Summer Fun: Important Lessons for First Time Campers

by Beth Montgomery on July 5, 2011 · 6 comments

in Tips & Basics

Camping in Indiana

Our Family Tent

Since I was a little girl, my family always took me camping in the summer.   It was one of my favorite things to do.   Sure, it’s not the cleanest vacation, but for kids, that’s not a problem!   We’d tour Indiana, visiting all the campgrounds and State Parks.

Now, that I have my own kids, I do with them.   I love sitting by a campfire stuffing myself with S’Mores and hot dogs cooked over an open fire.   I love walking on trails, exploring, sleeping outside with the sound of crickets, and playing games on a picnic table with the light of a lantern and lightening bugs all around.   There is something freeing about not being able to get an internet connection no matter what!

Camping in Indiana

S'mores are so good!

But, if you’re new to camping, it can be overwhelming.   What do you take?   What do you cook?   Where do you go?   As an experienced camper, I have some important tips for you!

Where to go?

I’m a big fan of Indiana State Parks, because they have great campgrounds with lots of stuff to do for the whole family.   There are activities at the Nature Center like searching ponds for crawl dads and tadpoles, horseback and pony rides, trails, pools or beaches, and canoeing.

But, what are my favorites?

Chain O’ Lakes: For families with young kids, Chain O’ Lakes is great.   Everything is close together, so you don’t have to hike to get anywhere, there is a great small beach, and the lake is very calm, so there is no age requirements for canoeing, paddle boats, or other water recreation!

Turkey Run: If you have older kids or need a bit more adventure, head to Turkey Run!   Turkey Run has great trails that go over bridges, through creeks, and even up ladders.   If you’re old enough, you can float down Sugar Creek in an tube or in a kayak or canoe.   And, families can horseback ride through the woods.   If you’re going, make sure you check out Trail 3.   It’s so much fun!

Brown County: Prefer a cleaner spot?   Brown County offers camping, but also cabins, if you want to enjoy nature a bit more civilized.   Plus, there is a picturesque town nearby with restaurants, candy shops, and even a winery!

How to pick your spot?

When you pick a camping spot on the Indiana State Park website, it can be intimidating.   You get to see a map of campground with numbers and some details about each spot.   But, what does it all mean?   Well, I will admit, there is a bit of guess work involved, but here’s some things to make sure to check.

  • Site Type: Personally, I prefer electric, since I can plug in a fan, music, a coffeemaker, and even charge my phone, if needed.
  • Max Number of People: Make sure the maximum will include your whole family, you’ll have to get two spots!
  • Looking for Category: Make sure your preferred method of camping (e.g. tent, trailer, etc…) is listed!
  • Alerts & Important Information:
    • High Traffic Site: This means it’s a place where cars and people go by.   High traffic doesn’t mean it’s going to rival an interstate, but if you are bringing little ones who may be riding their bikes in the street, you may want to avoid high traffic sites just for safety purposes.
    • Grass, Sand, Dirt, or Asphalt Site: I prefer grass, because sand or dirt means my kids won’t be able to stay clean for a second and if it rains, it will become a mud pit.   But, asphalt for the kids to ride their bike and to park is nice as well, so look for a combo, depending on your needs.
    • Yards To: How far is the spot from the bathroom?   If you have a just-potty-trained toddler, you   might want to stay close.   I know from experience!   Or if your kids are old enough to venture by themselves, but not old enough you want them venturing far.   Plus, how far is the spot from the water, showers, and playground?   That’s all important, depending on your needs.
    • Sun/Shade: This is another important one!   If it’s August, you may want to avoid an all sun spot or you won’t be able to escape the heat.   A little or full shade is always nice.

What to take?

Camping isn’t like staying in a hotel.   There are bathrooms, showers, and a spot with grass.   That’s about it.   So, if you don’t bring it, it won’t be there (unless you shop at the camp store). Maggie shared her thoughts on “Camping for Rookies: What You’ll Really Need” and she’s right.   You don’t need much.

However, if you plan on staying for longer than one or two night, you may need a more extensive list.   Here is our family Camping Check List.   It’s a lot, I know, but it’s a list compiled for years upon years of camping vacations.

What do we do?

