Tag Archives: camping

Camping with a toddler and baby

We did an overnight camping trip with 10 kids under 4 and lived to blog about it.


Really, there are no huge life-hacks to share except that if you like camping and you have a baby and a toddler, you can still go camping. It just might look a little bit different and be a little bit exhausting, but that’s life right now, so at least you’ll have s’mores.

Instead of loading up hiking backpacks and bringing our little orange Marmot tent, we crammed half of our house into the car (air mattress, check! little training potty, check! way too much stuff but not enough flashlights, check!) and headed the 45 minutes to Ledges State Park to pitch a ginormous forest dwelling (Coleman Evanston).


One of the dads talked to the ranger and was able to get us the youth camp site. That way, we could pitch our tents in a big, grassy semi-circle and share a fire pit in a spot that was slightly removed. The nature activity was a creek walk and the kids had a ball splashing around together – especially where the creek flows over the road and they’d get soaked by passing cars.


Eileen enjoyed herself, too, and I had to snap a backpack selfie, or twenty.


We did super simple meat & potato “hobo dinners” (of which I’m pretty sure Emmett ate 3 bites) but one of the other families managed salmon foil packet dinners that looked pretty impressive.

Sleep in our house has been generally elusive, and although we set up the pack n’ play, Eileen and I just snuggled on the ground while somehow Emmett and Joe wound up sharing the air mattress. (I knew that’s how it would shake out!)


One tip that applies for camping or any night activity with a bunch of kids running around: Keep track of them with glow-stick necklaces/bracelets.

Don’t feel like you’re ready for tent camping with tiny people? Pammel State Park in Madison County has two yurts! We talked about doing that and might in a future year. The only bummer is you can’t put up extra tents in the yurt area. Jester Park is also a good local option, and their Natural Playscape is a fun little activity.


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Filed under Family Fun, Iowa adventures

How fast days move

In Des Moines, we feel fall in the air. Cowboy boots and sweater season for this girl. I feel like Hill Vintage might have my old outfit in my size again…

But first, a few last breaths of summer captured:

Perfect paddling weather for Gray’s Lake, almost three years to the day since we got engaged there.

Movie night at Valle Drive-In. We went on Labor Day, which I think should become a new tradition for us. We were on our way home from Iowa City and still had all of our sleeping bags and pillows in the back of the VW from being down at the farm the night before, so we just unfurled everything and got cozy.

This crisp air makes me want to go camping, to wear a puffy vest and wool socks over pajamas and ramble over rocks and trails. Last fall we had a few camping weekends – in Eastern Iowa on the way to a wedding in Dubuque, Lacey-Keosauqua State Park in southeastern Iowa, and then a long hike on an unseasonably warm winters day out by Clanton Creek in Madison County. We’re waiting for a new niece or nephew to arrive this weekend or Monday, so we’re going to stick close to town, but I’m looking forward to making a fire in the fire pit and go apple picking in our own back yard.

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Filed under I love Des Moines

Des Moines date-in-a-box: Equestrian edition

What woman doesn’t love horses? Their smell and velvety noses and the way they chomp sugar cubes from an outstretched palm. And who doesn’t secretly or not-so-secretly love a cowboy/girl? (If you’re not already familiar with The Pioneer Woman blog, Ree will teach you to love cowboys.)

It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden, though. And even though Joe buys lots of his shirts at G&L Clothing, I’ve yet to see him on a horse.

I’m no equestrian, but I really have an itch to get back in the saddle – at least for a day. I think that calls for scheduling a fall trail ride date at Jester Park, where you can do one-hour guided trail rides for $30 per person. It’s not going to be as romantic as riding on the beach, but in Central Iowa, ya gotta work with what you’ve got. I bet with the leaves turning, it could be really beautiful out there.

In the winter, Jester Park also does wagon and sleigh rides! This would be a great double date or something to do with a group of friends.

Mycountyparks.com lists some more spots for equestrian activities in Iowa. If you’re in the mood, you can even go camping before or after and make a weekend of it. Perhaps prepare some “campurritos” in advance?

