Friday, June 25, 2010

Strawberry Moon, Moon Magic


“Strawberry moon” is the name the Algonquin gave the first full moon of summer. Here at Orange Pond, we can see why: The meadow by the pond is full of ripe red berries. These are wild strawberries, not the plump mouthfuls we buy at the store or at pick-your-own places. Even ripe, they’re often no bigger than a pencil eraser, and more tart than sweet.

Like many wild things, wild strawberries aren’t easy to see, even when they’re everywhere. The other day I showed Ursula and Virgil how to look under a plant’s dark green, sawtoothed leaves to find the berries beneath. Once we trained our eyes to spot red below the first layer of vegetation, we could tell that the field was full of strawberries.

Even so, our bounty didn’t fill one small bowl. We picked off the berries’ elven green caps and popped the berries into our mouths. We left the house with an empty bowl and returned with one, too.

I hope that we have a clear night for the full moon on Saturday. I’d like us to go back out to the field in the moonlight. I learned to do this by reading “Moon Magic,” an essay in The Singing Wilderness by nature writer Sigurd Olson. In the essay, he described the strange behavior — a restlessness, even dangerous abandon — he saw in wild animals on full moon nights. Here he is watching a deer mouse clamber up the side of his tent on one moonlit night:

Another wild scramble and it was on the ridge rope itself, tottering uncertainly back and forth. Then, to my amazement, the mouse launched itself out into space and slid down the smooth and shining surface of the tent to the ground below. The action was repeated many times until the little animal became expert and reckless and lost no time between the climb back and the sheer abandon of its slide. Faster and faster it ran, intoxicated now by its new and thrilling experience; up along the edge straight down toward the center of the ridge rope, a swift leap, belly down, legs spread wide to get the full effect of the exhilarating toboggan it had found...


The mouse, Olson concluded, had come under the spell of moon magic. “If nothing else,” he wrote, “moonlight made animals and men forget for a little while the seriousness of living; that there were moments when life could be good and play the natural outlet for energy. I knew that if a man could abandon himself as my deer mouse had done and slide down the face of the earth in the moonlight once a month — or once a year, perhaps — it would be good for his soul.”

Slide down the face of the earth in the moonlight. I’ve never forgotten that phrase or the story of the mouse on the tent line, and even though Olson’s words didn’t seem to include me, his spirit did. I’ve seen similar joyful play over the years, participated in some full-moon fun myself. Who knows what moon magic we’ll find under this year’s strawberry moon?

Learn more about…

- the full moon
- wild strawberries
- Sigurd F. Olson

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Photo Essay: Father’s Day Hike in the White Mountains

I’ve wanted for some time to include other voices in this blog. I wrote here recently about Peter and Caleb Begley and their Father’s Day hike. Peter was a professional photographer and is an enthusiastic hiker and devoted father. It was natural, then, to ask him to share the story of their adventure in both words and image.

Here's Peter’s photo essay:


For Father's Day this year, my son Caleb and I decided to celebrate by undertaking a small adventure in the outdoors together. Over three days and two nights we would hope to cover 11.6 miles and 4,137 feet of elevation gain, spending our first night at AMC's Lakes of the Clouds hut, and our second night at the Nauman Tent Site on Mt. Pierce.



After spending the night with friends in Jackson, NH, Caleb and I woke up around seven o’clock, nibbled on a light breakfast, and headed for our first destination, AMC's Highland Center in Crawford Notch. When we hike in the area we always stop by to check the weather and say hello to familiar faces. We drove to the Ammonoosuc Ravine trailhead and were feeling the springy earth under our trail runners within a few minutes.



The Ammo Trail, as it is often called, is one of my favorite hikes in the White Mountains. The trail meanders through the forest and along several bubbling waterways, provides an opportunity for a quick break at Gem Pool (a very beautiful pool fed by a waterfall), and thereafter begins to get very fun. After Gem Pool the trail begins to steeply ascend Ammonoosuc Ravine. Alternating between stretches of fairly steep rock stairs, large rock slabs, and several more water crossings, the trail is challenging but well worth the effort. The views on the trail and beyond become increasingly breathtaking the higher you ascend, and many sections require a bit of scrambling. All this in three miles!

