Monday, July 27, 2015

How To Plan a Scavenger Hunt For Kids

By Ethan Hipple

Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt? Perfect for young and old alike, this activity—also known as a treasure hunt in some family circles—lends itself to camping trips, birthday parties, even your own backyard. From close-to-home forays to summer-long hunts all over New England, an outdoor scavenger hunt introduces a healthy dose of competition and discovery while giving kids a chance to try new experiences. As a family, we’ve made them a part of our outdoor adventures for years. Here’s how to plan your own scavenger hunt.

Checklist Competitions
During a down day on a multi-day paddling trip, the kids were restless and looking for something to do. Solution? A nature-based treasure hunt around the island we were staying on. The quickest and easiest way is to make a list of items to find, and whoever finds them first wins. If you have cameras or smartphones handy, you can add a documentation element to the hunt.

Armed with their lists, the kids raced around the campsite and the surrounding woods for an hour, checking items off their lists. Whoever got their list checked off first got an extra piece of chocolate at dessert. A sampling of what they had to find:
• Birch bark
• Frog
• Bird
• Moss
• Mushroom
• Acorn
• Squirrel
• Pine cone
• Animal scat
• Animal print
• Snakeskin
• Natural object colored blue
• Piece of trash

Unlike the previous items, whose locations they noted but left in place, the kids picked up pieces of trash and added them to our carry-out bag: a game and LNT lesson, all in one.
Kids will love the thrill of discovery on an outdoor scavenger hunt.
Clue- and Route-based Teamwork
When you want to take a team-based approach, you can hide a list of clues, one leading to the next, with a prize waiting at the end. You can do this right in your backyard or on a camping trip or outing. The kids work together to solve the clues; for example, in a backyard hunt, the first couple of clues might go like this:  

“This tree has white bark that burns easily and makes an excellent fire starter. Go here for your next clue!” (Destination: birch tree.)

And the next clue: “Now that you’ve found the birch, look for the home of earthworms, vegetable scraps, and grass clippings.” (Destination: compost pile.)

Tailor your clues to your kids’ age group and interests—and get creative with your prizes: s’more fixings, birthday presents, fishing gear, or just simple bragging rights.

Season-Long Treasure Hunts
These are the granddaddies of all outdoors scavenger hunts: the season-long activity accomplishment checklists! These involve visiting a string of locations and/or accomplishing a certain set of activities within a season (summer vacation, for example) or beyond. Items might include:

• Spend the night out under the stars (10 points)
• Catch and release a fish (5 points)
• Go surfing (5 points)
• Reach the top of a mountain (10 points)
• Build a shelter out of natural materials (10 points)
• Spend the night on an island (15 points)

Ready to take it to the next level? Your treasure-hunting team could win prizes when you enter the excellent Venture Vermont contest, sponsored by Vermont State Parks, or the Wild Outdoor Wolfeboro hunt. (The latter could easily be tailored to suit your town or community.)

Or start from scratch and write your own rules with a group of families and friends. The best part of these hunts is they usually require photo or video documentation, so you end up with a hard drive full of amazing memories from a season together in the outdoors.

Whether you spend a Saturday morning or a whole summer bagging adventures, your family will spend quality time outside trying new experiences and making great memories. Happy hunting!  

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more tips and trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families,  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

An Introduction to Paddling with Kids

By Kim Foley MacKinnon

There’s no right age to introduce your kids to paddling. If they’re interested, it’s the perfect time. Experienced parents who know the ins and outs of water safety will be well prepared to start kids off with good practices. But if you need a refresher, you might prefer some help from the pros. More on that below.

However you go about teaching your crew, Dave Cole, the vice chair of AMC’s Worcester Chapter and a paddling leader, identifies two absolute essentials: a great sense of humor and patience. Following closely behind are a PFD (personal flotation device); a paddle; a dry bag for extra layers, snacks, and sunscreen; and the prerequisite that all participants are strong swimmers.

Ethan Hipple, coauthor of AMC’s Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, stresses that kids should always wear PFDs and that parents should set a good example by wearing them too.

