Camping With Kids Report: NF of the Willamette

I just got back from camping! With kids. Which means that I am tired, dirty, and SORE.

Oh yeah, and I’m happy.

This trip was a spur of the moment adventure. School is out, and the kids have swimming lessons and soccer and camps, all scheduled with and by their dad during his time. (We are divorced)

At first I was pretty bummed, because the kids would be doing tons of activities with him, and I hadn’t planned to do all that stuff. I come from the school of letting kids be kids, and not schedule them with so much STUFF. I was bummed because they’d be in a car, shuttling around from scheduled and supervised and structured activity all day long, and also because I couldn’t be there with them to experience it.

coffee cup sitting on a log

My sister called me up last week, and said she was bringing her kids down to go fishing up at Crescent Lake with our dad. And then lightning struck. We’d take the kids camping. All the cousins together. The upside of my ex scheduling all the THINGS during his time was that I WAS FREE TO DO ANYTHING. Yep, no appointments or ties or commitments.

Silver lining much?

So I called some family living in the area (my mom, who then called up all my aunts and uncles), and threw some stuff in the car (see previous post about packing) and when the kids came back from their dad’s house, I just threw them in the car. That’s right, they didn’t even go into the house. They just hopped out of one car into the other, and we left rubber on the cul-de-sac on our way out.

I wanted to maximize the time we had to play (and not spend it driving), so we headed up past Westfir on the 19 road up the north fork of the Willametter River (we are in Oregon). There are several swimming holes off the side of the road and a few informal campsites.

If you keep driving up the river, you’ll hit the Kiahanie campground (about 20 miles past westfir) and there are a few more beyond that. I was hoping to find one of the informal sites open, but planned to camp up at Kiahanie if there wasn’t anything, it is a small campground but seldom full.

Luckily, we found a site near the 1920 road, that was HUGE, could have fit 10 plus families, and it was right on the river. Another bonus–there is a good swimming hole at this spot, but the hole is on the other side of the river.

fire on a beach

The river on the campsite side is not treacherous, swift, or deep for 100 yards in either direction from the site, so I could relax knowing that if the kids ran down to the river to throw a rock while I blinked, that they’d be okay, even my smallest girl.

There are a few short hikes to do, walking up and down the dirt roads to other spots on the river, where we found new places to throw rocks into the water, to find sticks for swords, to dig in the sand, and to find all kinds of interesting bugs.

We had a blast.

The kids roasted marshmallows and hot dogs, threw watermelon rinds into the bushes, spat seeds into the river to feed the fish, pooped in the woods, slept in tents, played for hours in the water, rode their bikes off road through the trees, cut themselves on sticks and bushes and bled, fell down, threw rocks, played with cousins, drank too much hot cocoa, made fake pancakes on the fire (using crescent roll dough), burned up stuff, played in the tents, read books by the river….

My two year old was naturally into everything, and I had to do quite a bit of work to keep her safe near the water and the fire. The older kids were actually surprisingly helpful about this, and to my shock, my youngest also seemed to develop a decent understanding of what was dangerous to her and what was not, which I did not expect.


As a bonus, due to how close we were to Oakridge, we managed to run into town (15 minutes) and made an appearance at a party thrown for my cousin and uncle who live up in the hills.

Up there, my kids got to take rides on the lawn tractor, rode on the back of a dirt bike for the first time (with a helmet of course), took an off road ride in my cousin’s 67 Bronco (with a whole pile of other kids, hanging onto the bars and seats and windows screaming and laughing while we bumped and slid around the back 40), jumped on the trampoline, ate more watermelon, played with more cousins, explored the ponds, hunted salamanders and bullfrogs, and more.

We also got bitten by mosquitos (all that natural mosquito repellent made with essential oils only sort of works). Managed to avoid sunburn though, which is a real accomplishment.

My hips and back are super sore from sleeping on the ground. I don’t bother with air mattresses because the kids just like to jump on them and I don’t want to spend all the trip hollering at them for playing in the tent. I might grab a few more blankets from the house for future trips to see if I can pad them a bit more in addition to what we are using to soften the ground.

camping with kids
Exploring the North Fork of the Willamette River at our campsite

I might also check and see what I can find as far as cheap memory foam, though I don’t like it as a first option because it takes up so much room in the truck bed, and I don’t want to have to worry about covering it if it rains on the way to the site.

All in all, I would say that we had a great long weekend (four nights and five days). And it was all because my ex decided that he wanted to take on all of the responsibility of scheduling activities for the kids.

I was so upset that he did all of that without consulting me or involving me. But I’m really loving the upside….he can do all the driving and shuttling, and the kids and I can bail out of town to really make some major memories.

In fact, I am thinking that on my next long weekend (coming up after his long weekend, which is the one coming up next), I’ll take the kids on another camping adventure. The kids want to go back to our spot after the 1920 road cutoff, and we could go there.

But next time, maybe we’ll go up to one of the lakes (like Odell, Crescent, or Hills Creek) and see what sort of adventure we can find up there. Again, I don’t really want to be driving for a long way because that just seems wasteful (and also because the kids start to get squirmy and who likes to drive with crying children).

aerial view of trees and a road

Next time at this spot, we will…

I think the next time we are here at this spot, which I anticipate will be this upcoming summer, I want to do a little more fort building.

This camp site is full of logs, sticks, and branches. I think it would be great to craft some kind of structure for the kids to play in, like I have seen at the beach or on hiking trails. Seriously, there was SO much downed wood, we wouldn’t have had to work at all for the materials to craft out house.

Now I could make it easier on myself if we bring some cord or rope, to help make the corners of things sturdier, especially if it turns out to be something pretty big.

I also want to try cooking some dishes that are a little more complex and adventurous on the fire. I am pretty boring and old when it comes to camping cooking, because I don’t want to haul up a huge grill, propane, briquettes, a smoker, etc, etc, etc. I have a dutch oven that I think I could make good use of on or near the fire, if I keep a close eye on the temperature.

I have seen people do good work with a dutch oven and a campfire, to make camping cobbler or awesome stews.

This coming summer, the kids will be a year older and that much more able to take care of themselves (and also to avoid killing themselves by falling into the fire). So I should be able to cook more.

What else? scavenger hunts? Kick the can homemade ice cream? So many ideas!!!

Where are your favorite places to camp with children? Especially camping with babies? Let me know if the comments, I’d love to hear about them.

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