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This summer I’m trying to soak up the smell of crisp pine needles mingled with smokey fires and mosquito repellant. If they’d bottle it, I’d buy it, because for some reason I’ve bought into the idea that camping smells are the smells of happy summers.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been camping as much as I’d like. Sleep and camping are often at odds with one another, and I need my sleep desperately. There’s also my organizational hurdle of having to pack for a family of six. In my life, it’s not a grocery trip unless I forget one thing.
Basically, I love camping but I also hate it.
Despite the downsides (sleeplessness, dirt, questionable bathroom situations), I’ve decided this is the summer to start camping more with my kids. It’s pretty much a crime not to, since we’re so close to places like Yosemite and the Pacific Ocean. We also live near Camp Edison, the second best campground in the state, according to Sunset Magazine. Plus, I really want that happy summer smell, you know?
There are various levels of camping, and it can be intimidating to someone who doesn’t get out in nature much. Between the glamping, and the backpacking into the wilderness and sleeping in trees, and RV camping, and tent camping… there are a lot of options.
If you want to make the most of being next door to some world-class nature, and just go camping already, here are some tips to psych you up and get you motivated.
Camping Tip #1: Be Prepared
The key to success is to be organized. Most experts suggest packing your camping gear in plastic bins. Keeping your gear organized might be the most important part of camping preparedness. No one wants to spend half an hour looking for their bug repellant.
Typically, people have multiple bins divided by category. For example, a box for kitchen supplies and one for linens (sleeping bags). I’m not going to boss you around and tell you exactly how to label your bins, but you get the idea.
“Being prepared” is relative when you’re camping. It depends on your standards. I’ve seen online camping checklists that include “stove toaster.” I don’t even know what that is, but it seems unnecessary.
There are also those parents who want to pack 40 gallons of hand sanitizer and biodegradable soap. I guess. If you take kids camping, they’re going to be dirty. Let’s not fight against the current here—we need our rest for trying to sleep through the night.
So, be organized but also be aware that whatever you take into the wilderness, you have to take back out. Think about what you actually need to survive (the basics, but also things like games if you have easily bored kids), and then start collecting the items in your labeled bins weeks before you set off.
To see a sample camping necessities checklist, click here.
Camping Tip #2: Start in the Golden State (There’s a Jillion Options)
Do I dream of traveling America on a shoestring budget like Jack Kerouac (but with four kids and a Suburban instead of freedom and fast living)? Yes. But that’s not realistic at this point.
Luckily for those of us who live in the Central Valley, there’s no need for a long road trip to find a fabulous campsite. I mentioned before that Camp Edison is one of the best places to camp in California, and it’s right in our backyard. It includes 252 campsites on the shores of Shaver Lake (with electricity!), and is not a huge travel commitment for people in the Fresno area. For more information, or to make reservations, check out the Camp Edison website here.
Of course, we’re also near to several epic National Parks, including Sequoia and King Canyon, and of course Yosemite. You’ll want to do a little bit of research to find a campground that suits you. In Sequoia and Kings Canyon, people who are just starting to camp have enjoyed staying at campsites in Grant’s Grove, Cedar Grove, and Hume Lake, and in Yosemite, Crane Flat Campground is pretty popular.
If you want to trade bears for jellyfish, beach camping is another fabulous option. Of course there’s Pismo State Beach, a local favorite. You could also go north to Santa Cruz or south to Santa Barbara and have plenty of options.
In fact, the KOA Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay location is full of amenities and activities. You could test your camping chops there AND have access to mini golf and swimming pools. There’s even a human-sized hamster ball at this campground that you can ride around in.
No matter where you decide to go, I suggest making a reservation online. Especially during the summer, campgrounds can get pretty crowded, and no one wants to pack a bunch of plastic bins only to find the campground is full. Many campgrounds take reservations six months in advance.
For Sunset Magazine’s list of Top California Campsites, click here.
For National Park campgrounds and camping tips, click here.
Camping Tip #3: Don’t Give Up (Attitude is Everything)
Even if you’ve packed your stove toaster (what), 40 gallons of hand sanitizer, bandaids, flashlights, and bear repellant, there’s no guarantee your trip will be smooth sailing. This is what is known as adventure. I know, I hate it too sometimes. When things happen outside of our control, it’s hard to enjoy the moment. However, usually those are the moments we remember and laugh about later.
On my last camping excursion, during the s’more ceremonies, things got a bit crazy. My husband, who had just proclaimed his mastery over s’more creations, set his marshmallow on fire and accidentally flung it onto my 8-year-old. Luckily my child wasn’t hurt, just furious and sticky. As I cleaned him up, he swore he’d never listen to anyone tell him how good they are at making s’mores again. It’s good advice, really.
When you venture outside your door, you have to expect the experts to fail you. It’s life. So even if you come home sleep deprived, sunburned, and covered in bug bites, you can still have that scent of summer lingering on your clothes. You might even have some funny stories to tuck away for the winter.
So grab that sleeping bag and make some memories, because camping is an affordable way to adventure (and escape the heat). Feel free to drop your camping tips in the comments!