Yes, you’re in the middle of no where with nothing but a fire and a tent, but it’s not boring.   Relax and make the kids put away their iPods, Nintendo DS systems, and all that.   Here’s what you do…

  • Explore trails
  • Ride bikes
  • Play board games or cards
  • Play outdoor games (Corn-in-the-Hole, badminton, catch, etc…)
  • Swim
  • Canoe or Kayak
  • Read
  • Catch lightening bugs, bugs, frogs, lizards, etc…
  • Fish (or catch fish in a cup)
  • Visit the Nature Center
  • Check out the calendar of Park Events & Activities
  • Ride horses
  • Go bird watching (or animal spotting)
  • Take a nap (You’ll need it!)
  • Have a water fight
  • Play in the dirt
  • Climb on the playground
  • Meet your neighbors (campers are really friendly usually!)
  • Practice skipping rocks in the creeks or lakes
  • Put together a jigsaw puzzle
  • Have a picnic
  • Play Pooh Sticks (Ask your kids if you don’t know what this is or check out Wikipedia)
  • Visit the local town
  • Bond as a family or couple!
  • Go to bed early (you’ll need this too!)
  • Relax and let go of your stress!

Anything else I need to know?

You’ll learn as you go, but some things I’ve learned over the year include:

  • Racoons can open coolers!   So make sure your food is well stored before you go to bed, or you’ll wake up with none.
  • Burn your trash to keep your fire going and reduce waste, but not while you’re cooking!   Burning plastic doesn’t add the best taste to your chicken.
  • Plan on using about one bunch of firewood a day and one bag of ice from the camp store.
  • Bring diaper wipes.   You won’t believe how many times someone will need themselves or something wiped off.
  • Avoid poison ivy or other unknown rashes by washing off your legs and arms when your return from hikes.
  • Don’t feed the animals, no matter how cute they may be, or they’ll never go away!
  • Arrive early, because putting up a tent in the dark is not so easy.   In fact, you may want to practice once at home before you go.
  • Bring shower shoes or you’ll come home with itchy feet!

And, most importantly, have fun!

Summer Fun in Indiana

Make sure you check out the Summer Fun in Indiana series for more ways to save this summer on family fun! Enjoy your summer!

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{ 6 comments }

1 joanna July 5, 2011 at 3:15 PM

Great post! We’re avid campers, and we’ve already been camping with our six-month-old 3 times this year! Along with Turkey Run, Shades State Park is a great, fun park for camping.

2 Beth July 5, 2011 at 10:27 PM

You’re brave! I thought I was crazy for taking Izy when she was 3 months old, but we only took her once that summer. Daelan (almost 2) was a nut. We’d take him to the shower and he’s jump in a mud puddle on the way back. We couldn’t keep him clean for a second!

3 Rachelle July 7, 2011 at 10:48 AM

first time we went my daughter had just turned 1 and that was my problem. I can’t stand to have my kids sleep dirty so I’d take a 18 gallon tote to the showers to get her all cleaned up and by the time we walked back to our site, which you could see from the showers, she was a mess! haha sometimes when your camping you have to bend th rules! :)

4 Kristie Heilers July 5, 2011 at 5:40 PM

We love to camp too! Love your story! We literally just got home from Raccoon State Park and made a stop at Turkey Run too. Lincoln State Park down by Holiday world Rocks! But we are 3 hrs from there so we go once a yr over Fathers Day. McCormicks Creek is in 3 wks and then in October off to Spring Mill. Yes we had to take a time out for Volleyball Season. We are hoping to get one more in to Pokagon State Park this year we will see.

5 Beth July 5, 2011 at 10:25 PM

Kristie, I love Pokagon too! Sounds like you’ve visited a lot of the parks. I wish I had a better memory, because my Grandparents took me to all of them one year. I was just too young to remember what was at which park! It’s all a mess in my mind :)

6 Rachelle July 7, 2011 at 10:47 AM

I was thrilled to see Chain O Lakes on your list. We went camping yearly when I was real young but by the time I was 10 we stopped. So when I took my kids for the first time 3 years ago I was a rookie. I didn’t even know what campground to choose, we used to drive 3 hours to go to Mackinaw (grew up in MI) I figured we’d try Chain O Lakes because it’s 20 min. from here and heard good things about it, and I doubt we’ll camp anywhere else for a while, I love it, the hubby and kids love it, it’s always a great family time! :)

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