PFDs come in five types. Most children will wear a Type III, suitable for various activities, while infants will wear a Type II, designed for calm waters. You’ll choose a PFD based on your child’s weight: Infant PFDs are for kids 8 to 30 pounds; child PFDs, 30 to 50 pounds; and youth PFDs, 50 to 90 pounds. To test the fit, secure your child in the PFD then grasp the shoulders of the vest, lifting your child. Your paddler’s ears and chin should not slip through.

If you’d rather wait to invest in gear until you see how your kids take to the water, Cole suggests signing up for a workshop, which often provides everything you’ll need. In addition to the classes below, check with your local REI store and Audubon chapter.

AMC offers family-friendly paddling events throughout the year, including the Midweek Getaway July 7-9 at Mohican Outdoor Center, 90 minutes from New York City. Check for updates.

Boating in Boston, with locations including Boston and Hopkinton, offers a two-hour kayak orientation on boating safety, equipment, basic strokes, and maneuvers. The class is geared toward first-timers and is capped at eight people, so kids will get plenty of direct instruction.

L.L. Bean’s Kayaking Discovery Course, offered through many of its stores, begins with a safety talk. Participants are then fitted with a PFD, kayak, and paddle; once everyone is comfortable, the class hits the water for a guided interpretive tour.

Charles River Canoe & Kayak leads classes for kids, teens, and families in Boston, Newton, Waltham, and Cambridge. Advanced lessons in paddle boarding and sea kayaking are available, but the kids’ kayak class sticks to the basics, starting with an on-land introduction to equipment and strokes before diving into skill-building games.

PFD? Check. Basics mastered? Check. Great! Before you put in, Cole has one last piece of advice: Keep things playful. “Kids love games, like boat racing and balance tests, and are thrilled to play them on the water,” he says. He also advises packing beach chairs and nature guidebooks for when paddlers, adult or child, need to take a break. 

Ready for a longer paddle? Check out Canoe Camping with Kids and Regional Island Adventures.

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more tips and trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families,  

This story by Kim Foley MacKinnon originally appears in the July/August issue of AMC Outdoors. Photo: Lotus Morning on Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hiking Blueberry Mountain and Rattlesnake Pool

By Ethan Hipple

Tucked away in a little-visited high mountain valley on the Maine-New Hampshire border, Evans Notch is an outdoor paradise, with many great options for families with kids. From high peaks above treeline, to backcountry swimming holes, to multiple secluded campgrounds and even an AMC family camp, this area is ripe for exploration and adventure. The Blueberry Mountain—Rattlesnake Pool Loop is perhaps the most idyllic short day hike in the area, and ranks as one of our favorite family trips in all of New England.

Even 4-year-olds will love this hike! 
3.9 mile loop

From Fryeburg, Maine, take Route 113 North for 19.4 miles to Shell Pond Rd. (This will be 0.7 miles north of AMC Cold River Camp). Take a right onto Shell Pond Rd, and follow for 1.1 miles to a locked gate with a small parking area on the right. 

The 3.9 mile loop has a little bit of everything—giving it the variety and excitement needed to keep young children engaged in the trip. From a start in the woods, to a short but steep climb, to ridgetop views, picnic spots, and blueberry picking—this hike has it all. And to top it off, on the hike back to the trailhead, there is a short side trail to Rattlesnake Pool; one of the most idyllic, clear, and alluring swimming holes we have ever found. A full afternoon could easily be spent lazing by the side of this emerald green shady pool with good jumping rocks for all ages.

You will want to do this loop hike in a counter-clockwise direction (Shell Pond Rd to White Cairn Trail to Blueberry Ridge Trail to Stone House Trail to Shell Pond Rd). This will put the swimming hole near the end of your trip when you are hot and sweaty and need a good break. And as any parent knows, nothing puts a spring in the step of a 8 year old more than the thought of swimming ahead! 

From the small parking area at the gate on Shell Pond Rd, proceed on the dirt road for 0.3 miles to the marked trailhead on the left for the White Cairn Trail. We sometimes bring bikes along on this trip so we can bike that 0.3 miles—you’ll have to do it at the end as well, so it’ll shave some distance off if you have room for the bikes.

