Story by Karen Johnsrud
If you have a child under 12 months old, a camping trip may not be your idea of a vacation, especially camping in a tent, but with a little planning and a lot of flexibility, it may just be a lot more enjoyable than you imagined. Our first baby camping experience took place over the Canada Day holiday in the heart of Kananaskis Country, when friends offered to provide “back up” by way of their RV if the tenting trial failed. No need to offer twice! As backpacking and camping enthusiasts, my husband and I had been waiting for the opportunity to share our passion for the outdoors with our nine-month-old son.
After investing in a new family tent (our three-man tent just wouldn’t cut it) and doing a little research we headed out to join a group of other campers at the Stoney Creek Provincial Recreation Area in Kananaskis, approximately 85 kilometres (53 miles) west of Calgary. This stunning area is the foothills to the Canadian Rockies and our enthusiasm grew as we drove Alberta’s scenic Highway 40 to our destination.
Many outdoor enthusiasts love tent camping. It’s something to do with creating a temporary home in nature, in the woods and apart from your regular comfort zone. We gleefully selected a campsite that was surrounded by shady trees with a view of the lofty mountains nearby and were presented with our first camping-with-a-baby lesson.
Camping, or any vacation with little ones, can be enhanced by travelling to a place that mom and dad find pleasing. While it may be easy to drive 60 minutes to the closest provincial park, I am a firm believer of “in for a penny, in for a pound.” If junior doesn’t appreciate the scenery and atmosphere, mom and dad certainly will. Here are 10 vital tips for successful camping with a baby.
1. Practice setting up your tent before you head out on your trip. We had a new, much larger tent than we were accustomed to and it was accompanied by a vague photo and two lines of instructions. Of course, this was easy stuff for experienced campers like us. Or not! It’s quite difficult to erect a large unfamiliar tent on your own when your partner is busy attending to a nine-month-old that has suddenly discovered putting large stones in his mouth was not only exciting but also essential. Lesson learned. Once the tent was in place, we were very happy — and relieved — to learn that it comfortably accommodated a double sleeping mattress and a Pack n’ Play. The height of the tent also allowed us to stand up fully, which is extremely useful when putting a sleepy infant to bed.
2. Bring a Pack n’ Play. Co-sleeping isn’t something that we practice in our household (our boy likes to sleep alone) therefore a Pack n’ Play proved to be perfect for night-time sleep, but was also invaluable for those times when small legs want to crawl and big legs have other things to do. Like cook supper, clean up and enjoy the occasional break.
3. Bring, and use, plenty of layers. During our trip we were blessed with exceptionally warm weather and clear skies, but as always in the mountains the nights are often cool. Our little one was snug in pyjamas, a hoodie, a sleep sack, and a hat and mitts. We also added two extra blankets under the sheet to minimize the effect of cold air rising from the ground.
4. Pick a quiet camping spot. Everyone knows that camping is a quiet and relaxing pastime. The only sounds you hear are bird songs and the wind rustling through the trees. Unless, that is, you have a baby who you want to sleep through the night. Suddenly a camp site becomes annoyingly loud. Why do RV generators hum so noisily? Why are people still awake and laughing at full volume at 10 pm? Of course your youngster was probably so busy during the day that he/she will blissfully sleep through the night but if you can pick a camp site that is farther away from other campers it will certainly help.
5. Bring a portable high chair. Food (and oftentimes beer) is an essential aspect of any camping trip and balancing junior on your lap while trying to eat at a rickety picnic table can be tricky. Bringing along a portable high chair will ensure you keep your little one safe and get to enjoy your food too. On day two we decided to go for a hike with friends and their 21-month-old son. We prepared a lunch and headed out to Upper Kananaskis Lakes in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Peter Lougheed Provincial Park has many hiking trails to suit all different abilities. We decided to hike the Upper Lake Trail, which offers plenty of stunning views and a good amount of shade.
6. Choose a hiking trail with plenty of other hikers or a good variety of things to see. Our first day hike with our son a few weeks prior had been selected based on its short length, but scenery was scarce and so were other hikers. Our very curious child was bored less than halfway through, although, to be fair, so were his parents.
7. Invest in a comfortable baby carrier. Hiking with babies is only fun if they are comfortable and happy so it’s worth the time and effort to purchase a good quality baby carrier. We bit the bullet and purchased an Osprey Poco Plus. Retailing at $319.99 it has been worth every penny as both junior, dad and mom are all comfortable when using it.
8. Bring baby-friendly sunscreen and bug spray. This is one on those things that can easily be forgotten in the midst of a packing spree. On a past day hike it came to our attention that we needed to purchase an alternative bug spray from the high-DEET level, kill-them-as-soon as-they-come within-a-two-mile-radius repellent that we use for backcountry hiking. Fortunately the mosquitoes were scarce on that hike but we quickly purchased a new one as soon as we could. Health Canada recommends one application of 10 per cent DEET to be used no more than once daily for children aged six months to two years.
9. Keep a sun shade or pop or umbrella in your vehicle at all times. Our third day in Kananaskis promised a temperature of 31 degrees Celsius (88 Fahrenheit) and we decided to consider an alternative to hiking. Water seemed to be the obvious choice and we headed over to the nearby Barrier Dam area. Barrier Lake is a popular manmade watering hole with a sometimes muddy beach and shallow sections where kids can paddle. There are also canoe, kayak and stand-up paddle board rentals during summer weekends. In the intense heat we were very grateful for our family-sized shade and spent a pleasant afternoon people watching and enjoying the breeze. An alternative to the lake is the new Aquatics Centre at Elevation Place in Canmore (approximately 30 minutes by car from Kananaskis). With a 25-metre pool, lazy river, water slide and children’s play area the centre offers a great air-conditioned option on hot, sunny days.
10. Be Flexible! Even if you forget all other tips, this is the one to remember. Your camping trip will be very different to those you had before a baby. You most certainly won’t have the amount of freedom or leisure time that you were used to, unless you bring along your au pair or mother-in-law. So be flexible, relax, slow down your pace and enjoy the experience. You are guaranteed to create a vacation full of memories of a fun, family camping trip that will last forever.
More About Camping with Babies
If you are planning a family camping trip but don’t have all of the equipment you need, don’t worry, you can rent baby carriers, Pack n’ Plays, portable high chairs, strollers and more from Little Traveller, a company based in Calgary, or Snugglebug Baby Gear Inc., located in Canmore.
Kananaskis Village is in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, but is still outside the Banff National Park boundary; therefore, you do not need to purchase a National Park Pass. For more information about Kananaskis refer to the official Visitor Information website.
Stoney Creek Provincial Recreation Area is a group camp site on Highway 40 but there are plenty of other campsites in Kananaskis. For more information or to book a site, visit the Alberta Parks website.
Check the Trail Report for more information about hikes in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Osprey Poco Plus baby carrier and other camping equipment can be purchased at Camper’s Village. The staff are usually very happy to help you find a baby carrier that fits well.
During the weekends you can rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle-board at Barrier Lake from Kananaskis Outfitters.