I was naturally very focused on my four-year-old son's safety as well as his physical ability to complete such a hike. Even though I’m confident of Caleb’s physical abilities and he’s already an experienced hiker, even at age four, the weather in the Whites is always a concern, as is exposure above tree line. Water or ice on the upper portion of the Ammo Trail can make this challenging trail extremely dangerous. The weather report looked very favorable, however, and what I saw on the trail and in the sky throughout the day confirmed that we were hiking in ideal conditions.



If there is one thing my son loves more than anything else when hiking it is scrambling and rock climbing. We hit the first major slab of the hike shortly after leaving Gem Pool, where we stopped for a snack and more water. Caleb immediately started to use his hands and toes to scramble up the most interesting looking line in the rock. I stayed close at first, but increasingly gave him distance as he showed that he was making solid decisions about where and how to use his hands and feet. The distance I allow him on safer scrambles gives him a huge burst of pride and I think some increased maturity, too.



The morning flew by and before we knew it the Lakes of the Clouds hut popped up out of the boulders above us on the trail. Caleb broke into a near run when he saw its roof, and soon we were dropping our packs and refilling our water bottles for a well-deserved rest. After recharging over a tasty bowl of soup, another topping off of our water bottles, and a few hands of cards, we left our packs in the hut and started walking up the trail to Mt. Monroe's summit.

Our initial goal was to hike high enough to attain a solid view northwest into Ammonoosuc Ravine where we would watch for my wife and Caleb’s mom, Megan, to arrive. We also wanted a view east to Boott Spur, where some of our friends would be hiking. After a few minutes we were high enough for excellent views in both directions, but the trail became steeper again and Caleb's motivation kicked up a notch or two. Soon we were taking in the spectacular views from Monroe's rocky summit. Caleb laid back on one of the larger boulders, laced his hands behind his head, and gave a very contented sigh. The look of contentment on his face was priceless and would remain with me for the duration of the evening.


After a solid breakfast the next morning Caleb and I said goodbye to Megan and our friends and began our 5.2 mile trek southwest to the Nauman Tentsite. I planned to keep a very close eye on the weather, as well as Caleb's energy, as the majority of the hike would be above treeline.

Caleb again led the hike and set a healthy but aggressive pace. It felt like only minutes had passed but we soon found ourselves finishing the loop around the east side of Monroe where we could see our entire route for the day before us. I pointed out the route and its peaks to Caleb and we talked over our plans for a few minutes. Eager to get going — I promised him some play time when we arrived at the relative safety of Mt. Pierce's summit — Caleb again set off down the trail.

While we hiked down the ridgeline, I alternated between hiking right behind him and leaving large gaps. On our other hikes to that moment, I’d always felt like I was leading Caleb and giving him instructions. As he led us to Mt. Eisenhower that morning, often out ahead of me by as much as 20 yards, I saw him for the first time as a partner. Though I was still very much looking out for his welfare and ready to snap into Dad-mode, it was enlightening to see my young son confidently picking the route around rocks, calling back to me with information about the trail, even setting our break times.



After climbing Eisenhower, we closed the distance to Pierce in very short order, and soon Caleb was happily playing with his toy jeep on its gentle summit. The bulk of our hiking for the weekend was now completed and we lazily made our way down to the tent site to set up, have a snack, and hang out for the rest of the afternoon.

That evening an incredible show of thunder and lightning descended upon the White Mountains. The thunder was the loudest I can remember ever hearing, and it was incredible to experience the storm from our little tent. I tried several times to wake Caleb up to enjoy the chaos, but my little guy was tuckered and slept soundly through the whole thing.



We woke up early the next morning and broke down the tent together. I couldn’t help joking with Caleb about how he slept through the thunder. We were on the trail before six o’clock. Caleb raced down the Crawford Path, despite the slickness that remained from the previous night's rain. In short order, we were enjoying a well-deserved breakfast feast at the Highlands Center.

It was pretty neat to see my son growing and establishing his independence on the mountain. I felt that I saw him grow in confidence, courage, and maturity over the three days. That adventure with my son will certainly be one of many that we share in the mountains.


All photo credits copyright Peter Begley. Captions:
- Caleb waving hello at one of our first water crossings.
- Caleb takes in the views from the upper portion of the Ammo Trail.
- Caleb scrambling confidently on the Ammo Trail.
- Caleb enjoying the sunset from Lakes of the Clouds.
- The Crawford Path stretches out to the southwest over Mts. Franklin, Eisenhower, Pierce and beyond.
- Caleb napping in the tent after a long day of hiking.
- Caleb zooming down the Crawford Path during the last morning of hiking.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Family Trips and AMC Chapter Activities

Speaking of summer, it is clearly the summer season throughout all 12 AMC chapters. There are — I counted them — 84 outings for the coming weekend, June 26 or 27, listed online under “current trips.” I found trips being led by hiking, outings, paddling, and biking committees, and by family trips committees as well, and by chapters from Washington, D.C., to Maine. Some had already filled, but many others still had openings. Reading through the list, my energy and excitement rose: So many outdoor adventures just waiting to be discovered!

