I don’t have much experience camping in November, and as we left our house in the snow and drove for hours through snow blanketed hills, Brad and I asked ourselves repeatedly if we were crazy. Being in school has some serious perks, and one of them is the frequency of breaks and long weekends. On this particular weekend, the week before Thanksgiving, we decided to drive 4 hours south to Zion National Park for some hiking and camping.
Our fears were alleviated when we arrived at a nearly empty campground in a canyon still filled with trees bearing red, orange and yellow leaves. It turns out that November is an ideal time to visit the park – the crowds are gone, you can drive through the canyon, the leaves are beautiful, and while chilly, it is still warm enough for camping. It was a short weekend, so we got started right away.
Here are some new traveling with toddlers tips:
1. Be aware of hikes that have steep drop-offs. Toddlers like to run and skip and are notoriously clumsy. You will find yourself squeezing their hands tightly and feeling a bit panicked until you reach more level ground. The kids weren’t at all nervous – even though Annika cried the entire drive to the trailhead because the road was so high up.
2. If your toddler (or preschooler) wants to buy a hat (or shirt or backpack) that you can’t stand – buy it and tell her that it is her new hiking hat. Then she’ll be excited to hike and camp because she gets to wear her hat. And you’ll only have a few pictures (or a lot) with the ugly hat – but awesome hiker poses make it ok.
3. Even toddlers can appreciate incredible views, but don’t underestimate the fun of a rock jungle gym and a natural sandbox.
4. Campfires are wonderful, and are the cure for almost everything when you are camping. Unless you are Lucy – and then the sound of the wood popping is terrifying.
5. Make sure you take everyone to the bathroom before you all get in your sleeping bags. And make sure they are really done going to the bathroom. Otherwise, you’ll get all undressed and zipped up only to unzip, redress, put shoes on and walk to the bathroom. Twice, if you’re lucky. By that time everyone else in the tent will be asleep, which results in Annika saying “Hey, Mom! It’s like a mommy -daughter date!”
6. S’mores are a totally acceptable breakfast food.
7. Sticks are the best toys, and you can never have too many rocks.
8. Finally, being in the outdoors with your children can really bring out the best in them, and you’ll be surprised at how they exceed your expectations. We wanted to hike up the river a little bit into the Virgin River Narrows. Brad and I have done it a couple of times, but we wanted to show our girls; it is one of our favorite places in the world. However, it was November, and it was cold and rainy, and the water was a frigid 45 degrees. Anyone else we saw going up the river had on drysuits, special shoes, and had hiking poles. We had rolled up jeans with dry clothes in our bag. We put the twins in the backpack and crossed the river once, carrying Annika. It was so cold it hurt, and as the rain came down we decided we wouldn’t go any further. But Annika was determined. She wanted to hike in the river. After hearing her beg and plead, we decided we would put on her water shoes, roll up her pants and let her try it. It was so cold we were sure she would take a few steps in and then want to go home. But she didn’t. Even though the water was up to the top of her legs at times, she just kept going. It wasn’t until none of us could feel our extremities anymore that she consented to turning back. We are amazed at the girl she is growing up to be.
Lucy and Elise weren’t to be outshone either. On each of the three hikes we did, they hiked at least a mile – sometimes more. Their little legs just kept on going!
This last week Brad accepted an internship offer with DigitalGlobe – a satellite imagery company based in Longmont, CO. We’ll only be 20 minutes outside of Boulder and an hour from Rocky Mountain National Park. We are looking forward to spending an entire summer in the mountains with our tough little girls.