Like most new parents, my life and that of my husband’s, were forever changed last Fall with the arrival of our baby daughter, Autumn Eugenia Goffin. In spite of our permanently altered reality, we vowed we wouldn’t let parenthood stop us from venturing into the great outdoors and doing all the things we loved to do together. Being together in nature was part of what connected us as a couple. We had seen many friends mostly give up on getting out with baby, because it was “too much work” or there was “too much stuff” to pack. It’s true, since becoming parents, we’ve learned that babies have poopy diapers, a constant need to play and explore and usually require a few additional belongings wherever they go. However, with a little extra planning and preparation, we were convinced we could still enjoy regular outdoor family adventures.
As our Summer plans began to fall into place, we—literally–began gearing up for six hiking/camping trips in a variety of settings, including a state park, a national forest service fire lookout and a music festival. Some have passed and some have yet to come, and I’ve decided to share each experience through this six-part blog series. My hope is to pique curiosity and support others looking to get outside in their new plus-one lives. Whether you’re a seasoned summiteer or have yet to hit the trail, I hope to offer some reassurance and motivation, so your families can safely and comfortably enjoy all the natural beauty Oregon has to offer this Summer. Thanks for reading!
Autumn’s Summer Adventures Part I: Car Camping in Milo McCiver State Park
Back in early May, my husband Josh and I decided that since we had reached the six month mark, it was time for an overnight with Autumn in the great outdoors. Up until that point, baby girl had explored nature with a few hikes through Hike It Baby, some snowshoeing in Vermont, hiking with friends and on various local trips. Though we were a bit nervous about such an undertaking, we knew we had to test the waters if we wanted to successfully accomplish an overnight backpacking trip with our daughter before her first birthday. So, we planned a trip with our friends and their little one, and headed out for Milo McCiver State Park in Estacada, Oregon one dreary Saturday morning. . .just as soon as our daughter awoke from her morning nap.
After winding through rolling hills and acreage of Douglas Firs, we arrived at our quaint, wooded camp site. The first order of business? Putting up shelter. A few gentle raindrops reminded us that if we were to last until morning, staying dry was a must. Once the canopy was secured overhead, it was mostly smooth sailing as we settled in with our little ones around the campfire for the night.
Once back home the next day, the campfire smell lingered as laundry, bedding and toys were unpacked, giving way to reflections of a mostly successful first camping trip. Though it wasn’t perfect, babies didn’t fall in the fire and everyone stayed dry—and really, what more could I have asked for?
The following are tips and lessons learned on Autumn’s first summer adventure:
- Make a checklist. It’s inevitable that I will always forget at least one key item on any given getaway, and this trip was no different. Even though we brought more than what was needed for the trip overall, we forgot a lot of things. We forgot to pack potatoes for the dinner we were sharing with friends, we forgot our pillows and an extra blanket for Autumn to lay on in her pack and play (thank goodness for extra blankets in car emergency kits!). So, a checklist is a great way to make sure you pack everything needed and don’t forget essentials. I’ve made a Camping Checklist to help you get started.
- Bring more than is needed. A primary goal of this trip was to over pack in an effort to decide what was absolutely necessary and what could be tossed back into the camping bin. We found that we only needed half the clothes and diapers we brought, and could’ve gotten away with a couple less toys and no baby wash cloths. The French Press, however? Completely necessary (and we didn’t forget the coffee).
- Stay close to home. Knowing you are only a couple of Michael Jackson songs away from home should disaster strike offers peace of mind. Though Autumn is about as easy-going and happy as they come, the last thing we wanted to deal with was a screaming baby in our tent in the middle of the night and disturbing others trying to sleep. Barking dogs are bad enough (we know, we have one), no need to add a baby to the mix. Which leads me to my next point…
- Check in with your neighbors. Though we really only did the smile and nod thing, I wish that we had taken a moment to say hi to our neighbors and let them know that we were REALLY excited to be on our first camping trip with our baby. And it couldn’t have hurt to have Autumn throw them one of her heart melting smiles. Really. For everyone’s benefit, consider having a quick conversation before the sun goes down.
- Don’t over plan your agenda. I’m an over planner to the max, so naturally, I prepared a mental agenda for our short trip. I had plans to hike around the park as a group, plans to go and explore as much as possible and plans to break out a deck of cards. What really happened? We sat at camp playing with our babies and drinking beer – though, I did get to sneak off for a short run late in the afternoon. (But let’s be honest, it was really just an excuse to get a break from nursing and holding Autumn for 30 minutes.) It will take at least twice as long to do most things with a baby, and even longer at a campsite, so be realistic in your goals.
- Consider sleeping arrangements. I’ve been plagued with fairly severe sleep problems and deprivation since being a mom, and really can’t sleep in the same room as my child. Sleeping in a hotel room is bad, but sleeping in a tent is pretty much torture. We brought a pack and play for Autumn to sleep in, and it worked really well. Autumn slept great. . .as did her dad. If you’re like me, co-sleeping in a tent may be difficult and sleeping bag sharing may just be out of the question altogether. So, think about your sleep preferences ahead of time and make a plan that will work for everyone (even if it means mom is in another tent or in the car).
- Don’t forget comfort items. Though babies are extremely adaptable and flexible, they do take comfort in routine and familiarity. Favorite toys, books or sounds can help add a level of comfort for a little one in a new environment. Keeping the bedtime routine as close to how it is at home may also help baby drift off and feel secure. Don’t forget your own comfort item, as well—a good book, a cozy sweatshirt or slippers, an essential oil or a beverage of choice might make all the difference!
- Give yourself a baby break. We packed a big blanket to spread on the ground, so that the babies could sit and play without getting dirty. It worked great. Our friends also brought and shared their mobile activity seat, which was a life saver. The babies took turns playing in it while the parents got a well-deserved break. I can’t stress this tip enough!
- Embrace the weather. While we were nervous about the rainy weather on this trip and really wanted a warm, sunny day, the end result ended up being perfect. The rain provided white noise during naps and at night, and the cool temperatures prevented Autumn from overheating in the tent. A complete win!
Camping with a baby definitely takes more commitment, energy, planning and time, but should also be a fun experience. Gather as many tips as you can so that you can confidently plan a getaway the whole family will enjoy. Here’s to building a campfire, kicking back, relaxing and toasting to your bad-ass camping self. You certainly deserve it!