Even listings that weren’t explicitly categorized as “family trips” looked like they’d work well for families with children. For example, a walk through Pelham Bay Park on Saturday, June 26, had a boxed F and N next to it, marking it as open to first-time hikers and new members. The description invited people to join a “park walk on the beautiful Siwanoy Trail in the north Bronx.” It sounds like a hike children would enjoy.

On Sunday, June 27, the Narragansett Chapter is hosting an event that is specifically tagged as a family trip. The short description online called it a climbing trip at Lincoln Woods in Rhode Island, but the longer description makes it clear the trip offers much more than the chance to do a little top-roping. “Casual day in the park to see friends, meet people, and have some fun too!” it says. “Everyone is welcome, including non AMCers. Spend the day or stop by for a little while.” A partial list of activities that are available on June 27 at Lincoln Woods: hiking, climbing, biking, walking, paddling, swimming, running, and fishing!

Also on Sunday, the New Hampshire Chapter is offering a family trips bike ride along the Pemigewasset River to Franklin Falls Dam, just over six miles on an off-road trail. The ride is part of a weekend celebration at Cardigan Lodge of 30 years of family trips through the New Hampshire Chapter. Reservations are required for both the celebration at Cardigan and the bike ride to Franklin Falls.

Have you taken a recent family trip or had an outdoor adventure together? Share it here!

Learn more
- Search for AMC Chapter activities.
- Learn about AMC family adventure programs.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Solstice


The school year ended last Friday for our children. According to Virgil, summer vacation therefore officially began yesterday. (With the patience that children reserve for their dim-witted elders, he explained that the weekend didn’t count; he’ll start rolling his eyes as he explains such things in about three more years, if he follows his sister’s schedule.) That celebration delayed my realization that yesterday was also the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the official, astronomical start to summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

In some parts of the world, this solstice is celebrated as Midsummer’s Eve, the middle of summer, not its start. Such celebrations often focus on the lateness of nightfall — or above the Arctic Circle, by its absence altogether. We’re not far enough north here to be in the land of the midnight sun. But our 16-hour day pulled us toward lateness, too, making us want to stay with the longest day until night had truly fallen.

Friends had dropped off their two sons with us for the evening, and Virgil had a friend staying for a sleep-over. Ursula and the four boys played capture the flag into dusk. Hearing their shrieks, calls, and laughter through the open windows, I was transported back to summer nights in my childhood, the endless games of kick the can and tag, the way the neighborhood rang with the sound of our games. I lingered at the window, listening, feeling the doubleness of the moment, my childhood and my children’s overlapping on a summer’s evening.

The boys’ parents arrived a little after nine o’clock to take them home. The hour would have been horribly late for a school night — but it was midsummer’s eve, after all. Ursula and the boys disappeared into the gathering darkness while the adults chatted by the car. Bullfrogs, fat green pashas of the pond, lay down a rumbling bass line behind our conversation.

The kids re-appeared out of the falling dark, Ursula leading the way. She carried one arm stiffly out in front of her, a bit of yellow-green light glowing on her forearm. The firefly perched there a second or two longer, shining its light on the longest day of the year, and then flew up, blinking, into the night sky.

Learn more

- Listen to a short audio description of the summer solstice on The Night Sky.
- Read “Summer Solstice 2010: Why It’s the First Day of Summer” on the National Geographic website.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tradition Holds


This Friday, Peter Begley and his remarkable, not-quite-five-year-old son, Caleb, will drive from Boston to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead, wriggle into their backpacks, and start hiking to Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Peter’s wife Megan, an AMC employee, will already be en route to the same hut, leading a President’s Society hike, and will meet them there. If several years of family tradition holds, Caleb’s pack will hold little more than a water bottle, a jacket, and a toy to play with at the hut. A whistle that Caleb knows to use in an emergency stays looped through one of the straps, because, Peter says, “I think about things like that” — that being the safety of a whistle, and also the extra protection the pack affords Caleb’s back if he stumbles on the trail.

