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Dayton Guide to Tent Camping (With Toddlers)

I love all of the Ohio seasons. While some may argue say that winter lasts too long in Ohio, I think the longevity only makes Spring and Summer that much sweeter. With the warmer temperatures, I’m starting to plan our family’s weekend excursions. One of those is tent camping. Last year was our first experience with tent camping with toddlers. We stayed local because we weren’t sure how it would go. Two things this trip taught me. First, to open my eyes to the spectacular nature in Dayton, OH. Second, the importance of unplugging completely.

One of my concerns when we went was – will the children be okay outside for that long of a period of time? I realized going into the trip that they would probably not take a nap so that was a lot of daytime to fill with activities. With that being said, prior to our first camping trip, I planned for weeks, thought about toys to bring for days and read many online forums about other’s experiences. What I found though is that my kids played with nature more than they did with toys or games. So I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned as well as what I would do differently for our next trip. 

A few reasons to camp locally with toddlers. First, if your child is not adapting to the camp lifestyle, you can easily pack up and be home in a short period of time. Second, you don’t have to feel obligated to take paid time off just to go camping. Save your PTO for other times. Since the sun sets after 8 PM during the summer, you have plenty of time to come home and head out to pitch a tent all before sunset. Third, staying local really makes you appreciate the environment you live in. Sure the Grand Canyon or Olympic National Park are breathtaking, but so is a hike through the woods in your backyard. You just have to look through a different lens with a different mindset. Let’s discuss where to go locally. Below are five local places to camp in Dayton. 

Where to Go

Caesar Creek State Park

Waynesville, OH
Summer rates: $28-$40 per night
The campground offers camping, fishing, boating, hunting, swimming, trails for hiking, biking, and horses – plus a nature center.

Read more about Caesar Creek State Park

Five River’s MetroPark

Summer rates: $5-$40 per night
There are 14 camp areas available throughout four MetroParks, including Englewood, Germantown, Possum Creek and Twin Creek MetroParks.

Cedarbrook Campground (Lebanon Cincinnati KOA)

Lebanon, OH
Summer rates: $40-$60 per night
Located in historic downtown Lebanon and only 8 miles from Kings Island! Scenic 30 acre campground includes river, bike trails, and zip lines.

Dayton KOA

Brookville, OH
Summer rates: $40-$60 per night
Amenities include a heated pool, gem mine and spring-fed stocked lake, as well as horseshoes, pedal bikes and mini golf. KOA also has cabins for rent and an on-site cafe.

John Bryan State Park

Yellow Springs, OH
Summer Rates: starting at $21 a night
The 752-acre park contains a remarkable limestone gorge cut by the Little Miami River which is designated as a state and national scenic river. A portion of the gorge itself is designated as a national natural landmark.

10 Things to Think About

Ten tips before you go. These are things I found helpful or that I’ve learned from our experience with camping with toddlers.

  1. Don’t buy ice. Instead, freeze jugs of drinking water a week before you head out.  Keep them in the cooler to keep your food cold. As the ice melts, you have drinking water. 
  2. Do bring drinking water. Lots of drinking water. 
  3. Do bring fire starters. Here’s how I make them. Keep a small trashcan in your house somewhere and only throw in dryer lint and empty toilet paper rolls. Prior to departing, stuff the toilet rolls with the lint. The combination is a perfect fire starter.
  4. Don’t bring firewood. It’s illegal to move all hardwood firewood out of Ohio’s quarantined areas (county lines). Emerald Ash Borer is an ash tree-killing insect from Asia, inadvertently imported 10-15 years ago. The pest is a wood-boring beetle that kills ash trees in three to five years. So in order to preserve Ohio’s trees, the Ohio Department of Agriculture has imposed quarantines on certain areas to prevent spreading. Most county’s in the Dayton, OH area are quarantined counties so it is legal to move firewood across county lines but make sure you check the quarantined areas before you departure. You can find the list of county’s in Ohio that are quarantined here
  5. Do bring a first aid kit. Some items to include bandaids, neosporan, ibuprofen, kids tylenol, hydrogen peroxide, aloe vera gel, etc.
  6. Do bring baby wipes and hand sanitizer. Things get sticky and dirty fast. Baby wipes and hand sanitizer is an easy solution for an easy cleanup.
  7. Do bring duct tape – NASA astronauts take it into space; you should take it camping. Duct tape can cover a hot spot on a child’s heel from a pinching hiking boot; patch a tent, a sneaker, or a canoe. We’ve used it to fix a tent pole.
  8. Don’t overpack. You can re-wear things. however, keep in mind that 50 degrees at night is way different than 50 degrees sunny. But definitely bring a beanie hat for your children at night.
  9. Do stop and get a pizza on your way to the campsite. We usually head to the campsite on Friday after work so pizza is an easy dinner for everyone while you set up tents, build a fire and establish camp rules with the children, which brings me to my last tip.
  10. Do establish camp rules with your children upon arrival. 

Fun Stuff To Bring For Your Children

This last list includes some fun stuff you can bring for your toddlers:

  • Paint. We like to paint rocks, sticks, leaves, etc.
  • Chalk
  • Bathing suits
  • Bikes
  • Fishing poles
  • Bubbles
  • Toy cars/dolls
  • Kites
  • Frisbe and/or football
  • Marshmallow launcher
  • Remote control car/helicopter/boat
  • Books/cards
  • Glow sticks
  • Sparklers/poppers
  • Animal shaped flashlights

This is a lengthy post but have I convinced you to go camping with your toddlers? Are you a regular camper? Where’s your favorite place to camp (both local and non-local)? How many nights on average do  you go? I love to hear your stories.

One Response to Dayton Guide to Tent Camping (With Toddlers)

  1. Marta May 17, 2017 at 3:47 pm #

    Love this article! You’ll also want to know about the Family Forest Festival that the founder of Hike it Baby is bringing close to Dayton this September. It will be the first of its kind festival to focus on the children first and provide much of the entertainment to make a weekend of camping even easier for parents and super fun for kids. The weekend will consist of kid-friendly music, featuring headliner, the Little Miss Ann Band from Chicago, educational hikes and classes for kids and adults, storytimes and a book corner, nightly campfires and s’mores, movie night under the stars and more.

    Join us September 22-24, 2017 at Camp Hook, Twin Creek MetroPark, 8539 Morningstar Rd., Franklin, OH 45005. http://www.familyforestfest.com/

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