Saturday, August 3, 2013

Roughing It on our First Camping Trip with our Kids

We bought a tent and decided it was time to indoctrinate our children to the age old ritual of going camping with your parents.  So a few weekends ago we packed up the kids and took a 2 hour drive to the wilderness of Waterloo State Recreation Area and pitched Fort Camp Geek Daddy.  It was the first time the twins had ever been camping and the first time I'd slept in a tent since the canoeing trips of my college years.  I have to say there was a level of anxiety in the air of three days with no internet, tv and air conditioning had by all as we ventured out but the excitement of doing something new pushed us to persevere with this family adventure.

Waterloo State Recreation Area is the largest state park in Michigan at over 20,000 acres.  The park has 47 miles of nature & hiking trails, 11 lakes, several beaches and playscapes, a disc golf course, and the Gerald Eddy Discovery Center. Our first task was deciding which camp ground to stay at.  We didn't want to be surrounded by RVs that had all the comforts of home while we were roughing it.  My wife suggested the tents only "rustic" camping ground until she discovered that "vault toilets" meant the bathroom was a hole in the ground.  So we went with Portage Lake a "semi-modern" campground that provided each camp site with electricity and had a bathhouse with toilets and showers.  It was nice that about half the campers at the campground were in tents and the rest were in pop ups or 5th wheels.  I don't believe there were any RVs, or an extensive number of 5th wheel trailers, because there weren't cement slabs to park on or water/sewage hookups at the individual camp sites.  It was a nice environment for tent camping.

Portage Lake has a "no alcohol" policy which I would have hated a few years ago but now that I'm a dad with preschoolers tagging along really made our trip more fun and peaceful than it could have been if we'd been situated with rowdy drinkers spending the weekend partying outdoors.  The campground was mostly populated by families with grade school age children and seniors which made for a relaxing laid back getaway.  I have to give the DNR kudos too because the bathrooms were really clean ... the showers might even have been cleaner than the one at our house.  There was a nice playscape walking distance from our tent plus a great beach just a little further down the trail.  Also the park has a volunteer family, some retired seniors, who stay there and keep an eye on things and provide people with a library of books or games like bean bag toss or checkers that you can borrow from them.  There are several volunteer families who each serve a month at a time at the campground.  The guy during our stay was very friendly and road his bike around the campground several times a day to keep tabs on things and introduce himself to everyone.  I really appreciated that extra personal touch as an effort to make sure people's visits were top notch.

The only incident we had during our trip was a raid one evening by some raccoons of our picnic table.  My wife woke me up around 1am in the morning saying she heard something outside the tent.  I went out to shoo them away but they pretty much just ignored me so I went back to bed (fortunately we had stored our food and garbage in the car so there was nothing for them to really get into, though one rubbed its ass all over our frying pan on the camping stove-yuck!) Here's a picture taken by my wife from INSIDE our tent while I was OUTSIDE fending off the great raccoon invasion of 2013:

We had a fun time and will definitely be going on another family camping adventure soon. If you are looking to go camping in southern Michigan I absolutely recommend you check out the campgrounds at the Waterloos State Recreation Area.

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