Camping with Small Children

If you have followed my blog, you probably notice that most of the places I have visited are major cities with nature sightseeing. Looking for comfortable accommodations is a big part of my family trip planning routine, whether it's hotels, B&B, or Airbnb. Growing up, I've actually never camped out or stayed overnight in the wild. The thought of inconvenience and unexpected wildlife worries me as an adult. So why did I even bother trying camping now as a grownup woman and mom of a little boy?
  • As the vulnerability researcher Brene Brown mentioned in her book, life is not about staying in a comfort zone without any fears. One of the reasons I wanted to go on the trip with my son is to face my fear of the unpredictables, whether it's my concern about safety, physical endurance, or if I can handle traveling with a toddler boy on my own without hubby around. 
  • As I start to pay more attention to the growth and education of my child, I have been told that nature is a great place for young children to learn and make friends. I want to see how Oli explores nature and how he interacts with other kids. Plus, it's awesome to get away from the house. I get to challenge myself physically and emotionally through outdoor adventures, and in the meantime, I need to spend some quality time with my kid without distractions from screens and social media.
So here I am, partnering with another mama friend and her lovely son, off to our mini adventure. I will layout the itinerary briefly first, but most importantly, I want to share what I have learned throughout the journey, about parenting, motherhood, friendship and appreciation of life.

HIKING LOCATION: GARNER STATE PARK 
  • Old Baldy Trail (Challenging) - Day 1
This was a quite fun and challenging trail for beginners, especially after rain when the trail got very slippery. I found it a bit struggling hiking this trail with a small kid. Some parts of the road were quite steep, and it was hard to climb when you had a little human on your back. Luckily, I had a teammate who was familiar with the road and lent me a hand when my legs were shaking. The highlight of the trail was that we got to climb up all the way to the summit and enjoying an amazing view of the Frio Canyon. We took a long break on the top of the mountain, juiced up, munching on snacks, taking pictures, and most importantly, let the kiddos have some fun playing with rocks and practicing climbing skills.
  • Blinn River Trail (Easy) - Day 2
I highly recommended this trail for families with small children. The whole trail extended along the beautiful river. It was very walkable even for kids. They had fun picking up branches and playing on the water. I was amazed by how crystal clear the water was. The scenery was stunning and the entire hiking experience was breezy. I could see myself coming back again during summertime. Both of the two trails were less than 1 mile, but neither was stroller friendly. So make sure you have a carrier or hiking backpack in case your children needed to rest or nap.

LODGING: SCREENED SHELTER

We decided on a campsite shelter that was located next to the Frio River and it was close to the restroom (easy for little children to go potty). It almost felt like we had a riverfront backyard. The kiddos LOVED it! They had fun throwing rocks, "fishing", and playing around the water. We came during winter time when the water was too cold to swim. But the scenery over the water was so peaceful that we couldn't help but just sitting nearby and embracing the beauty of tranquility. Keep in mind that the shelter was not windproof and the floor might get wet from the rain. (It could get very chilly and damp at night.) However, it was definitely an awesome option for visitors in Spring and Fall. My friend mentioned that the reservation of the campsite lodging might be very limited during holiday weekends. So book early if you can.

WHAT ACTIVITIES FOR FAMILY WITH YOUNG CHILDREN
  • Hiking: Toddlers were too young to hike long-distance by themselves. So we picked one short trail during the day and some light activities to do in the evening (like counting stars, preparing dinner, jumping on air mattresses, etc.)
  • Swimming: Not really applicable for wintertime, but it was the most popular activity to do the rest of the year.
  • Fishing: I didn't see lots of fish swimming around, but did notice a few campers were fishing in Frio River.
  • Boating/Surfing: Walking along the river, we saw boats docking on the side, but the rental place was closed in January. 
  • BBQ and Cookout: No matter what time of the year, BBQ has been one of the must-do things in Texas. Kiddos enjoyed helping out with washing and preparing vegetables, and of course, the adults got to cook delicious food. However, this state park did not allow alcohol on site. It didn't really bother me and my friend as much since we both had to stay wide alert to watch two active boys.
Although not all activities were applicable in winter, I was amazed at how much fun little toddlers could have in Mother Nature. In these past two days of camping and hiking, I have observed so many interesting moments and relationship developments between the kids and moms.

Imagination & Self Entertainment

In a toddler's eyes, tree branches became fishing rods, pebbles were souvenirs and muddy dirt turned into playdough...I was so used to telling my kid to stop picking up stuff from the ground. Ironically, those things I considered as dirty, to them, were real treasures! They could spend hours "fishing" and picking rocks, no matter it was raining outside or extremely cold.

Differences & Similarities

It's hard not to compare when having two kids play together. I found it very interesting observing the different dynamics of two similar aged toddlers. They had different energy levels, temperaments, and interests of things. One was very into collecting rocks and the other couldn't stop playing with the door; One was more courageous during hikes and the other was more cautious every step of the way. One got upset about missing noodles after dinner, and the other cried for some bread right before bedtime... It's definitely a love-hate mixed feeling whenever the "terrible two" tantrums got triggered.

Caring & Bonding

Our kids really bonded over this camping trip. Though they spoke different languages, they managed to communicate through playing and doing activities together. Besides building friendship between two children, this trip also helped develop a strong mommy-and-me relationship. When I carried Oli on my back climbing a rocky trail, Oli would kindly remind me, "Mommy, be careful", over and over again. My friend told me how heartwarming she felt when her baby boy told her, "I will protect you, mommy!" Moments like this suddenly soothed all the pains, hard work and exhausts. Yes, toddlers were so active and energetic that my friend and I didn't have much time and energy to chat undisrupted throughout the hikes. The best talks actually happened on the road driving while both kids were napping. We shared motherhood experience, parenting concerns, relationship thoughts, and pretty much everything from work aspirations to personal struggles. It feels liberating to have open communications with a supportive attitude and zero judgment.

Overall, my first camping experience was a fun and successful experience. Many new discoveries, milestones, and life-long memories to celebrate and cherish. Many challenges and lessons learned:

  • Oli was almost too big for the hiking backpack. Big struggle carrying him around while walking on challenging trails. I was glad about going to the gym two weeks before the trip.
  • Sleeping in the wild during cold and windy nights can be very challenging and uncomfortable (Oli got sick and had a fever on the second day) 
  • Last but not least, no social media and no Netflix can be torturing for this social momma (no shame admitting that lol) 

Here's to more adventures ahead! Leave a comment of your favorite camping/hiking recommendations and I will try it out next. 



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