Turn left and proceed up the White Cairn Trail, which will go through a small clearing, then climbs steeply up the ridge, over massive rock staircases and ledges with views to the south. The going will be slow with small kids, but they can have fun climbing the big rock staircases, which with a little positive spin can be presented as a giant jungle gym! Near the top of the ridge there are some ledges that make for great picnic spots. 

At 1.4 miles you will hit the Blueberry Ridge Trail—leave plenty of time to pick blueberries when they are in season from June through August. Follow the Blueberry Ridge Trail for just 0.2 miles, then turn right on the Stone House Trail, which will lead you back down into the valley. Follow it down for a mile, where you will find the spur trail on your left that brings you a couple hundred yards to Rattlesnake Pool, a classic “Shangri La” New England swimming hole. A steep rocky approach leads to a 10 foot deep, turquoise blue, crystal clear pool. Rocks line the edge of the pool and there are good jumping options for all abilities. On a hot day, this place is heaven.

Rattlesnake Pool: heaven.  
Continue on down the Stone House Trail and another short spur trail on the left leads you to Rattlesnake Flume, a small but interesting gorge just downstream from the swimming hole. Continue on down the Stone House Trail to Shell Pond Rd, and turn right for 0.5 miles  to complete the loop back to the parking area at the gate. 

Plan B
Good lake swimming is available at The Basin, a day-use recreation area on the National Forest, about a mile north of Shell Pond Rd. Camping is available at Cold River Campground near The Basin, and AMC runs a delightful family hiking camp in the area called Cold River Camp. For a great mountain drive back to North Conway, take the Hurricane Mountain Road, a narrow and twisting notch road that brings you up and over into Intervale, N.H. To get to Hurricane Mountain Road, follow 113 south from the Stow Store, then turn right on South Chatham Rd, then left onto Green Hill Rd, then right onto Hurricane Mountain Rd. 

The Stow Corner Store, about 5 miles south of Shell Pond Rd on NH 113 (actually just over the border in ME), is a quintessential country store with hand-scooped ice cream, homemade soups and sandwiches, fresh-baked pizza and famous baked goods. North Conway, N.H., and Fryeburg, Maine, have full dining options for any taste. 

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more tips and trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families,

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lessons Learned on the Trail

By Kim Foley MacKinnon

The beginning of my working relationship with the Appalachian Mountain Club began a few years ago when I was hired to write the Outdoors with Kids Boston bookNow, writing a book of any kind is a lot of work, and writing a hiking book has its own special set of challenges. The only way to do it properly is by researching it in person (always something to make sure the author did when buying a guidebook!). And writing a hiking guidebook with 100 hikes especially good for families with kids adds one more layer of complexity.

When I started the project, as far as I was concerned, my daughter Sadie, who was 12 at the time, would be my research partner. She wasn’t entirely on board with the idea–after all, 100 hikes is a lot–so I came up with some strategies to make it fun. We had a whole summer to hike all over New England and we did. Here are a few of my tips and tricks, which work for any hike with kids.

Bring friends
As the mom of an only child, I learned long ago that letting my daughter bring a friend along for all sorts of events and activities can help ensure everyone has a good time. Since the bulk of our research was during the summer, finding friends to accompany us was pretty easy. Not to mention the grateful parents who were happy their kids would be outside exploring with us rather than doing stuff like watching TV, playing video games, or even having to pay for babysitters. By the end of the summer, we had a core group of kids hiking with us and everyone had nicknamed our adventures as going to “Kim’s Kamp.”

Have kids help plan
While my book had to include 100 hikes, I had discretion about which ones to include. In New England there are thousands of options, so letting my daughter and her friends help me pick where and what kind of hike we would do was easy. We could choose to hike up a mountain, swim in a lake, go bouldering, pick a place to see wildlife or wildflowers–the sky was the limit. Letting kids have a say in the planning means they’ll be more enthusiastic and invested in the experience.

Kids carry their own packs
Even the smallest kids should be able to at least carry a water bottle and a snack. Being responsible for some of their own gear is a good way to teach responsibility and to take ownership of their own stuff. It also means all those “essential” items that they ask you to carry may turn out not to be very essential, after all.

