at their house. The girls enjoyed a movie inside with glow sticks and the adults sat outside around the firepit with a real fire while watching the Braves game set up on a white sheet with a projector. It was so much fun!
We got back home late that night and all fell straight into bed. We all slept soundly and woke up to 48 degree weather. Phew.
Overall, it was a new adventure as a family with fun memories to carry with us as well as a learning experience. We plan to do it again in the future – possibly the spring once the temperatures level out to mild days and nights again but at a different campsite.
Here are some recommendations I have based on what I learned if you’re planning a camping trip:
– Pack in bins. This keeps things organized, protected and waterproof.
– Do your research. Read online reviews for the campsite to determine if it’s a good fit. We didn’t do this until after our stay and though they had their fair share of good reviews, they also had some that reflected very similarly to how we felt about our experience.
– Check out pinterest for camping recipes and hacks.
– Have easy button meals accessible. I’m so glad I did this. Sometimes time will get away from you and before you know you have hungry kids who don’t want to wait for something to be cooked. PB sandwiches for the win!
– Have your kids wear glow sticks at night. This helped us easily determine where our kids were on the playground once it was dark.
Where are your favorites places to camp? We want to make a list of new places to explore!