A big summer family camping trip is not something that I would want to do every year and, indeed, it’s been four years since our last one, but with two full weeks of vacation available, this seemed like a great time for another. The difference between a “big” family camping trip and a regular summer family camping trip is the number of camping days involved. Big trips mean planning for things, like washing clothes, that you don’t normally worry about on regular camping trips.
You might think that a two-week family camping vacation takes a lot of preparation, but many times you can get by with last-minute campsite reservations. In fact, I made all of our reservations on June 15th, for our family camping vacation that would begin on June 26th. Our plan was to travel up the northern California coast to the Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. After a few days in the redwoods, we continued on up into Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. Finally, we would wrap-up our two-week vacation in Lassen National Park, on the way home.
Visiting one of the national parks has been a theme in both of our big family camping vacations. There are 392 national parks and I would like to eventually see them all. But for now, occasionally getting to share the national park experience with my children is satisfying, enough. At Crater Lake National Park it was the deep blue water, in Lassen National Park it was the snow and the bubbling mud pots – there is always something in these parks that the kids find interesting and memorable.
A two week camping vacation is a lot more work than a weekend family camping trip, which is one reason that we do not do this every summer. Even with a scheduled stop in civilization so that the kids could visit grandparents (and we could shower, wash clothes, restock food, etc.), there are a lot of meals and changes-of-clothes to account for. In addition to the logistics, there is the basic fact that you have a schedule to meet. It sounds like a small thing, but having to be somewhere on a specific date is a lot less relaxing than camping in one place.
You can start thinking about a big family camping vacation by making a list of all the places that you would like to visit, then grouping places together that can be seen on one trip. We limit any one day’s travel to four hours, which allows us to setup the campsite (usually at a state park) in the early afternoon and actually enjoy the place, before continuing on to our final destination. We also do not travel more than two days, in a row.
Obviously, you cannot see everything on one trip. It’s important to remember that this is still a vacation, which means more camping than traveling. Realize too, that if you are visiting multiple locations on one trip, you will only be able to get a general overview of any one place. This is fine for the kids, who tend to be more interested in variety, but may leave us parents wanting for more. I have been to Lassen twice, now – once as a child and once with my own children – and I still have not seen the Cinder Cone, in the northeast section of the park.
Finally, don’t forget your friends! Both times we have undertaken one of these multi-week journeys, some of our friends have been able to meet-up and camp with us, during some portion of our journey. This is a lot of fun for everyone and a great bonus to the trip, if you can coordinate it.