Most of us live in Wyoming because of the outdoor recreation opportunities. The least populated state has everything from world-renowned mountain biking and climbing to sought-after hunting and fly fishing.
What drives many of us to get outside in the summer is not just our favorite sports but also the ability to camp across so much of the public land.
The first camping trips of the year can always be a bit rocky. Someone forgets to check the weather and your family ends up in an early-June snowstorm. Someone else left eating utensils at home and everyone is spooning baked beans into their mouths with whittled down sticks.
Go enough times and you’ll remember forgotten items and to check the weather reports. You may even go so often you find yourself in a rut – pulling into the same campsites weekend after weekend and eating the same meal of bratwursts and roasted marshmallows.
Nothing is wrong with bratwursts and roasted marshmallows – they’ve been a staple in my family for decades – and I am bringing my daughter back to the favorite spots my family camped as a child. But this season think about branching out.
The Star-Tribune compiled a list of family-friendly campgrounds, surprisingly delicious desserts and some activities sure to remind your kids why they miss camping all winter long.
Go for the sites, stay for the views
Marc Smith knows camping. He literally wrote the book on it in Wyoming and the Black Hills of South Dakota. And as a father of two, the author of “The Wyoming Camping Guide,” knows what makes the best sites for families.
“The things that make the kids freak out is if they run into ticks and cactus,” he said. “They also like trees for shade or to hang the hammock or make their fairy houses.”
Kids like little brooks or sandy beaches, places where they can play in the water without causing panic in their parents. What they don’t want are campsites near big rushing water, cliffs or other dangerous areas they have to be mindful of avoiding.
Fortunately for Wyoming, plenty of campgrounds fit the bill for being relatively safe and also offering stunning views for the adults.
Here are a few of his recommendations:
Two Moon Campground: You can’t really go wrong camping anywhere at Glendo State Park, but the Two Moon Campground has a renovated playground, short nature trails and broad views of the Laramie Range and reservoir.
Belle Fourche Campground: Devils Tower is a must see, and the nearby campground is also great for families. It has rocks for scrambling on, short trails, a visitor center and nearby ice cream.
Granite Creek Campground: This off-the-beaten-path campground in the Bridger-Teton National Forest is absolutely worth the drive. It has impressive views of sheer mountains, a small river and waterfall, and most importantly, a developed natural hot springs.
Sinks Canyon Campground: Two campground options await you in Sinks Canyon outside of Lander. Both offer easy access to where the river dumps mysteriously into the ground, a fish feeding area, visitor center and hike to a waterfall.
Colter Bay Campground: You likely won’t ever get this campground in Grand Teton National Park to yourself, but contending with neighbors is worth it for the views of the Tetons, boat tours, short trails, interpretive talks, visitor center and junior ranger program.
Sleeping under the stars and playing in the dirt should be a reward on its own for young campers, but it’s never a bad idea to bring something special to eat. Try one of these creative treats to wow them and yourself.
Blueberry pancakes with grilled peaches
Yes, pancakes are more typical breakfast fare. But if you want something sweet for dinner, and you don’t have time or energy to make an additional dessert, these are a great option. The grilled peaches on top will settle even the biggest sweet tooth without pumping too much sugar in anyone before bed.
- 1/4 c SACO Cultured Buttermilk Blend
- 3/4 c all-purpose flour
- 1/4 c buckwheat flour
- 1 tbs granulated sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1 c water
- 2 tbs vegetable oil
- 1 c blueberries
- 2 fresh peaches, cut in half and pitted
Place peach halves on a wire rack over your campfire. Cook until charred for 1 to 3 minutes.
Mix dry ingredients before you leave for quicker assembly in camp or use a prepared pancake mix. In a bowl or pot, add egg, oil and water to the dry ingredients. Fold in the blueberries. Heat oil in a frying pan. Add spoonful of pancake dough.
Slice peaches and serve on top of finished pancakes. Serves 4.
Pineapple upside down cake
Maybe it’s someone’s birthday weekend. Maybe you’ve been craving something fancier than a marshmallow on a stick. Or maybe you just want a delicious dessert that appears to require more effort than it really did. Whatever it is, try these. You won’t regret it.
- Half a pineapple, diced
- 4 slices pound cake, broken into pieces
- 2 tbs butter
- 3 tbs brown sugar
Place pineapple in the bottom of a tinfoil packet and top with pound cake, brown sugar and butter. Seal packet and double wrap. Position packet in coals, rotating occasionally for about 20 minutes or until pineapple is soft. Serves 4.
Salted caramel, bacon s’mores
You might think you know s’mores, but if you want to wow the adults and kids in your camp, try making these.
- Thinly sliced bacon
- Graham crackers
- Salted caramel chocolate squares
Wrap a piece of bacon around your marshmallow stick. Roast over coals until done. Remove bacon and place on graham cracker with piece of salted caramel chocolate. Roast marshmallow as much – or as little – as you like. Assemble and enjoy.
Use what you have
“Sometimes we overthink outdoor fun,” said Ken Keffer, author of “Kids Outdoor Adventure Book”.
We often think we should bring toys or games into the outdoors with us, when everything we need is already in the forest, prairie or on the beach.
“Simple things like encouraging skipping rocks and watching clouds float by is truly important and functional and a worthy activity itself,” he said.
Targeted scavenger hunts: Depending on the age of your child or children, ask them to find certain items such as something blue, green, yellow or orange. For the older ones, direct them toward something from a mammal such as an antler shed or bone, a reptile, a bird or fish.
Create a guess bag: Collect items from around camp and place them in a sleeping bag stuff sack then have kids reach in and guess what they are. “A feather is cool, but pulling a feather out of the bag when you don’t know what’s in the bag is a tantalizing prospect to a kid.”
Art with sticks: Use sticks for everything from the classic game “pick up sticks” to creating stick artwork like pictures frames or mini-villages.
Embrace entomology: Bring along a small bug net and see what you find in the grass, bushes or even in the water.