Do you have a childhood memory of family camping?

Sometimes playing in the mud can be a lot more fun than seeing another big tree

Sometimes playing in the mud can be a lot more fun than seeing another big tree

I was reminded this weekend of one of my earliest childhood memories about camping with my family, and it made me curious about how “normal” my experience was, so I’m hoping some of you will share your experiences, also.

Throughout the early and mid-1970’s, we lived in California which, despite the concrete jungles of the cities, offers some of the most interesting and varied landscapes to see in this country. From Death Valley in the southern part of the state, to the great redwood forests bordering Oregon in the North, one could spend a lifetime exploring California without running out of places to see.

I think I was 8 years old, when my parents bought a 1966 Dodge Van and we started exploring California in 1973. I can remember disappointment; hiking to the top of the volcano at Lassen National Park – which ended-up not looking anything like what I thought a volcano should look like, and the ancient bristlecone pines of the Inyo National Forest, which were just (to this child) a bunch of old, twisty trees.

I also remember the giant banana slugs in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, and the black bears in Yosemite National Park that could open the “bear proof” garbage cans, at will. On that same trip to Yosemite, I also vividly remember hang gliders going off El Capitan.

I see some of these same interests and disappointments in my children. While they might dismiss some great natural wonder as “ho-hum,” they will spend hours playing with salamanders in a mountain stream. It is important for us, as parents, to remember that our children’s interests are not always aligned with our own. If we are to promote and develop our children’s interest in nature, it’s important to let them explore nature on their terms – wherever that may lead

See also…

15 thoughts on “Do you have a childhood memory of family camping?

  1. I just found this, and it’s a little after the fact, but I want to add my thoughts. My parents camped with 5 kids in CA in the 50’s in a lot of the places you mention. I particularly remember Richardsons Grove, Redwoods in N.CA. There was a beautiful, clean river running through it that had a rocky bottom. People would start at some spot on inner tubes and float down the river, looking like they were having a blast. We never got to do that and its on my “someday” list to go back and see that river again. I LOVE the Redwoods and always take the opportunity to go be with them when I am in CA.

    I have a childhood memory of waking up in the middle of the night (a dark and stormy night!) and the (canvas) tent was FULL of water. My dad was outside digging a trench around the tent trying to reroute this flow of water. My mom was telling us not to move, to stay on our air mattresses and my brother was trying to get out and splash around. The thing that stood out to me about this was that our dad worked in water in CA and on/with all the canals that carry water all over CA…so as a kid I was thinking…”ok, this is what my dad does when he goes to work, he digs trenches and now we were getting to see him at work.” I told him about this years later and he laughed, but said it was a pretty serious situation. They were close to putting all of us in the car and driving away.

    I have a particular memory about camping with my kids, and looking for my boys (8 & 9 yrs old at the time) at a campground in Banff, Canada. I found them sitting on the ground in a little grove of quiet trees, cross legged, heads together, deep in conversation about something. There was something old and wise about those two little boys having what looked like a serious meeting to decide the fate of the known world!

    • Jenn – we spent several hours at that spot in Richardson Grove just skipping stones across the river. The kids had a blast there! We woke up one morning, on that trip, and there were 5 bull elk grazing out in a field – it’s one of our favorite places but, unfortunately, we don’t get up there much, since it is so far away 🙁

  2. Here’s a good idea for family camping if you don’t want to always drag the cametra around. Go buy one of the very good yet cheap digital cameras that photograph using IR at night. They also work during the daytime to catch images. Dick’s Sporting Goods here in Tennessee has some for less than 40 bucks and they work great! never know what things show up at your campsite at night or during the day while gone out hiking. Plus, they are a good security system also if hidden somewhat.

  3. Mes, aren’t you a Ranger??? LOL. bro, before I was 6 years old I had a broken arm, leg and hand doing stupid things camping with mom and dad. But I had fun!

  4. Car camping is a great way to introduce kids to the great outdoors and to hiking by taking them on short hikes around the campground. Make sure the kids have plenty of time and opportunity to help out and learn around the camp such as setting up the tents, cooking, cleaning up, keeping food away from wild animals and, their favorite activity, the camp fire.

    With my two sons, I find that at their age, they don’t care that we were hiking to a mountaintop with great views or two miles into the woods to see a spectacular waterfall. They were more interested in the things they saw along the way. Just as with a long car ride, they will ask, “Are we there yet?”

    I try to keep them from thinking about being tired long before they become tired. I addition to taking frequent breaks to rest and drink water, I would usually point out unusual looking rocks or trees along a trail and make up some story. Their imagination and curiosity usually takes over and keeps their mind off the fact that their little legs are getting tired. And before they realize how much time and miles have pasted, we arrive at our destination.

