Camping with 5 kids under 5

23 December 2019

I mean, if that doesn’t sound like an adventure, what does?! Truthfully, our seventh camping trip together almost did the Rays in, I think, but in the end, we’ve all agreed we’re going back next year :) Here’s a peek at our weekend away, if you’d like to see!

This year, we chose Lake James State Park for our home base. Our side-by-side tent sites were close to the wash house, which was perfect for our frequent visits! The park itself was perched up on a hill without any lake views, but it was a quick drive to the beach — which we took advantage of, as you’ll see below!

Sometimes we camp in the spring and sometimes in the fall; this year we chose August to give the December baby a chance to grow up a bit! We’ve each camped with a 9-month-old in our family, and know it can be a tough age (limited mobility=frustration). That, in addition, to coming in with a sleep deficit, pretty well summed up the challenges for the Rays.

Of course, there were a million delights along the way, too! Conversation around the campfire, “dance recitals” in the road next to our campsite, a beautiful hike, time in the water, yummy meals, and lots of sweet moments.

We ventured out to revisit an old favorite hike – Lower Catawba Falls – and though it was a beautiful day, we were a little disappointed: we were sharing the trail with so many others, it felt like we were at Disney World! It was a shocking change from our first visit to these falls 8 or so years ago, when we maybe saw three other hikers. Still beautiful, but I wouldn’t recommend it at this point if you’re looking for solitude. (It is, however, a mostly flat hike with a lovely payoff at the end, so it remains great for families.)

Since it was Labor Day weekend, it was also warm enough to enjoy Lake James itself, and we had a perfect day for it! It feels like the scene below could be from 1980 or 2019, doesn’t it?

There are many things I love about camping, but I’ll sum up this post with two of my favorites.

First, camping, in our lives, is the pinnacle of the slow pace of life I aim for, and particularly, the slow parenting. One of my favorite memories from this trip is the hour or more the kiddos spent digging in the gravel of our campsite. Literally just spoons and plastic cups and rocks, and they could have stayed there all day.

Our world is so often not set up for exercising a longer attention span or enjoying simple activities, but the world of camping is. I’m thankful for these trips, because they give me new ideas and a renewed desire to add this kind of space to our normal lives.

Second, I love how new locations and the time to sink into them allow us to get to know someone in a different way. I’ve alluded to this trip giving me new insight into Shep’s personality, and it’s true that I feel like I saw a whole new side of it. I had a conception of him as moody, often grumpy for no reason, and with a short attention span.

Camping showed me that he is perfectly content and perfectly able to sink into an activity for an extended period as long as he’s given freedom of movement and free access to materials. As a mama, one of my most important duties is to know the hearts and minds of my kiddos so I can speak into them and love them well, and I’m grateful for anything that gives me more insight. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of location for a fresh perspective.

Friends, thanks for graciously accepting this very un-Christmas-y post so close to Christmas, ha! As always, my hope in sharing these camping recaps (in addition to recording our memories!) is to encourage you to take YOUR family outside. If I can answer any questions or cheer you on as you consider it, it would be my delight. Our past archives might be helpful, too…

2013 trip (no babies!)
2015 trip (no babies, Nancy pregnant!)
2016 trip (two babies!)
2017 trip (two babies, Nancy pregnant!)
2018 trip (three babies, both pregnant – ha!)
Our master camping packing list

Thanks to sweet Nancy for the most beautiful of these photos!

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December 23, 2019 8:26 am

Wonderful post! I am curious as to how you all handle bugs and such. I’d like to try camping but I have a hard time with spiders and am worried about bites. I love this line….”As a mama, one of my most important duties is to know the hearts and minds of my kiddos so I can speak into them and love them well, and I’m grateful for anything that gives me more insight.” Such beautiful words.

Kelly Strawberry
December 24, 2019 7:59 am

Your honesty is refreshing in this post. Also, some really great pictures!! I think I’ve told you before…I definitely don’t do camping :) But I love the slow pace philosophy and taking time to be out in nature with no agenda. Merry Christmas to you and your family!!!!

December 29, 2019 1:18 pm

AH this is so fun! I live out west and camping, hiking, rock climbing, etc are huge parts of my lifestyle every day, so it’s super fun seeing y’all do this too — its one of my favorite posts every year! I’m pretty sure I’ve been following you since the 2013 trip. I remember you saying you’re hoping to do Yosemite for the 10th trip or something like that! We live in Yosemite 3-5 weeks a year, so definitely let me know if you want tips when the time comes to start planning :)