Tips for Camping with Toddlers and Preschoolers

When I announced we’d be taking our two young preschool-age daughters camping this summer, there were plenty of dropped jaws.

“Really, in a tent?” many friends, family members and strangers would ask as though my husband and myself had plead temporary insanity.

With Molly now four and Zoe, 2, we figured there’s no better time than the present to enjoy some quality family time in the great outdoors amidst the mosquitoes, bears, ticks and whatever wildlife abounds in Manning Park, British Columbia.

Keep in mind, this was our first camping trip post children. Our last tenting trip-todate was a boozy-filled weekend with friends, loud music and very little sleep.

This time around, the only thing that was the same was the latter. But thankfully there were no shadows of our former camper-selves partying nearby.


Aside from some minor tummy trouble, several bug bites, unexpected rain showers and an all-consuming fear a bear would enter our tent for a late-night  snack, I’d say our first went off without a hitch.  If you’re planning to brave a family camping trip with wee ones, here are a few tips to make it a smooth, happy alfresco adventure.

Tips for Camping with Toddlers and Preschoolers

1. Pack a potty

If you’re in the midst of potty training a trip to the outhouse is probably going to be a tough sell to a toddler. Heck, even I don’t want to sit on that smelly throne with pesky flies crashing into your bottom as you do your business. Even if your child is past potty training, a potty will come in handy late at night when you don’t feel like busting out the flashlight and walking over to the nearest toilet.

2. Keep them occupied

There will be plenty of moments where you’ll want to keep you kiddies busy and – if you’re out of reception areas  – there won’t be a television, iPad or cell phone to keep them from getting up to no good. I’ve found that puzzles, colouring books, board games –even Play dough can be a saving grace for times like setting up a tent, cooking, or when you just want to relax with a glass of vino fireside.

3. Have a practice run

Let’s face it, kids can be unpredictable –especially when they are younger.  Not every child is cut out for camping, but you can always try it out in your backyard first to see if they’re ready.  That way, if they put up a big fuss, you can head into the house for a good night’s sleep.

4. Keep them safe

If you’re kids are anything like mine, they’re will be plenty of scrapes, bumps and bruises to tend to as they play amongst the uneven campground terrain. Always have a First Aid kit within arm’s reach – even on outings to the lake or hiking trails. And if you haven’t yet invested in a life jacket for your child, there’s no better time than the present. Even if they don’t go into the water, it’s a great peace of mind to have when they frolic on the shoreline. Remember what I said about kids earlier –unpredictable!

5. Easy-peasy meals

Even if you enjoy the art of cooking, now is not the time to channel your inner Martha Stewart. With minimal cooking utensils, counter space, no running hot water and zero appliances, simplicity is the best way to go.  Plan out your meals/snacks ahead of time so that you can marinade, chop and prep ingredients in the comfort of your kitchen instead of at your tiny camp stove with pesky insects and wildlife hovering.

And there you have it, your Valley mom’s top tips to a fun-filled, stress-free family camping trip.

Have I missed one you’d like to share? Enter it in the comments below.

Found in Kids, Summer

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  • Kristyl Clark Sep 15, 2013, 1:46 pm

    Thanks Clifford, I would love to have a trailer. Would me camping so much easier with kiddies :)

  • Clifford Aug 26, 2013, 12:41 pm

    My wife and I camped a lot before we had the kids. We love to stay in a tent and build a fire pit, but when the kids came along we opted for a trailer. Now that they are older we do both and enjoy it so much that it has become our summer weekend thing to get away. Your tips are awesome, thanks for sharing.

  • Sarah [] Aug 12, 2013, 3:57 pm

    Great tips. We took our 2.5 year old last year…just one night, all we could handle. Not brave enough to do it this summer with a 2.5 year old and a 10 month old…maybe next year!

    • Kristyl Clark Aug 15, 2013, 2:53 pm

      Thanks Sarah, I don’t blame you with a 10-month-old. We decided to wait until our youngest was steady on her feet and was over the ‘let’s put everything in our mouth’ phase :)

  • Kristyl Clark Aug 12, 2013, 9:51 am

    Nicole – thanks so much! I agree that a trailer would be much easier and would eliminate my fear of being eaten alive by a bear during my slumber. Where do you usually go camping?
    Frank – wish I could say I took the photo, but where I went camping (Manning Park) is just as gorgeous.

    • Nicole Rowan Aug 12, 2013, 11:17 am

      Yes, it helps with Bear Fear Factor – especially for the kids as they get older and more aware and can read all the warning signs! We like Medicine Lake, Fish Lake (no power, good paddling), Long Lake for a more commercial experience, Sir Winston Churchill for power sites and a nice beach, and we just came back from Wabaso in Jasper – our fave campground there. Of course, there is great camping in southern Alberta and BC too – every year we venture in a different direction in addition to hitting our faves!

  • Nicole Rowan Aug 12, 2013, 9:02 am

    Great tips! I especially like the potty idea for little ones! My tip for tent camping: the canoe makes a great play pen!

    We too were avid tenters before kids but after #2, went only once UNTIL we caved a bought a cute little second-hand trailer which we absolutely love! Small enough to still go everywhere we like but big enough for our family of 5 and all our crap! Now the fridge, little tub and toilet make our camping experience so much easier! We keep trailer toys that the kids can’t wait to play with each year (play doh included)! We still have the tents and will surely go tent camping as the kids get older – even planning a canoe camping trip for next summer!

  • Frank Aug 12, 2013, 8:09 am

    Love the photo. Is that where you went camping?

    • Sheri Landry Aug 12, 2013, 10:19 am

      Frank, the photo is ours from our trip to BC in 2006. Thanks.