Let me begin by stating the obvious: camping with a toddler is challenging. It is not for the faint of heart, although it is highly rewarding if you are up for it. Here are some of my recent findings:
Most toddlers I know are curious, and want to touch and eat everything they see. Taking a toddler to a campsite means exposing them to a world of discovery, and risk. Even the most manicured Provincial park-like setting will provide toddlers with abundant places to fall, scrape their hands, hide, get excited, get scared, and get lost. Examine all areas of your campsite for broken glass, discarded food or trash, and wild animals before allowing a child to explore. Keep a close watch on them at all times.
No matter how many times to ask them to stay away, toddlers will be drawn to a campfire. If you choose to keep a fire going while small children are awake, provide clear guidelines for fire safety, and then provide other things for children to do, away from the fire. Although adults may be content to sit around quietly and stare at the embers, young toddlers may prefer to try to touch and eat them (see above). Setting up a play mat with special toys a safe distance from the fire can help. Assign older children to keep younger ones occupied if possible, and provide treats for all.
Dress your child appropriately for the weather, and then bring twice the back-up you think you will need for when the child inevitably falls in a mud-puddle. On a recent trip to Golden Ears Provincial Park, I packed layers of wool and fleece for my young one, and two different full-body rain suits. Camping in a downpour all weekend, we were glad to have extra layers. When the sun went down and the temperature dropped, our child needed all those layers to bundle up and stay warm at night.
For bedding, we brought a pack-and-play style portable crib, and set it up inside our large Coleman tent. This allowed a safe and sheltered place for nap time. We placed a small down comforter inside the crib as additional insulation from the cold ground, and lay the child on top of it in several warm layers. Don’t forget a hat and warm socks! When the weather allows, the crib can be brought outside for playtime. Being able to place a child in a crib for a couple of minutes while you prepare food or pitch a tent is a life-saver, especially if your child is not happy to stay put in their car seat for a single second longer than necessary.
Although it can be really exhausting, camping with young children is worth the effort. On our recent trip to Golden Ears Provincial Park, my daughter came face to face with a rabbit and stared at it in awe for a few seconds until it eventually hopped away into the bushes. Not a bad way to celebrate Easter in the woods!