Peter Begley considers himself a “late-bloomer” in the mountains and on hiking trails. He grew up mostly in California and the Southwest and credits his parents with instilling a love of the outdoors in him through family trips to national parks. But it wasn’t until he and Megan moved East that he started hiking regularly and his childhood love grew into a passion. Now Peter wants to encourage that same love in his son, from Caleb’s interest in flowers and mushrooms to his pleasure in scrambling up rocks and sleeping in a tent. He climbed his first 4,000-footer, Mt. Hale, before he was four, and completely under his own steam.

Still, Peter is careful not to push. So Caleb’s backpack won’t carry more than a pound and a half or so of weight. “If carrying five pounds simply for the principle of making him haul his own gear makes him not enjoy the experience,” Peter says, “it’s not worth it.”

About three-quarters of the way to the hut, as the trail steepens over rock slabs that can be tricky to navigate when they’re wet, Peter’s focus will likely return to safety. If tradition holds, Caleb will also be pretty focused. “When we have a specific goal, like getting to a hut, he’ll ask, ‘Where are we, Dad?’” Peter says. “‘Are we near the hut yet?’” Peter will hold out his hand, and Caleb will take it. It’s safer, and they like to hold hands while they’re hiking.

The next day, while Megan remains at the hut with the President’s Society, Peter and Caleb will continue gently downhill along Crawford Path past Mts. Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower, and Pierce (or, weather and energy permitting, up over their summits) to the Nauman tent site next to Mizpah Spring Hut. Peter may find opportunities to pass along lessons to Caleb about getting past what he calls “the monotony of hiking.” It’s a mental challenge that Peter believes will pay off for his son well beyond the confines of a hiking trail. Even though Caleb won’t turn five for another few months, Peter can already see how their time together outdoors is instilling “self-confidence, self-reliance, a sense of higher purpose” in his son.

No doubt they’ll hold hands.

On Sunday, father and son will wake up at their tent site and pack to head back to the trailhead, Boston, and home. If their rich tradition of time together outdoors holds as it should, it’ll have been a perfect Father’s Day.



Photos: Caleb Begley on Mt. Avalon; Caleb and Peter on Mt. Moosilauke. Photos by Peter Begley.

Learn more
- Information about Lakes of the Clouds hut
- Information about Nauman and other AMC backcountry campsites
- Hiking Mt. Eisenhower

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Friday, June 11, 2010

State Park and Camping Links

Continuing a series of posts about camping, I’ve compiled information about camping in state parks and private campgrounds in 12 states along the East Coast. The list below starts alphabetically at Connecticut and runs from Maine in the north to Virginia in the south (and toward the end of the alphabet).

If you’ve been considering camping in Vermont, take a look at Vermont Days this weekend, June 12 and 13. All 52 Vermont state parks are free to visitors — no entrance fees — and are offering other activities, as well.


Connecticut

- Connecticut maintains campgrounds in 13 state parks or forests.
- The Connecticut Campground Owners Association offers a searchable directory of private campgrounds around the state.

Delaware
- Camping is available at 5 state parks.

Maine

- Twelve state parks and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway provide camping opportunities in Maine.
- The Maine Campground Owners Association offers a searchable directory of private campgrounds around the state.

Maryland

- Maryland state parks offer 2,000 campsites and 50 cabins to park visitors.
- The Maryland Campground Owners Association lists camping options at private campgrounds.

Massachusetts
- Massachusetts maintains campsites in 28 state parks and forests.
- The Massachusetts Association of Campground Owners offers a searchable directory of private campgrounds around the state.

New Hampshire
- Nineteen of Hew Hampshire’s 75 state parks offer camping opportunities.
- The New Hampshire Campground Owners Association offers a searchable directory of private campgrounds around the state.

New Jersey
- Nineteen state parks offer camping options.
- The New Jersey Campground Owners Association offers a searchable directory of private campgrounds around the state.

New York

- New York’s 178 state parks include the nation’s oldest state park, Niagara Falls, which celebrates its 125th year in 2010.
- The New York Campground Owners Association offers a searchable directory of more than 300 private campgrounds around the state.

Pennsylvania
- Camping is allowed in 58 state parks in Pennsylvania. Scroll through the website for useful lists on where to camp to learn about Pennsylvania history, where to camp if you’re interested in hiking, and more.
- The Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association offers a searchable directory of private campgrounds around the state.

