Camping has become an increasingly popular family activity, and it’s not hard to see why. There’s no better way to experience all of nature’s offerings. A leisurely hike, jumping fish, s’mores around the campfire - it all adds up to hours of stress-free quality time with the ones you love most. And even the plushest camping accommodations are inexpensive compared to other lodging. The 2012 Canadian Nature Survey found that 28 per cent of Albertans go camping at least once a year. So when in-town temps soar this summer, pack up your family and head to the mountains for a breath of fresh air.
Here are tips to ensure a great experience:
Research and reserve. Get recommendations from friends, and access online information about campgrounds, including site maps and fees. During the summer months, it’s best to reserve your site way in advance when possible. National, Provincial and other public parks often provide excellent camping facilities at moderate cost. Privately-owned campgrounds are typically more expensive, but may come with amenities such as laundry facilities and a pool. Narrow your search by clicking on desired features: showers, flush toilets, hiking, beach access, playground, a convenience store, etc. See websites in last paragraph.
Make a list and check it twice. A printout of must-haves can help you avoid leaving necessities at home. Who wants to drive all the way back home for a box of Band-Aids? Pare and adapt according to your family’s needs.
Get your gear. If you already have the essentials, be sure everything is in good working condition. You don’t want to discover a hole in your tent during a downpour. If you’re new to camping (or trying it for the first time with children) you may want to borrow a tent and other items from a friend. Rentals are also available. Find options and prices at the University of Calgary’s Outdoor Centre, ucalgary.ca/outdoorcentre/rental.
Make a dry run. Before you hit the road, practice using any unfamiliar piece of equipment. Set up the tent, install the car top carrier and light the camping stove. Not only will you avoid fumbling in bad weather, you’ll give the kids a preview of the camping experience. Try a night or two of camping in the back yard before heading to the campground.
Plan meals. You can chop veggies ahead of time, and use pre-cooked frozen foods as ice blocks in your cooler. If you’re using a camp stove, foods that can be cooked with hot water (pasta, instant oatmeal) are quick and easy. And never underestimate the value of grabbing a meal at the local pizzeria or burger joint if you’re camped near a town.
Bear safety. If you are camping in the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks, these parks are home to both grizzly and black bears. Although the chances of having an encounter with an aggressive bear are low, proper planning before you head out camping can help reduce your risk of an encounter.
Bears have a very keen sense of smell. Attractive odors include food and garbage, as well as toiletries and scented products, insect repellent, sunscreen and toothpaste. Store these items in a bear cache or in the trunk of your car. You should also prepare and cook food at least 100 metres away from your tent.
According to Parks Canada, never leave any of these items unattended:
Coolers – full/empty
Food – open/closed
Any item associated with food preparation
Check the weather forecast. It may be sweltering in town, but if you’re camping in the mountains or on the coast, remember that evenings and early mornings can be chilly. You may also need to prepare for rainy or windy conditions.
Nighttime temperatures in the Canadian Rockies can get quite low, even at the height of summer. If you are camping with a baby, they lose heat more quickly than older children and adults, so your little one will need some help staying cozy at night. Below 10 degrees Celsius or 15 degrees Celsius in wet, windy weather, body temperature can drop if babies are wearing inadequate clothing. Keep babies and young toddlers warm at night with several layers of clothing (preferably fleece or wool), thick socks and a hat for sleeping. In especially chilly climes, be watchful for cool, clammy skin, which indicates that a baby needs an extra layer or two. Early symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, cold, pale or blue-grey skin and decreased alertness.
According to canadianrockieshiking.com, clothing must be durable to withstand mountain conditions. Cotton clothing is not recommended as an insulating layer as it causes rapid heat loss when wet. Think of layering your clothing so that you have options for different temperatures and conditions. And don’t forget a wool or fleece hat to keep every member of the family warm at night!
Review rules. When you arrive at the campsite, scope it out before you set up equipment. Call a quick family meeting and point out site boundaries, bathrooms, trash containers and water. Remind the kids to respect neighboring sites, clean up after themselves and refrain from feeding wildlife. Make sure everyone is aware of potential dangers such as creeks, cliffs and rash-producing plants.
Relax and unwind. After you’ve set up camp, it’s time to let the great outdoors work its magic. Hike and fish. Organize a scavenger hunt. Prop your feet up by the campfire. Eat s’mores. Tell ghost stories after the sun goes down. Drink an adult beverage. Play a card game with the kids by the lantern’s glow. Find constellations you can’t see in the city. It’s all good.
Dealing with ‘tech deficit.’ Younger than tween-age kids will have no problem occupying themselves with nature’s bounty: mud, sticks, rocks and water. Amid their fort-building and cricket-chasing, they’ll scarcely notice the lack of screens and devices. Many National and Provincial parks offer public education programs, and onsite interpreter guides can help kids discover the unique features of the site.
For older kids (as well as parents), technology has its benefits. Fill your phone with nature-related apps, and there will be no need to lug 10 field guides and a journal on your next hike. Another tech bonus: you can easily log your discoveries. Check out gizmodo.com for a review of apps related to animals, plants, rocks, constellations, citizen science and hiking trails.
Find the perfect campground!
Parks Canada Reservation Service - reservation.pc.gc.ca/home.aspx
Alberta Parks - reserve.albertaparks.ca/public/reservation/findcampsite.htm
Privately-Owned, Amenity-Loaded Campgrounds - camping-canada.com
Ashley is a freelance writer and mother of two young boys. She and her family like to spend as many summer nights as possible eating s’mores by the campfire.
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