On Saturday, we drove up to Golden Gate Canyon to try our first camping expedition with Emma. We left mid-afternoon hoping Emma would get in a car nap. She napped for about 45 minutes as we navigated the twists and turns of the canyon. We went into the park, and I went for a trail run while AJ and Emma hiked, played in the dirt, looked for bugs and pulled dandelions.
Pics from the trail to the visitor center.
We got to the grounds around 4 p.m. and set up camp.
Emma was an especially good helper collecting sticks for the fire pit. This is one of the tips I mention in my upcoming article for REI on camping with little ones. Giving kiddos age appropriate jobs at a campsite makes them feel like they are part of the team and also keeps them busy when you are trying to set up other parts of camp.
Emma with one of the sticks she collected!
We spent the rest of the night exploring the campgrounds, playing at the playground and telling funny stories over dinner and S’mores around the fire. We didn’t even hit the tent before 9:30. Emma was a bit timid of the tent at first. But, I talked to her about our pseudo dress rehearsal where we set up the tent in the backyard and got the feel of laying in it. We made shadow animals, and that seemed to break the tension. Having some familiar items from home like two of her fav books and her beloved blanket and stuffie Bye in the tent seemed to help too.
They say that heeding your own advice is one of the toughest things to do. I really wish I would have listened to some of the tips I am putting together for that REI article in particular doing a little more homework on location. While the playground and camp store were nice to have, our tent site was right next to a busy road even at 3 A.M. The canyon really amplified the sound from a chopper that for some reason hovered over us in the middle of the night, the trucks heading through the canyon, the fire rescue right across the street that went on multiple calls and the random dogs barking. I was most worried before we left about noisy campers, and that wasn’t even an issue.
So next time, I’ll be sure to really research what campsite we choose and more about the surrounding area! We also realized the importance of an air mattress. Since we can fit one in our tent, it will sure be helpful next time in keeping us warmer and more comfortable. My old Therm-a-rest may still work but after being older now and having a kiddo to share it with, it just doesn’t cut it.
It was a cold and uncomfortable night!
Sleepy, cold and covered in dirt, Emma still said she loved camping. I think that despite our mess ups, she really enjoyed the one on one time with us free from distractions. I have to say, it was refreshing to see so many families spending quality time around fire pits talking or playing games at the picnic tables.
In the morning, we packed up camp and headed to the Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve. Emma ran her first Mountain Goat trail race of the year. Despite the lack of sleep, she took off full sprint. She decided she wanted to do the middle distance race when we hit the cut off. A little down the trail, I think the energy expenditure from the day and night before caught up to her. We turned around with a slow crawl to the uphill finish!
Next time we will be a bit more organized, pack less (hopefully) and remember to bring the more important things! We are thinking about just going all in on a Vanagon for more camping and other adventures.
You can look for more insight on camping with young ones on the REI blog coming soon! I’ll be sure to link to the article once published!
Disney Travel + Family
My stories and photos from the National Parks (and more)