Any place that we hiked that had maps available, I always made sure to take one for me and one for the kids and we would go over the trail we would hike that day. Normally, we would stick together, but sometimes I’d let them branch off on their own, which leads to my next tip.

Space to explore on their own safely
When it seemed appropriate and the kids asked me, I would let them explore a bit on their own. I usually asked them to take photos and make a few notes on their map. They were more than willing, happy to have a job and a role in the book. 

We discovered pretty quickly that many places, like the Trustees of Reservations and Mass Audubon, offer scavenger-hunt type activities to make exploring even more of an adventures. Clues and word games lead visitors through properties while explaining the flora, fauna and other features of the site. For those who like to geocache, many times you can find one near where you’re visiting, which can also be a lot of fun for kids.

Time to play
Forced marches are never a good idea and I quickly became attuned to all the kids’ tolerance levels on our outings. Taking breaks is important for everyone, but especially for kids. When I sensed someone needed to take five, I’d find a place for us to relax awhile.

I always had my camera on hand, but I also encouraged the kids to take their own photos too, especially when they were off on their own. They were always excited to show me what they had captured.

Leave no trace
This is another thing you’re never too young to learn and I made sure the kids packed out what they packed in. We always brought our own food and drinks and had a picnic at lunchtime. After we were done, we all made sure we collected everything to bring home. I also asked everyone to pick up any litter we saw on trails and carried a bag for just that purpose. 

Know when to call it
To be honest, more than once I probably pushed us too far or went out in iffy weather when I shouldn’t. One notable time resulted in us being soaked to the skin and me apologizing. Fortunately that time it was just me and my family, so the ribbing I took at least stayed in house.

Packing in 100 hikes over one summer quickly taught me what worked and what didn’t. Strategies that might have taken us much longer to figure out are now part of what make our hiking adventures that much more fun.

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more tips and trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families,

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Camping with Kids: Fun Camping Food

Let’s face it. For kids, the success of a camping trip rarely hinges on what waterfalls you see, what birds you hear, or how great the hike was. Kids likely will remember two things: the weather and the food.

You can’t control the weather, but you can make food a highlight of every excursion, whether that’s a short day trip or a multiday backcountry adventure.

My wife, Sarah, and I spent seven seasons as croo in the AMC high huts system and another six as trail crew leaders for the Student Conservation Association. Below are a couple of key campfire tips from our years on the trail, followed by a few favorite recipes that kids of all ages are sure to love.


When cooking over a campfire, always be sure to follow Leave No Trace (LNT) principles and to use established fire rings wherever possible. (Read more about minimal-impact campfires.) Once you’ve mastered LNT, you’re ready to cook.
  1. Build a nice, hot fire and let most of the wood burn down to coals. The coals, not the actual flame, will act as your cooking element.
  2. If you start running low on heat, add more wood to the opposite side of the fire, away from your food. Once the coals build up, transfer them to the cooking side. 


 Every hungry camper gets a sheet of heavy-duty tinfoil, about 1 foot square. Layer the following on the foil, from bottom to top:
  • Sliced onions
  • 1/3 lb lean ground beef or turkey
  • Sliced potatoes
  • Sliced carrots, corn, peppers, or other veggies
  • A few pats of butter
  • Salt and pepper, powdered Italian dressing, or Worcester sauce (Seasoning is key!)
Wrap to create your hobo pocket. Don’t just scrunch up the foil; it will leak. Bring the edges together and fold them neatly over each other one or two times, the way you would a paper bag. Adding a second layer of foil will keep the food from scorching.

Bury your hobo packet in medium-hot coals and cook for about 40 minutes. Carefully remove and unfold the foil to check for doneness. If your packet needs more time, fold it up neatly, put it back on the fire, and check it every five minutes.


This dinner will delight even the youngest kids, but patience is a must to avoid burning those piggy blankets. You’ll need:
  • Hot dogs
  • Refrigerator crescent rolls
Wrap each dog in a roll, making sure the roll ends overlap so the whole thing stays together. Skewer your dog on a long stick and cook it over the coals. Here again, cooking over the coals will decrease the char and smoke, and you can control the heat. Once the rolls are golden brown, they’re ready to eat.


