Have your kids already started talking about summer vacation and you’d love to take them camping but don’t know how or where to get started?
Do you flip pages in the camping gear flyers and wonder how the photographs make pitching a tent look so easy?
Are you still reading this article wondering if it’s possible to take your kids camping without ever having been camping yourself or investing in all the equipment?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then Ontario Parks has the solution for you!
Recognizing that more that 25% of Ontarians have never experienced overnight camping, Ontario Parks introduced their Learn to Camp program in 2011. Since then, close to 10,000 people have participated in the program and discovered the joy of this truly Canadian tradition.
According to Katie Roberts, Learn to Camp Coordinator for Ontario Parks, this program targets people “who don’t have a family history of camping but they have an interest.” The program is especially great for families and single parents who are able to try out camping “with no stress or worry because the Learn to Camp guides are there to give participants the skills and the confidence they need to enjoy their first overnight camping experience.”
Here’s how it works…
The Learn to Camp program is offered between June and September, and families of up to six people per site (including children) are able to register for a one or two night camping experience. At just $86.00 for a one-night experience or $130.75 for a two-night experience, this is one of the most economical ways to try out camping with your family.
The best part is, all the equipment you need to camp is included and the highly trained Learn to Camp guides are there to help you every step of the way. All you need to bring is bedding, food and your willingness to learn and have fun!
When you arrive for your first night in the park, you’ll sign in at the gatehouse and the staff will send you to basecamp to meet the Learn to Camp team. They’ll also make sure you have a cooler and ice to help keep the food you brought cold.
Then it’s time for your first session – a welcome to all the participants and an orientation to help you and the kids get familiar with the park, including being shown to your own campsite.
The second session is all about how to set-up your camping kitchen. This session covers set-up, cooking, cleaning and how to build your picnic shelter. You’ll be provided with kitchen supplies, a camping stove and a water jug so you can set-up and start cooking your lunch right away. Not to worry if you’ve never cooked outdoors – the Learn to Camp program sends out helpful meal planning and cooking tips before your trip.
After lunch, it’s time for your third session all about safe and fun camping with lots of time built in for you and the kids to ask all of your questions. This is also the session where you’ll learn how to set-up camp. Tents (and help on how to put it up) are provided and so are air mattresses for sleeping. Although you are required to bring your own bedding, this does not mean you have to buy or borrow sleeping bags – regular sheets, blankets and pillows are just fine when camping with air mattresses. Just remember to check the weather before leaving (it can be hot or cold at night) and keep in mind that easy to clean sheets and blankets are the best options for camping.
In the evening, Learn to Camp guides run what is likely going to be your kids’ favourite session starting with “How to Build a Campfire” and what to expect on your first night. The campfire part comes with the promise of roasting marshmallows – definitely any kid’s favourite part! The “what to expect” part comes with a fun game of “guess the sound” from recordings of typical animal and nature sounds that you may hear when sleeping in a tent.
Katie says “the kids get really excited in this session especially when the guides hand out stuffies to each of them.”
After this session, participants head back to enjoy their own campfires and campsites for the night.
The first 24-hours will go quickly, so I highly recommend you register for the two-night experience and spend the next day enjoying the park including our favourite family camping activities – hiking and swimming!
I know how lucky I am having grown up spending many of my summers camping in (mostly Northern) Ontario Parks. My Dad taught me the basics of setting up camp, cooking meals, making coffee on the campfire (very important!), camping safety and mostly the pure joy of getting outside and into nature. Because of this and a self-taught husband who now loves camping as much as I do, we’re able to confidently take our family on some amazing #CanadaWithKids camping adventures creating family memories our kids will keep with them always.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the experience of growing up camping but like Katie says, if you have the interest, Ontario Parks has the program that will teach you everything you need to know to get you camping and enjoying all the experience has to offer year after year. For Katie, providing the “Canadian tradition to a whole new group of campers” is the most important goal of the Learn to Camp program.
So what are you waiting for? Learn to Camp spots book up quickly! Check out the Ontario Parks website to learn more about the Learn to Camp program and to register your family.
PS: Ready to take your camping experience one step further? Check out my articles on What Is A Yurt and Why Should Moms Care and Why You Should Take Young Kids Winter Camping (it is possible!). Also if you’re headed to Algonquin this summer, here are my Top Three Algonquin Hiking Trails For Young Kids.