Oh! And the Des Moines Dates series has inspired the auction items for the upcoming Brews&Brownies, a benefit event for The Des Moines “I Have a Dream” Foundation, where I work. We’re going to do a blind auction of different dates-in-a-box at the Sept. 25 event at Creme Cupcake. Buy tickets for you and a date and have fun and do good in the process!

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Crock-pot crazy, Lacey-Keosauqua State Park style

Stevo (Joe’s dad) turned the big 6-0 this week! To celebrate, Joe and his sisters and their families planned a cabin camping getaway to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park in southeastern Iowa.

And in the divvying up of camping weekend cooking duties, the cake fell (pun not quite intended) to us. We would be birthday-ing on Saturday night, but driving down Friday after work and we wanted our cake to be fresh. So instead of making a dutch oven cake (because we don’t have an outdoor dutch oven), we googled around and found a recipe for a chocolate crock pot cake. Baking dilemma, solved, right? I now introduce you to the ugliest cake on the planet:

I should re-create it this summer to win a ribbon at the state fair. It tasted OK (it actually got burnt on one side, but I was able to cut that part away) but might be better suited for some lame birthday year, like 37.

Aside from my cakewreck (well, and a second crock-pot breakfast strata fail), the rest of the weekend was great. The park rents out delightful little cabins that come with two futons, a range, microwave, table, sink and bathroom.

They’re all in a nice little cluster, close to the beach! Just a few hundred yards from the cabins there’s a sweet whitewashed beach house (boat house?) that was in the midst of a renovation. There’s a little stone balcony that overlooks the beach, and stone staircase that trails down to the sand. Stevo and I both said it would be a lovely place for an outdoor wedding. I could just see the bride and groom canoeing away and the wedding party all hiking around and setting up a picnic feast at the cabins. You’d really have to keep your fingers crossed for weather as perfect as ours was! Mid-October and we were all lounging around in the sand and wading into the water.

We also took a big (looong) family hike on another trail that meandered alongside the Des Moines River.

Can’t you just hear the crunch-swish-swish-crunch of all of the leaves?


Filed under Iowa adventures

Eastern Iowa camping adventure

There are sunrises worth waking up for. Like a crisp, fall morning overlooking the Mississippi on the way to see your two dear friends say “I do.”

Sunrise at Pike's Peak, Iowa

Joe and I took the long route to Dubuque a few weeks ago, camping in Backbone State Park and Pikes Peak State Park on the way to a wedding. We got to Backbone around 5 p.m. on a Thursday and three of the four entrances were closed off to cars. I was a bit worried we’d have to set up a camp outside the gates, but luckily we were able to enter from another side.

Joe almost fell off the dock trying to take this.

Backbone had a sweet little lake (that’s me trying to balance on the swaying dock), but I’d say that it’s comparable to the much closer Lake Ahquabi for Des Moinesians. If you’re traveling to Backbone, though, you have to go into Strawberry Point and take the obligatory tourist photo:

World's largest strawberry?

Leaving Strawberry Point (where we had some morning coffee and chai at the old hotel in the center of town), Joe and I took a lovely scenic leaf-peeper kind of drive past small towns. I’m so enamored with Elkader. It seemed like the Stars Hollow* of Iowa to me. My heart stopped as we pulled into town, passing a cemetery just as a funeral honor guard of sorts pointed and shot their guns at the sky. The funeral party wore all black, in contrast to the brilliant trees and I was overwhelmed by the moment. In town, a group of red hat ladies and a motorcycle club shared space along the main strip. I didn’t really get many photos here, but you’ll have to trust me that it’s quite scenic with bridges over the Turkey River and an old-time looking movie theater, bakery and quilt shop and Opera house on the main street.

Elkader, Iowa

* Obligatory Gilmore Girls reference!

… Next up, lunch with a brewmaster (which was definitely one of Joe’s favorite parts.)


Filed under Iowa adventures