January 1, 2021
Primitive or premium, there’s a camping style for your family
Going stir crazy? Have the travel itch but not yet comfortable with airplanes, hotels, and fellow travelers? Then consider a family camping trip at one of the nearby state parks. Several Louisiana and Mississippi State Parks are within one to two hours of New Orleans, with campsites and cabins open year-round.
First things first
Choose your locale and decide whether you want to pitch a tent at a campsite (“primitive camping”) or go a little more upscale with a “comfort station” and electrical and water hookups (“premium camping”) for a tent or RV. Or plan a closer-to-a-home experience with a furnished cabin. Whichever mode you choose, reservations are required at the respective state park. All have terrific online resources and reservations systems.
Keep in mind that if you want it, you’ll need to bring it! This includes gear, clothes, firewood, food, and all other necessities, including garbage bags. Good campers are thoughtful campers: everything you bring must also go back out with you. That includes taking your trash with you for proper disposal at home.
Your locale and time of year (and weather) will determine your gear; grab a pad and start a running list. Sleeping bags, tents, firewood and matches, eating utensils and cups, flashlights, lanterns, and all other necessities and creature comforts need to be planned for and packed. Do you need a pillow? Do the kiddos sleep with woobies? Don’t forget those special items! And extra socks. And toilet paper!
The time of year will determine clothing. Remember that layering is the best way to go, peeling off layers once the sun is out and adding layers at dusk for the cooler nights. Don’t forget hats for chilly nights and to block the sun’s rays while hiking or fishing.
Don’t plan to sleep on the ground if you’re camping in a tent – buy each person a specially made foam pad to place under each sleeping bag. The ground is colder and harder (and more damp) than you might think. Remember to bring mosquito netting if you’ll be in a tent.
Before packing, test whatever you’re taking to ensure comfortable sleep, that batteries work, and so forth.
Consider an overnight practice run in your backyard if you’re planning to camp out in a tent. This way the kids will know what to expect when they get to the campground.
A word to the wise: pack a first aid kit with essentials including bandages, hydrogen peroxide, bug bite relief, antibiotic and burn ointments, and gauze, tape, and scissors. If you’re hiking, those bandages will be greatly appreciated.
Remember fire safety if you bring a camp stove or fire pit, or are using an existing park fire pit. Read up in advance and review with the kids how to prevent forest fires. Never leave a campfire unattended. (Smokeybear.com is a terrific site for families.) The same rules should apply when you practice camping in the backyard.
Print a map of the camping site/park area and review it with the kids in advance so that they have the lay of the land. Give each child a whistle so they can communicate their location in case they get separated.
Our Mississippi Delta locale is within the great migratory flyway with an abundance of birds throughout the year. Download a birding app or purchase a good paperback book, and bring along your binoculars. The second split of the bird hunting season extends through January 31. Depending upon weather conditions, odds are good you’ll see a variety of ducks, teal, and other waterfowl through February. City Park is also a prime birding area for practice.
Bring along a couple of fishing poles and a tackle box appropriately stocked for the fish in that park’s waterways. Want to go old school? Bring a trowel to dig for earthworms and a covered container to put them in. Cook what you catch, or fish for fun – take pictures and then catch and release.
Yes, consider cooking a fun activity, with everyone pitching in. Some campsites provide barbecue pits or pre-made fire pits, but others don’t. Park cabins will have kitchens; check in advance what’s there. Depending upon what’s supplied, you may need to bring wood, newspapers, and matches for starting fires, and kitchen utensils like pots, pans, spatulas, etc.
There are a wide variety of stoves and grills specifically manufactured for camping. If you decide to camp out regularly, you’ll want to purchase one of these to bring with you.
Ample water and snacks are essential; don’t forget either. Consider bringing beef jerky or making homemade granola or energy bars for the total camping experience.
Last, don’t forget s’mores fixings! A camping trip isn’t complete without making s’mores around the campfire and telling ghost stories.
Some camps provide canoes and even have swimming pools. Others have boat launches. Make your reservation at a park with the options that most interest your family. Remember life vests and towels if you’ll be on the water.
Having the whole family together, away from wifi and electronics, is a great way to reconnect and make memories for a lifetime. Happy camping!