 This is the simplest and possibly the most mind-blowing of all campfire foods. You’ll need:
  • Unbaked brownie batter (Our favorite mix is Ghiradelli, although from-scratch is always best!)
  • 6 to 8 large navel oranges
  • Foil
Cut the tops off your oranges, as if you were carving a pumpkin. Scoop out the orange innards with a spoon, eating as you go and reserving the orange tops. Spoon in your brownie batter, filling each orange shell no more than half full.

Put the tops back on the oranges, wrap them in foil, and bury them in medium-hot coals. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The foil and the orange peel will temper the heat of the coals, allowing the brownie batter to bake slowly inside. Unwrap; peel back the orange shell; and enjoy supermoist, orange-infused, chocolately heaven.

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more tips and trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families,

This story by Ethan Hipple originally appeared in the June issue of AMC Outdoors Online

Photograph by Ethan Hipple.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Island Hopping in Boston

The Boston Harbor Islands are one of Boston’s hidden gems, despite being just a short ferry ride away from downtown. Activities include everything from exploring old forts to swimming to hiking. You can camp overnight on four of the islands, visit the nation’s oldest continually used light station, and enjoy clambakes, live musical performances and even plays. Since the ferry service starts back up for the season with free rides to Georges Island on May 9, here’s an overview of what the islands have to offer.

Islands Info The Boston Harbor Islands National Park area is comprised of 34 islands and mainland parks. Eight islands are accessible to the public via seasonal ferryboat service. The others vary in size and remoteness; some are accessed only by private boat or specialty charter and three are currently closed to the public. Ferry service runs from Boston beginning in May, with service from Hingham and Hull starting up in June. The season ends on Columbus Day.

Georges Island The best known island, Georges is the 39-acre home to Fort Warren. The fort, a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1833 and served by turns as a training ground, a patrol point, and a Civil War prison. You can learn all about it at the visitor center, where a short film is offered, and then explore on your own or take a guided ranger tour. In spring and summer, fishing clinics, musical performances, theatrical shows, and even vintage 1860s baseball games played by costumed teams are among the activities. Georges Island is a frequent stop for the island ferries and provides a jumping-off point for other islands.

Spectacle Island
While the beach may be a bit rocky (bring water shoes!), swimming at Spectacle Island is a treat, with the most amazing views. Lifeguards are on duty in season. Over the centuries, Spectacle has served as fishing and hunting grounds for native peoples; grazing lands for livestock of colonial settlers; a quarantine station in the 1700s; and a popular recreation spot in the 1800s. It was even a horse-rendering factory site and garbage dump in the early 1900s. Eventually, it was rehabilitated into a recreation area again when clay and sediment from Boston’s Big Dig construction project was used to seal over the landfill. Activities include scavenger hunts, jazz bands, clam bakes, fishing clinics, kite-flying workshops, and much more. There are 2.5 miles of trails and Spectacle Island offers the highest viewing point of any of the islands, at 155 feet.

Peddocks Island Peddocks Island, at 184 acres, is one of the largest islands in the park. It boasts historic structures, hiking trails, unique geologic features, and is also home to active cottages that serve as private residences. There’s a welcome center, restrooms, picnic areas with grills. This is also one of the islands where you can camp overnight. The hiking trails go by a marsh, a pond and coastal forests and the park rangers advise that there is a lot of poison ivy.

Lovells Islands This is another popular spot for overnight camping, with six small campsites (max. capacity 6 each) and two group campsites (max. capacity 50 each). You have to book way in advance to secure a spot, but once there the remote island offers unsupervised swimming, a chance to explore the crumbling gun batteries, bunkers, and foundations of Fort Standish, and plenty of peace and quiet.

Little Brewster Island Boston Light, built in 1716, is the oldest continually used light station in the U.S. and is part of the Brewsters, a group of the outermost islands in the park. It’s also an active U.S. Coast Guard navigational aid facility, so the lightkeeper’s house off limits. You can, however, take a three-hour Boston Light Climbing Tour that includes a boat cruise, commentary on history, geography, and more from a park ranger, and a chance to climb the 76 steps up Boston Light’s tower.

