Camping with a Toddler: 7 Helpful Tips For Parents

July 17, 2016

We're a camping family. While we haven't yet done any back-country camping, we do enjoy doing car camping as a family. And when our kids were still little, we would even go camping with a toddler.

I didn't used to be an outdoor lover. But after living in the Pacific Northwest where there are so many great Washington state parks, being close to the outdoors is something you can't avoid. And for a family like us, who enjoys exploring nature, camping is a great way to experience the outdoors.

I didn't start enjoying camping until I met my husband, who grew up camping with his grandparents. As parents, we both decided that camping would be something that we share with our own kids. And now that we've made camping part of our family tradition, I even enjoy doing solo camping trips with my kids. Having a camping adventure with my kids is a fun way to bond as a family.

This post was updated on April 17, 2020.

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Camping with a toddler in Washington state park
Camping with a toddler at a Washington state park (July 2017)

Taking a solo camping trip with my son

When my son was still just a toddler, I decided to test out my camping skills and go on a solo mother-son camping trip with him. As a parent, it's good to do solo trips with just one of your children every once in awhile, to help strengthen your bond with that child.

And regardless of how old your children are, camping is always a fun travel activity to do. Starting your kids young, when they are toddlers, helps them get used to being in the outdoors. Also, cultivating a love for the outdoors early on in your children helps them to become responsible and environmentally-minded adults in the future.

For our camping trip, we chose a spot at Manchester State Park, which is near Port Orchard, WA. Although it's a relatively small park, the campgrounds are nice. It provided just the right amount of hiking for my little one. Our camping with a toddler experience was off to a good start!

Check out my camping posts to get more helpful tips on camping with kids.

Camping with a toddler at Manchester State Park
Exploring the area at Manchester State Park (July 2016)

My experience camping with a toddler

I was a bit worried about what it would be like to go camping with a toddler. Will he run off somewhere? Is he going to get bored? What am I going to do if he gets hurt? But thankfully, everything went smoothly, and my son and I had a great time.

If you have a toddler of your own, and are worried about camping with him or her, there's no need to worry. Here are some tips for camping with a toddler that I picked up from this trip.

Camping with a toddler
Checking out the water at Manchester State Park (July 2016)

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1. Add an element of adventure

Manchester State Park is located on an island just west of Seattle. This means we had to ride on a ferry to get there. My kids, especially my son, are still young enough to think ferries are cool, so ferry rides are always an adventure for them.

If you're camping with your toddler, try and throw in some element of adventure into the trip. Take an out of the ordinary method of transportation, or make up a story about the place where you'll be camping. They'll enjoy the imaginative aspect of it all, and it makes an already adventurous experience even more so.

Our Turo rental for the weekend (July 2016)

2. Bring toys that can get dirty

Toys are mainly to keep your toddler occupied on the ride to and from the campsite. More often than not, once your kids get to the campsite, there will be more than enough things out in nature to keep them busy.

When you're picking out the toys to bring, take ones that you don't mind getting dirty or possibly getting lost.

Here are some examples of toys and books to buy that will make great camping entertainment for toddlers.

Hape wooden helicopter toy

Board books by Sandra Boynton

Green Toys recycled plastic trucks

Hiking at the state park (July 2016)

3. Pack extra clothes when you're camping with a toddler

My son is currently potty training, so this is a no-brainer for me. But even if your kid is fully potty-trained, or still in diapers, it helps to pack along several extra changes of clothing. Kids, especially toddlers, like to get dirty. And if it rains at your campsite, which happens quite often in the Pacific Northwest, you're going to want to have some dry clothes to change your kids into.

Chowing down on hot dogs (July 2016)

4. Time your bathroom breaks

Traveling solo with a kid means you'll need to accompany them everywhere. So if one of you needs to use the bathroom, make sure the other one also uses it at the same time. That way, you won't have to drag your kid to the campground bathroom more times than you need to. Also, make sure you have your toddler use the bathroom before he or she goes to sleep, so you won't have to do a middle of the night bathroom break.

The trail to the bathrooms (July 2016)

5. Remind them about safety at the camp site

My son is at that stage where he likes to be helpful. He's also at the stage where he likes to do everything that I am doing. This means, helping out with carrying water, helping with setting up the tent, and helping with the fire (which he was quite disappointed about when I refused to let him do).

While having your kids help out around the campsite is great, make sure you remind them about how to be safe. Toddlers are old enough to start understanding what's safe and not safe, as long as you take some time to explain it to them. Of course, the main focus should be on fire safety, but also remember to keep your kids safe from the road, and around tools like knives and hatchets.

Hot dogs cooking on a campfire grill, with camping kettle and pot, during camping with a toddler
Cooking hot dogs by campfire (July 2016)

6. Give them downtime throughout the day

All that outdoor fun can get exhausting! One of the things I made sure to do was to give my son some downtime. I set up his toys in the tent, and as I was preparing dinner, he kept himself occupied in the tent, rolling around on the sleeping bags and playing with the toys and flashlights. Just like at home, kids need some calm quiet time to decompress after a long day.

Camping with a toddler in Washington state
Hanging out by the water (July 2016)

7. Keep it simple if you're new to camping with a toddler

I have friends who are avid backpackers, and they often do back-country camping trips with their one year old son. This is not me! I am not by nature an outdoorsy person, so the most rustic I'll get is car camping.

But quite honestly, this is perfect for toddlers. Unless you're already an avid outdoors person, try and keep your camping excursion as simple as possible. Stock up your car with all the car camping essentials and head to the nearest state park or campground. This will make it less stressful both for you and your kid.

Helping out at the camp site (July 2016)

Bonus tip: teach them to be respectful of the environment

It's never too early to start teaching your kids to be a responsible traveler. As you spend time in the outdoors, remind your toddler how important it is to be respectful of the environment. This can be as simple as avoiding damaging trees or plants. Or it can involve participating in some conservation activities while you're camping.

Making the activity fun will allow your toddler to associate environmental conservation with something positive. This in turn will help them build good conservation habits in the future.

Click here for more ideas on how to explore the outdoors with your children.

Hiking in Washington state

Building a special relationship with your kids through the outdoors

My son and I had an awesome time camping at Manchester State Park. We ate hot dogs, roasted marshmallows, played by the water, and even saw a deer on one of our hikes! Plus, I think he enjoyed all the dedicated mommy time during our camping adventure (and mommy enjoyed it too!).

These are the types of experiences that will leave lasting impressions on your kids, and help them to become an avid traveller in the future. If you're nervous about going on a camping trip with a toddler, I'm certain these tips will assure you that it's not as challenging as it may seem. You've got this! Happy camping!

Have you gone camping with a toddler? What's your advice for your fellow parents? Share them in the comments!

Dreaming of a big family travel adventure with your kids? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel! as a resource for tools, advice, and action steps for planning your trip.

Camping With A Toddler: Seven Helpful Tips For Parents | The Wandering Daughter

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