  5. Buttermilk Falls, NY, early seventies. Our annual family camping trip with our cousins. 4 adults and 8 kids.

    As soon as we arrived I was so excited I jumped out of the family station wagon and ran down the first hill I saw!
    Seconds later I was balled up at the bottom, crying from a broken collar bone. When my Dad, Uncle Don and I got back from the ER , the camp was all set up but the decision was mine; stay or go home. After all, I was the one wearing the brace. Well, we stayed, and it was an awesome week!!!
    Ahhh, the memories.

  6. I have some many great memories camping! Goodness! I can’t imagine not having those experiences. My and brothers building tree houses, swimming in the lakes, skipping rocks, etc.! Good times!

  7. Pingback: Your Memories of Childhood Camping | Northern California Hiking Trails Blog

  8. Oh do i have memories and most of them are great, but this one is digusting which is far more fun to talk about. One night the family dog got sick and went diarrhea all over my sleeping bag and our cabin and my mom tried to cover it with Lysol. I attempted to sleep in the car but ended up washing my bag as good as we could and slept in it despite the smell. Let’s just say we’ll never has lysol in this house.

    Eric’s last blog post..Life is Good

  9. I can remember dad always pumping away on the Coleman stove, trying to get it primed 🙂 I was also thinking last night that I don’t remember there being seatbelts in the van – times sure have changed.

  10. My family did a lot of camping trips when I was kid.

    I especially remember my parents taking my sister and I to the Olympic Peninsula when I was about ten in 1970. It was so moist and lush green. I remember walking through a large expanse of wet ferns.

    Later on that trip we came down the Oregon coast. At one campsite near the beach there was large group of hippies. I also met a girl my age there who I thought was quite cute!

    John Soares’s last blog post..“Li’l” Little Smokey the Bear

  11. I remember being a kid and going camping for a week or two at the camp ground just up the street from our house. When we left the house we had the normal camping gear (tent, stove, sleeping bags, ect.). My father kept going home during the week and bring stuff with him. I think by the end of the trip we had half the house at the camp ground including a mattress and a TV… I still had the time of my life…

    Jim Bradley’s last blog post..So You Wanna Go Geocaching? (Part 2)

  12. In the early 70’s I was about 8 years old, and my parents took myself and younger brother and sister camping for a week at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park.

    The park is in Michigan (where I grew up) and on the shore of Lake Michigan. P.J. is best known for its spectacular sand dunes and elevated wooden walkways and stairs over the dunes and down to the shore.

    While we were there, I explored every area I was allowed to, and while on one particular sojourn, I spotted a box turtle in the woods near the shore that seemed (to me anyway) to be in obvious distress.

    I ran back to the camping area and got my father and explained to him that we “needed to go save the turtle.”

    After arriving back at the turtle, I stood back while my father approached. My 8 year old mind was all too concerned and was wondering how my father could help.

    Getting on his knees, he brushed the leaves that the turtle was laying on, aside and turning toward me, said “Come here Adam.”

    Approaching hesitantly, I took a knee beside him and grimaced at what I thought were the turtles insides, falling out.

    “This turtle is laying eggs, see that, that is the tube which it extends into this hole that she has dug. Now wait a minute… quick, look!”

    I looked, squeamishly, and to my horror and delight, watched as the turtle slowly laid one egg after another.

    Thanks Roy, for writing this post, and bringing back a memory that I had almost forgotten about. This is just one of thousands of reasons why I fight for the environment and natural spaces. Nature, in all its glory, is worth saving.


    Adam Shake’s last blog post..Good News Monday – Positive Green News From Around the World

  13. I wasn’t a child but I do remember once (and many times thereafter) I took my 3 kids to a small lake up in the Big Horn Mts of Wyoming/Montana border. We spent the day catching nice pan size rainbow trout and cooked them over an open fire. The smiles I saw on my childrens’ faces were more than enough to last an eternity for me. We got wet, we got muddy and we had one heck of a good time climbing all over the mountains that day. I brought out the old harmonica and we sang and played cowboy tunes until the sun started to set. Then we headed back down to our little town of Cowley Wyoming, population 263. Good times and great memories.

  14. I learned that lesson some years ago when my kids were much younger. Both my son & daughter were visiting for the Summer and my wife and I thought it was the perfect time for a big family trip.
    We flew to Arizona to expose these youngsters to one of the great wonders of the natural world! My disappointment was at an all time high as I turned, standing in the Grand Canyon, to see my son playing with his Gameboy oblivious to the incredible scenery all around him!!
    Later in the trip, I could hardly get the same son to stop his splashing and giggling to come out of the skin numbing water at Slippery Rock!