On our first camping trip as a couple we misunderstood boaters and campers running for cover as sign that everyone was rushing to have dinner, not as a “Run there is a tornado coming” warning! The first trip with a toddler was a meticulous organization of meals, cooking, hiking, and camping gear. Well, almost. Tent poles are handy if you want to sleep in a tent. When we first camped on the beach with extended family it was a coordination success minus the blanket of ticks on every surface.

But these bumps on the road while being annoying at the moment are not what makes camping joyful. It is sharing the simple pleasures nature offers and overcoming these little challenges together that make it memorable.  Camping is the ultimate in creative family problem solving and a true family memory generator.

So, do not fear! Prepare, laugh, stay calm, and camp on!

camping with kids in baltimore

the gear

Keeping it simple seems like an oxymoron when you have children of multiple ages heading to the woods but it really can be. Think minimally. Take a break from electronics and toys. I have seen toddlers and technology attached teenagers entertain themselves for hours with sticks, short discovery hikes, and building the fire pit. Definitely bring outdoor related entertainment like bikes, trikes, balls and jump ropes. But keep even those minimal because there is plenty of essential camping gear needed.

Tent choices can almost be like buying a car. There is one for every style, need, and terrain. Unless you are committing to a summer long camping trip getting a basic model makes choosing easy. You want a tent that is waterproof (most are now), has a full coverage rain tarp included, and plenty of screened windows with zipper blinds for ventilation. Sizes range from a tent for one to a tent for six or more. We have a six-person tent to accommodate our dogs and family.

Sleeping bags also come in a variety of ranges and prices. Check the temperature range. You want it to suit the range of temperatures that your family will be camping in. We have flannel lined LL Bean sleeping bags with a degree range to below freezing. This keeps us cozy for all season camping.

Try to stay away from chemically laced fire logs that coat your food with toxins. Also be clear about firewood policies for each park. Most require you to buy at the site to prevent foreign species from entering the forest. There are safe starter logs if you need the help but a quick Boy Scout video on building a fire is handy. We also have a Coleman camping stove for unexpected rainy days and when we want to hit the trails early.

what to eat

Personal preference rules here as well. You can micromanage meals by cutting up everything into different containers for each meal; have the same menu each day for simplicity; or buy premade freeze dried gourmet meals. What is important is to create a menu to eliminate waste and keep cooking manageable. We have tried all three and they have all worked well. It all depends on how much time you want to spend cooking and cleaning because nature’s wild friends like to visit sometimes as well.

kid essentials

  • Water, water, water- forego sugary drinks for plenty of H2O. (Dehydration can happen quickly and ruin your trip) Camelbak portable hydration packs are a great investment.
  • Have a baby carrier and/or a hiking pack for long hikes, which for toddlers is anything past five minutes. My daughter drags out our Kelty Hiking Carrier and begs to get into it.
  • Pack plenty of diapers, wipes, formula, and baby food
  • Layering is important for all weather as evenings and early mornings can be cool and vary drastically from mid morning
  • Bring sturdy and comfy shoes to suit your level of hiking
  • Have a fully stocked First-Aid kit with poison ivy cream
  • Be clear on fire safety around campfire

planning… the mary poppins approach

With every job that must be done, there is an element of fun… Try to include everyone in the planning to garner excitement and assign jobs for all ages on each day. Toddlers can be great at gathering sticks. Tweens can assemble sandwiches and other snacks. Teens can be handy in building the fire pit.  Pitching the tent is worthy of a family collaboration. My toddler gets a very serious face when asked to help hammer in the stakes.

where to camp with kids in baltimore

But how do you access camping when you don’t have a back yard or live near a tent site?  The state of Maryland makes it easy to find a camping adventure with 34 state parks and forests that offer drive up and back country tent camping.  Reservations are made simple through the state’s online portal. You can pick your exact site and see pictures of it as well.

The nearest state park with camping is Susquehanna State Park and  Patapsco Valley State Park. Both are about a 30-minute drive. Susquehanna is our to camping spot when we are short on driving time with only about a 30-minute drive from Baltimore. (The short drive is a plus when you forget something handy like tent poles) It has a variety of tent and cabin sites built around fully equipped bathroom facilities and easy, moderate and difficult hiking trails with some leading to waterfalls.  Historic landmarks and 32 miles of river also surround it.

know before you go…

There are plenty of rangers and nature specialists that can help you plan your trip and ease your fear if you are not used to camping but want to have the experience with your family. Marshy Point Nature Center and Oregon Ridge Nature Center both have nature specialist willing to share tips on camping. For hiking with your family check out Jeff Alt’s book- Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep it Fun. Also consult the super helpful adventurers at REI in Timonium. REI also runs a Family Adventure Program for those just looking for day trips or small classes.


Editor’s Note: This article originally published in July 2014.