My husband and I are far from experienced campers. Sure, we've gone camping a handful of times but the last time was almost 6 years ago, pre-kids during a cross-country road trip from Los Angeles to Boston. I'm sure I don't need to tell you but camping without kids and camping with kids are two completely different experiences. Remember those quiet, reflective hikes and moments by the fire you had while camping without kids? Those don't exist anymore. But, to be fair, there are a lot more belly laughs, adventures and memories.
We live in South Florida, so while it was "cold" here over the weekend, it certainly wasn't the kind of cold the rest of the U.S. was experiencing. After taking inventory of our camping gear and a quick trip to Dick's Sporting Goods the night before, we loaded up the car with seemingly every earthly possession and headed about an hour and half away from home to Collier-Seminole State Park.
Collier-Seminole State Park lies within one of the largest mangrove swamps in the world. They boast all sorts of wild animals including alligators (obviously), Florida panthers, bobcats, gopher tortoises, manatees, and over 150 different species of birds. But they also have sights that won't try to eat you like a walking dredge; the very one that was used to build the Tamiami Trail Highway, linking Tampa to Miami, in fact.
Once we arrived at the park and got checked-in, we set up camp and then went in search of panthers (which I desperately hoped not to find).
A little exploration led to hungry bellies which led to campfire hotdogs and s'mores, naturally. After a lesson in panther prevention, aka locking all the food and toiletries in the car, we called it a night. I'd love to say everyone slept through the night and woke up at daybreak feeling renewed, but alas...no. The tent was more like musical sleeping bags with intermittent potty breaks and requests for midnight snacks but bacon was for breakfast and bacon solves almost everything.
We cleaned up from breakfast, packed up the tent and headed over to rent a canoe. Remember, the park is within a huge mangrove swamp so there was plenty to explore both on land and via boat. Yesterday was committed to exploration by foot, today we would be on the water.
Map in hand, our tour guide led the way through every twist and turn, hunting for alligators and other wildlife.
And we were rewarded.
Overall their first camping trip was a success. We learned a couple of lessons: we didn't use half of what we packed, needed double the amount of alcohol and should have picked a campsite closer to the potty, but we will definitely do it again. Next month, in fact. Before the weather becomes unbearably hot here in South Florida, we hope to go camping once a month, in a new spot each time. My son has even requested a camping trip for his birthday in March and who can say no to more family bonding experiences? Certainly not this mama.