Rhode Island

- Camping is allowed in 5 state parks and 9 private campgrounds.

Vermont
- A combined website lists 52 state parks and 71 private campgrounds around Vermont.

Virginia

- Twenty-four state parks have campgrounds, offering 1,700 campsites. State parks also maintain 260 cabins.
- The Virginia Campground Owners Association offers a searchable directory of private campgrounds around the state.

Learn more

- Good News, Bad News for State Parks
- Happy Campers 101, tips for family camping

Photos: First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach; New River Trail State Park, Virginia. Photo credits: pcopros.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Good News, Bad News for State Parks

The 2010 summer outdoors season appears to be getting off to a good start. Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start to the season, visits to state parks and campgrounds up and down the East Coast increased significantly over last year. In New York, attendance at state parks jumped 17 percent over 2009. Summer bookings are up 16 percent at Massachusetts campgrounds. The New Hampshire Campground Owners Association predicts a 10 percent rise in business over last year.

Some of the season’s fine start is being attributed to fine weather. Summer started early, dry, and warm across the Northeast — just the opposite of 2009. But some analysts also see a “back to basics” impulse at work, in which budget-conscious consumers choose to visit state parks instead of resorts and stay in campgrounds instead of hotels.

Ironically, that same impulse may bring bad news to park visitors down the road, as states trying to balance their budgets pare down to basics. In many states, funding for state parks continues to decrease as cash-strapped state governments struggle to provide essential goods and services.

Earlier this year, New York’s budget crisis forced the temporary closure of 41 state parks and historic sites. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has proposed cutting funding for state park operations by about $7 million for the next fiscal year, which begins next month. According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, ongoing funding for Massachusetts parks and recreation has fallen by $56.7 million in inflation-adjusted dollars, or 43.8 percent, over the last ten budget cycles.

California may be showing us the future. In 2009, facing a severe budget crisis, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed funding to state parks: 60 of the state’s 278 parks were closed and services at 90 more were reduced. Shortly before the holiday weekend, Schwarzenegger sent a budget to the California legislature for the coming fiscal year that would return funding for state parks to 2008 levels. Since then, government analysts have recommended a $22 million cut to funds for California's parks. Fewer public parks open and fewer public services in the parks that remain add up to fewer visitors: Last year, four million fewer people visited California parks than in 2008.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has apparently decided that the bad news for state parks outweighs the good. The organization placed the country’s state parks at the top of its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2010.

Photo credits: Mass. DRC; Allegany State Park, NY.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

First Family Camping

I was less than a year old when I went on my first overnight camping trip. I have no memory of it — but my parents remembered it well. They were young, still finding their way in the grown-up world. My father, a new engineer in his first job after college, was learning his way around a plant floor; my mother faced her own learning curve with me and a house they’d stretched to buy. When money ran low at the end of the month, which was most months, they scrambled stale bread ends and ketchup into their eggs.

Newlyweds in a new place, they approached their first family camping trip in the same way that they approached the rest of their new lives — determined to override a lack of money and experience through sheer youthful energy. They aired out the Army Surplus pup tent they’d used on their honeymoon. (The canvas had smelled of mold ever since they’d stored it damp.) The tent barely fit the two of them, much less a baby and her stuff, so they borrowed a second squat A-frame from friends. My mother pulled sheets and blankets from their bed for their bedrolls. They piled it all into a sedan and drove an hour into the hills of western Pennsylvania, to a state park. They carried me, the two tents, and the rest of the gear several miles down a forest trail and set up camp. Rolling up towels and blankets, they fashioned a crib for me in the borrowed tent, which they set up about ten feet away from their tent — about the same distance my bedroom was from theirs at home.

That night storms rolled in. Each thunderclap woke me in my pup-tent crib; each time I wailed, my father crawled from their tent to mine to comfort me. Eventually, soaked clear through, he crawled into my makeshift crib with me and fell asleep.

My parents told this story many times while I was growing up, always in vivid detail — the booming thunder, the downpour that quickly turned the space between their tent and mine into a muddy rut, our mutual exhaustion — and also with frank pleasure.

It’s a pleasure I see better now that I go camping with my own children. I can guess, for example, why my parents set up my tent a fair distance from their own. It isn’t just that theirs was a generation that would have scorned the notion of a family bed. Every time they told that story, they were young again and in love, at the beginning of a life in which all things seemed possible.