Grape Island Another island which offers tent camping, 54-acre Grape Island, has an abundance of wild berries, which means an abundance of birds. Don’t forget to bring a camera. The island almost doubles in size to 101 acres at low tide. There are picnic areas, wooded trails and guided ranger walks in season. A unique “wild edibles” tour is a great option.

Bumpkin Island Among other things, Bumpkin was home to American Indians, a fish-drying operation, tenant farmers, a naval training camp, and polio patients. Today, there are 10 campsites (max. capacity 4 each) and one group campsite (max. capacity 25). The island is composed of a central drumlin, elevation 70 feet. Two group picnic areas on the southwest side of the island offers excellent views of the Hingham Islands, Sarah, Ragged, Langlee and Worlds End, Slate, Grape and Sheep Islands, while an outlook shelter on the northwest side offers views of Boston, Peddocks, and Hull.

Thompson Island Home to Outward Bound programs and other school and youth groups, Thompson Island is only open to the public on summer weekends. You can explore on your own, take a tour into the salt marshes or go with a guide to learn about history of the island. An events and conference center also offers catered clambakes, company outings, parties, weddings, and meetings.

Drive to an Island? Yes, you can! World’s End, Nut, Deer and Webb Memorial islands (\ peninsulas or connected to the mainland through beach erosion) can be visited on your own schedule and each has a variety of hiking trails, picnic spots, and great views.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an Appalachian Mountain Club blog. This post was written by Kim Foley MacKinnon.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bike Camping With Kids, Part II: Destinations, Planning, and Equipment

This is the second installment in a two-part series on bike camping with kids. In the first installment, AMC contributor Ethan Hipple shared his account of his family's bike camping adventure along the coast of Maine. It is the story of one family's trip with 11 and 13 year old kids pedaling their own camping gear along the rocky coast, islands, and fishing villages of Deer Isle, Me. This week, we publish his tips for routes, planning, packing, and equipment.

Wicker baskets are old-school, but functional. 
  • Bike: Just bring what you already have. Don’t get new bikes unless you are planning a cross-country expedition.
  • Panniers/Trailer: I highly recommend a sturdy bike rack (about $30 to $40) with square 5-gallon buckets bolted onto the rack. This is your cheapest option. Panniers made from waterproof nylon/cordura are also great, but pricier. If you want to bring a lot of gear ( sometimes a necessity when travelling with younger kids) a bike trailer is perfect. Also, having the stronger bikers in the group tow a bit more gear improves group dynamics as it slows them down a bit and keeps everyone at the same pace.
  • Handlebar Bags/Under-seat Bags: These are essential for the small items that you will use all day: sunscreen, maps, camera, phone, wallet. I carry all of our tools and patch kit in a small case under my seat.
  • Bike Tools: You will need, at the very least, a tube patch kit, small adjustable wrench, screwdrivers (regular and phillips), allen wrench set, extra batteries, spare tubes, tire levers, and spare hex-head bolts. A squeaky chain will drive you nuts on a long ride, so bring some chain lube.
  • Maps: Bring very detailed map printouts. Cell phone coverage can’t be relied upon. The beauty of a bike trip is being able to take the back roads, which won’t show up on a standard highway map. Get USGS or similar detailed maps of the area you will be in, or make copies of a good quality gazetteer. If you are really on top of things, you can laminate them ahead of time.
  • Bungee Cords: Can’t have enough of these to keep everything battened down and strapped on your bike.
  • Ziplocks and Trash Compactor Bags: Dry campers are happy campers. Ziplocks and trash compactor bags (extra-thick trash bags) can be used to line your buckets or panniers and will add an extra layer of waterproofing to keep your sleeping bag, food and clothes dry. Nothing ruins an experience like being cold and wet. But sitting in your warm tent in a dry sleeping bag, listening to the rain outside is awesome. The difference between the two experiences is good waterproofing!
  • Sarongs: I know this one sounds a bit weird, but after years of trial and error, we’ve found these lightweight rayon wraps can be used for just about anything on camping trips. They serve as a towel that absorbs well and dries in minutes, a picnic blanket, tablecloth, wraparound skirt for trips to the campground shower, a makeshift shade on a sunny day, even an emergency sling.
  • Zip Ties and Duct Tape: With these along, you can fasten just about anything that comes unfastened.
  • 10 essentials:
  1. Navigation: Map and compass and knowledge how to use them.
  2. Sun Protection: Sunscreen and shades.
  3. Insulation: Non-cotton, insulating layers. Fleece, poly-pro or wool are best.
  4. Illumination: Just going out for a day ride? Still bring a headlamp and bike light. You don’t know what is going to happen out there.
  5. First Aid: Bring a small backcountry first aid kit on every trip.
  6. Fire: Lighter and fire starting material.
  7. Nutrition: In addition to lunch, bring emergency food: energy bars, trail mix, dried fruit or jerky.
  8. Hydration: You should be drinking all day as you read--at least two quarts per person. But as you won’t be in the backcountry, you can just carry one quart bottle per person since you can refill as you go.
  9. Shelter: Tent for overnight trips.
  10. Tools: I never go an adventure without a lighter, Swiss Army knife or multi-tool, 50 feet of parachute cord, and duct tape. With these items along you can handle almost any situation.
A trailer allows you to haul along extras like extra tents, camp hammock, instruments, and more. We've seen folks carrying coolers on short trips!

