Camping with Babies {Mark Twain National Forest}

When we were living in Oregon we were bitten by the camping bug.  Wait; that sounds bad, as if there were a bunch of bugs feasting on us while we were camping.  What I mean is that we fell in love with heading into the woods to pitch a tent, hike the hills, and cook over an open fire.

Moving back to Kansas City did nothing to deter our love of nature, nor did bringing two little ones into the world.

When we tell people we're taking the girls camping, we are largely met with reactions of shock and terror.  "Why on Earth would you want to take a five-month-old and a toddler camping?  Isn't it hard enough at home?" someone recently asked.  And the truth is that, yes, it can be hard at home.  Life with babies and toddlers can be tough even when you're adhering to the strictest of routines.  So I figure, why not take a break from the ordinary?  If things can be tough anyway, why not get out into nature and give everyone a vacation from the screens and the phones and the roofs?

That's just what we did a couple of weeks ago when we headed down to southern Missouri with my sister and brother-in-law to celebrate my birthday weekend in Mark Twain National Forest.

While there are plenty of areas to camp quite close to us, we thought it would be a nice change of pace if we explored another part of our state.  As we live in the northwest corner of Missouri, our surroundings are the plains.  Southern Missouri is home to the Ozark Mountains and a whole different terrain.

My sister and her man only recently moved here from Oregon and none of us had ever been down to Mark Twain National Forest, so we decided not to reserve a campsite ahead of time.  Instead, we drove down to the general area where we wanted to camp and stopped at a Ranger Station to speak to someone about the exact kind of campground we had in mind.

We explained that we wanted a campground that would accommodate our vehicle, since we were bringing babies and everything that comes with them as well as a pregnant lady (my sister, not me!)  But we were also clear that we wanted neither too developed an area, as we still wanted to feel as if we were in the wilderness, nor campsites that were too close together, as we wanted our privacy.

We left with a map to Paddy Creek Wilderness and a bag of Smokey the Bear activity books for a very excited Susanna.

Paddy Creek turned out to be exactly what we'd hoped we'd find.  We had a pretty secluded spot just above the water with plenty of room for both vehicles and both tents.

We had just enough room in our tent for Chris and me to sleep on our air mattress with Susanna beside us and a moses basket at her feet for Nola.  Since Nola is about at capacity for the basket, I definitely see a larger tent in our future -- one that will accommodate a portable crib and, eventually, four sleeping bags.

We stayed for two nights and enjoyed great hiking, refreshing (read: cold!) swimming, and some seriously legit camp food.

Of course things weren't entirely perfect.  Our potty training toddler had a hard time without her toilet.  But for the most part, both girls did quite well.  They napped in their carriers while we hiked and enjoyed the scenery and companionship as much as the rest of us did.

It was a beautiful weekend with great company and a fantastic way to celebrate my birthday!

If you have any more tips on camping with babies, please leave them in the comments section below.  And check out my instagram feed for more photos and ideas.  See you there!