Jim and I came to family life in middle age, after youthful adventures of our own. We've prided ourselves on becoming experts in our outdoors activities; lacking expertise, we've sought advice. We’re careful about safety. We bought new camping gear, including a top-of-the-line four-person tent, when Ursula was born, looking forward to family time more than privacy.

But I try to carry forward some of the same spirit my parents had on that first overnight trip all those years ago. When our family goes camping, I’m not after perfection or even comfort. I want to pass on something more important — a sense of fun, a sense of adventure.

Going camping as a family concentrates two experiences wonderfully well, it seems to me. By camping together, we discover a shared experience of the natural world, and we can use the world to discover something about our own family.

Learn more

- Tips for first-time family camping

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Happy Campers 101


Camping — setting up a tent and sleeping in it overnight — is a classic outdoors activity for families. And no wonder: Camping gives children and parents a concentrated experience of being "home" together in the outdoors. But it can be hard to get started. Cardigan Lodge Manager Tom Fisher hears many of the questions that parents have about overnight camping: Should my children be a certain age? What if I don't know how to set up a tent? How do I keep my children occupied? What do I do if a child gets scared in the middle of the night?

AMC Senior Naturalist Nicky Pizzo, who often hears similar concerns, offers this simple advice: "Take baby steps." As AMC staff and as parents, Pizzo and Fisher have learned that following a few basic guidelines can help create memorable and happy first camping experiences for even the youngest children, and their parents, too.

Begin at home.
In her own family, Pizzo set the stage for overnight camping by setting up a tent in the yard for her daughter, Lily, when she turned two. The tent made an exciting new play space. Lily spent hours in it surrounded by her favorite stuffed animals, toys, and books. When the family was ready to spend a full night in the tent, it was already firmly established in Lily's mind as a comfort zone.

Equipment helps but isn't essential. Part of what Lily enjoyed about her first night in a tent was the fun she had using a new headlamp. Having her own gear gave Lily "a real sense of ownership" of the experience, says Pizzo. However, families shouldn't feel they need to buy every piece of camping gear: Lily's family left the decision about buying sleeping bags for another year, preferring to roll up blankets to sleep in, instead.

Stage the experience. "You don't immediately have to start climbing mountains" when you go family camping, says Fisher. He took his children car camping when they were young: "Omigosh, the gear that came out of that car!" From that beginning, they moved on to carrying backpacks a short distance to a group campsite, and then added elevation gain and backcountry camping.

Leave electronics behind. Children may want to bring their iPods, handheld video games, or DVD players on camping trips, but Pizzo strongly recommends leaving those items behind. "Kids fall back on what they're used to," she says. Establishing a no-electronics policy gives children a chance to find other ways to exercise their imaginations and creates more room for the kinds of family bonding and stories that don’t happen at home. Pizzo encourages parents to give extra assistance and encouragement to children who struggle with the transition from electronic stimulus.

Things that go bump in the night.
The more comfortable children are sleeping outside, the more they enjoy the experience. "Most kids are afraid of the dark," Pizzo says. "Your goal should be to make it seem less scary, but still exciting." That means no ghost stories around the campfire the first few times you go camping, no matter how much kids say they want to hear them—unless you want to be up all night, too. Pizzo tells the children she teaches, and her daughter, that a twig cracking at night sounds extra-loud and unfamiliar, but that there's nothing outside at night that's not there during the day.

Get advice from the pros.
Camp in places that offer additional support. Tom Fisher calls Mt. Cardigan "a great starter mountain" for families who want to gain more camping experience. Campsites are only a short distance from the main lodge, providing a margin of safety and comfort for novice campers. Naturalists and guides staff the lodge during the busy summer season and are on hand to answer a wide range of questions, from "What's the name of that tree?" to "How do we put a rain fly on this tent?" Fisher says the extra support is an important part of the Cardigan experience: "We don't just say, 'You're in campsite 24B. Good luck.'"

Looking ahead to the 2011 season, Fisher and the Cardigan Lodge staff want to make it even easier for families to try overnight camping without needing to buy or borrow gear. They hope to have tents and other equipment available free of charge for families, and to offer educational programs about camping, as well. Fisher says, "We think there's a need."

Learn more

- Find outdoor how-to tips, destination suggestions, gear advice, and information on AMC family trips on AMC's website.
- Read more tips in "So, you think your kids are ready to go camping?" (AMC Outdoors, June 2005).
- Find out more about the Cardigan Lodge campsites.
- Read about great family campgrounds.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.