Loaded kids bike with custom fishing rod holders bolted on the back. The flat platform created by the tops of the two square five-gallon buckets is perfect for strapping sleeping bags, pads, tents, etc...
Solar charger is handy for cameras, phones, etc... This one cost $30 and charges a phone in 3 hours while we ride. 

Bring along an extra tarp to make a vestibule. Gives you a front porch off of your tent! 
Make it Fun
  • Bring lightweight games: cards and dice are great.
  • Bring some small instruments to play around the fire at night. Even a couple kazoos or a harmonica for non-musicians can keep you smiling.
  • Bring plenty of cash for ice cream. As all parents know, nothing motivates like sweets.
  • Take the backroads and don’t get too pre-occupied about getting to your destination as fast as possible. Some of our best memories were stopping at flea markets, lemonade stands, and random roadside attractions we found along the way.
  • Swimsuits! Moving at slower pace, you will find lots of great swimming holes that you would probably miss while whizzing by in a car.

Use three u-bolts to attach the bucket to the bike rack. Or you can make it quick-release (as pictured above) by using coat hooks on the top (they hook over the top of the bike rack) and a u-bolt on the bottom (it attaches with wingnuts to the vertical bike rack supports).

Inside view. 
Places to Go For Your First Family Bike Camping Trip
  • Burlington Bike Path and Island Line Bike Trail: This is the perfect introduction to bike camping: 19 miles each way, flat, great camping options, and beautiful. The best part? You get to bike through the middle of Lake Champlain and use a bike ferry! About 90 percent of the route is on dedicated bike paths along the shore of Lake Champlain, with only short sections on state roads with wide shoulders. Great camping options at Grand Isle State Park. Details in AMC’s Outdoors With Kids: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont
  • Maine Coast: Too many trips to list here, but there are options ranging from Deer Isle to the carriage roads of Acadia National Park. The state’s countless inlets and peninsulas make for great exploration and adventure. Roads can be narrow here, but if you get off of Route 1, they are pretty quiet.
  • Cross-Vermont Trail. Meandering 90 mile bike path on roads and dedicated bike trails that stretch from Wells River, Vt., to Burlington. There are great camping options all along the trail, along with swimming holes and plenty of ice cream. More information on their excellent website, and sections are highlighted in Outdoors With Kids: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.”
  • Leave From Your House: This could be the simplest option of all for those who live in rural areas or urban areas with good bike paths. Nothing can beat the adventure of a three-day loop straight from your driveway to a nearby campground. Or do a one-way trip and have someone pick you up at your final destination.

Read the first installment of this two-part series here. 

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an Appalachian Mountain Club blog. This post was written by Ethan Hipple.

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