Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Summer Camping Project - Lessons on Community

41 nights and it's a wrap!  Our Camping Project goal was to camp 40+ nights this summer and we have succeeded with the mission.  Sadly, the 2013 camping season has finished for us now, our trailer is packed away in storage for the winter, and my paddleboard is safely hanging in the rafters of our garage (which I'm trying not to cry about.)  We had a great summer, learned a lot, and camped with some amazing families.  In hopes that some of our insights will benefit you all for next year's camping trips (and so I don't forget these brilliant lessons), I'll be writing a couple of stories to wrap up the camping project.

Today I want to talk about community, group camping, and what we learned from camping with friends this summer. 

Camping friends are the best friends

Camping is a social activity

I know that many families enjoy getting away to enjoy a quiet camping trip alone, and that this is how they reconnect as a family.  Unfortunately this doesn't really work for us.  I've waffled over feeling guilty and thinking there must be something wrong with us but in the end I've come to accept our camping style.  We are a social family and like camping with other people.  We like communal camping feasts, margarita parties, shared campfires with our friends after the kids have hopefully all gone to bed, and watching the children all run feral around the campground on their bikes. 

Group Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park
Communal Breakfast at Surveyor's Lake
Camping with Friends at Boulton Creek

If you're going to camp as a group, you have to really camp as a group

We did a lot of group camping this summer with groups ranging in size from 4 families to 9 families.  What I learned is that it's extremely challenging to maintain a tight sense of community unless you are actually camped together in an official group campground or on a shared site.  When we camped at Writing on Stone Provincial Park, we had a group site and were able to do communal meals with ease, share a large campfire, and watch the kids as they ran around the field together.  Contrast that to other trips where I spent half my time running around the campground rounding up families for the next hike or where families felt scattered and left out because they weren't camped near the rest of the group.

Our group campground at Writing on Stone

Group trips need an activity coordinator 

I know it's wonderful to go camping without the watch, to wake up when you want, set the day's agenda at will, and move at a slower pace.  Unfortunately, when you are camping with a group this isn't always possible.  If you want to coordinate a group hike with 5+ families, you've gotta be specific.  What time do you plan to leave the next day?  What time should families plan to get up and have breakfast dishes done by?  What time do you need everybody ready to jump in their cars?  This is also true with paddling trips if you have a 5 hour river trip planned for the day.  You don't just decide at 11am that you will start working out the logistics of the car shuttle now.

We never forced anybody to join us on our hikes, day trips, or paddling adventures while camping this summer.  Many families would choose to hang out at camp and relax with the kids.  Others broke up into smaller groups to do their own thing, or took off as a family for some alone-time.  But for those who did choose to join us in a big group activity, we tried to be specific about what time we'd set out the next day, make plans around the campfire, and set a rough schedule for what the next day would look like.  Otherwise, I spent a LOT of time running around the campground asking, "Are you ready yet?", "When did you want to leave?", "How long till you'll be ready to go?"... - and it got exhausting. 

Group paddling trips require a lot of organization with shuttles
You can't go on a hike with 10+ families without organization ahead of time

Camping is all about WHO you go with

  • Always bring somebody who can mix a mean camp margarita.

  • Friends who hand you a beer or glass of wine as you pull into camp are definite keepers!

  • The nicest thing you can do for somebody when they pull in late is to help them set up their tent or trailer.

  • I love friends who offer you coffee as you stumble out of your trailer in the morning.

  • More love to the friends who would feed our child cereal while we were cooking our breakfast.(incidentally, the same friends who gave me coffee each morning)

  • Two thumbs up for the amazing dad who took all the kids "hunting" while we were packing up at Writing on Stone!

  • You will forever endear yourself to the group when you offer to take all the kids on a bike ride to the playground at any time of the day.

  • Yay for the Bush Pie Mama - we all love you!

  • Any friend who can figure out how to make me nachos at camp (without an oven) gets to come on every future camping trip (especially since she's also the Margarita Master!)

  • Baileys is a great way to start the morning and I am in debt to anybody who splurges to bring it (and share)

Our Margarita Master
Leading the troops on a hike around camp

Thanks everybody for joining us on our adventures this summer!  We look forward to more great camping trips next year.


  1. I agree, a margarita master should be on every trip. And though I cannot claim to be that person, I am definitely a helper in the drinking them department!

    1. It definitely ensures you a spot on every future camping trip when you start making margaritas for the whole group!

  2. could you please share some "great" group camping spots in Alberta? I'm finding it hard to find ideas.. Thanks!

    1. Sounds like a great idea for a guest post Andrea. Maybe I'll post it the day after I get my own bookings in for this year though. ;)
      Seriously though, suggestions: Little Bow has double sites that are nice. We fit a lot of people on two double sites back to back. (4 for sure since it's 2 per site, and then we added a few extra tents in the middle since they backed on to each other.)

      Writing on Stone - amazing group site.

      Dinosaur has great open sites next to the river. Not a group area but they are very open.

      Cypress Hills has some great group camping.

      And there's a huge group campground in Bow Valley Provincial Park.

      Just go to the Parks website: http://www.albertaparks.ca/albertaparksca/visit-our-parks/camping/group-camping-areas.aspx

      Lots of group campgrounds listed there. 5 pages of them I believe at least. Choose the park you're interested in and pick a group area.

      And search my blog for any of the ones I've mentioned above. If you go to the search bar and search "camping, Little Bow" or "camping, Dinosaur" for example, you'll see my blog posts on all our group camping trips.