Idaho Fun and Camping with Kids

By on September 21, 2015
Karen and her daughter, Sarah, near Bogus Basin

Karen and her daughter, Sarah, near Bogus Basin

When it comes to camping and kids, my motto has always been to do it cheap and keep it simple. Traveling around and exploring the beauty of the outdoors is an incredibly important experience for young children to have as they are growing up and it doesn’t have to be an expensive ordeal for the parent.

I have always loved the outdoors and I wanted to share my enthusiasm with my kids and to let them gain as much knowledge and experience as they could. But, I never had a lot of extra money, since I was a single mom with three children, so I found a way to make it work and I never spent much money at all.

My camping trips when my children were young were always decided by two questions:

1-how much gas do I have in the car?

2-how much food can I take?

If I could answer both of these questions, I was ready to pack up the kids and hit the road!

My children have grown up learning two valuable lessons from me. First, I have taught them how to be self-sufficient and second, I have shown them how to have fun even when you don’t have money. I have always said, it doesn’t cost anything to go to the outdoors.

 Aaron and Becky at camp near Silver Creek

Aaron and Becky at camp near Silver Creek

And today, my children still talk about some of the funny and crazy times we had when they were little.  As a mother, that means everything to me to know that they remember all the exciting and adventurous times we had. Those were the carefree days. I took them on trips exploring all over the place and they gained valuable experience.

We had plenty of places to travel to, because we live in Idaho, which is such a beautiful and very diverse landscape. We live in Boise, (the capital city) where you can jump in the car and head out in any direction and you can end up in a completely different type of environment for less than an hour’s driving time.

For instance, if you head West, you can drive to the high desert of the Owyhees and visit Jump Creek Canyon for rock collecting or climbing, or go swimming or boating in the Snake River.

Then if you head East, you can go up to Idaho City, one of the oldest mining towns in the state. That area is heavily forested, cooler and great for wildflower gathering trips or shooting down a hill in the winter snow that can get 10 feet deep.

Next, if you want to drive in a northward direction, you can go to McCall and spend time on the lake, or head over to Silver Creek hot springs, a place I have visited since I was a five-year-old. McCall is famous for the Brundage ski resort, but that is a whole other story of my childhood.

You could drive South from Boise and find a wide open flat area that is mostly desert and you can go snake hunting near Mountain Home or visit the Little City of Rocks near Shoshone, or cross the river and drive to the Bruneau Sand Dunes. What a great place for kids to romp around and play!

Me and my three little kids went all over the state on day trips and overnight camping trips for years and I never spent much money at all. We were the champions of frugal camping!

We loaded up the old green station wagon and headed out for either a short day trip or overnight camping at all the many places we could choose from. I loved being spontaneous and deciding to take spur of the moment drives, and the kids were always ready and willing to go.

I usually carried my camping necessities in the car all the time because we drove somewhere almost every weekend in the spring and summer. Now, I have to admit, my camping list is much shorter that the standard camping checklist that most people try to follow. I don’t believe in packing a bunch of gear, or taking a lot of time to get ready. That’s too much work, and I aim to relax and have fun when I travel.

Here’s my list of the frugal mom camping essentials:

  • tent and tarp
  • sleeping bags
  • jackets and blankets
  • first aid kit
  • paper plates, cups, silverware
  • flat grill, pan, large knife and gloves
  • snack food for the car
  • emergency canned food
  • cooler and blue ice
  • flashlights and shovel
  • firestarter and lighter
  • 5 gallons of water

And off we went, in whatever direction we wanted to! My kids loved to hike, so I would turn them loose to climb on rocks or we would head out on short hikes together. Eventually we bought a small raft, but mostly we just waded and swam in whatever water we found.

My passion is photography, so there were plenty of memories to make with my camera. And I am also a writer, so as my kids bounced around the camp or jumped into the creek, I would sit quietly on a rock and watch them as I scribbled down a little poetry.

We carefully planned and created many a small fire. Fire building was always one of their favorite activities because they each got to have a turn at building one. It was a great chance to teach them about campfire safety, too. We hand sawed small limbs of firewood, or just gathered them up off the ground.

We roasted billions of marshmallows, burnt plenty of hot dogs and told lots of scarey ghost stories, while sitting around the fire.

The funny thing is, we never got tired of hot dogs, beans and burgers broiled on the grill. Somehow everything seems to taste great in the mountains. Then, as we drove the long way home, we always sang a song or two, so mom wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel. Usually it was patriotic songs like God Bless America, or And Here We Have Idaho….or one of our favorites, “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.”

Those were happy days! We jumped in the car and headed out on many fun camping trips over the years. Sometimes we had a minor disaster or got into a little car trouble or got stuck in the mud, but mostly we just played in the outdoors and enjoyed ourselves in the beautiful Idaho landscape.

It didn’t matter what season it was. We were always ready to travel. We never ran out of places to go, and often returned to some of our favorite spots, as we created plenty of memories for an adventurous, but frugal mom and her three wonderful kids.

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