Camping Meals – Family Favorites

Meal time in our household is usually an exercise in advance planning, but particularly when camping. Peter has a number of food allergies (corn, soy, sesame, peanuts, etc) that make it hard to buy convenience foods like dehydrated meals, “just-add X” meals, and pre-made mixes. While it’s an added challenge, it does mean that we tend to eat some really delicious dishes so I don’t get too upset about it.

Here are some of our favorites, organized by meal type. Most of them can be made gluten or dairy free as well.

Breakfast

Instant oatmeal with maple syrup and dried fruit – this is our most frequent camping breakfast because it’s easy and shelf stable. We add raisins, Trader Joe’s freeze-dried berries, or chopped dried apricots (and sometimes some nuts) and bring a small plastic squeeze bottle of maple syrup. It gets a little messy with the kids, but we keep baby wipes nearby for easy clean-up.

Pre-made french toast – bringing uncooked whole eggs along is challenging, so I like making french toast at home, freezing it in slices, and reheating it in a frying pan on our camp stove. Paired with some fruit and maple syrup, it’s a great way to feel like you made a fancy breakfast.

Breakfast burritos – pre-scrambled eggs, pre-cooked sausage and some chopped bell pepper or shredded spinach are much easier to eat in a tortilla (salsa optional). We don’t make this is as often because James has an egg allergy, but I love the high-protein boost for days of big hikes.

Banana pancakes – Mash two bananas together with a pre-scrambled egg (and possibly some oats) and you’ve got easy banana pancakes that are gluten free as well.

Lunch

Lunch is my least favorite camping meal – we want to be out on adventures instead of cooking, but don’t necessarily want to eat sandwiches for every meal.

Pasta salad – our family likes a orzo salad (I’ve also made it with rotini) that includes feta, cherry tomatoes, black olives, basil or mint, red onion (pour the hot pasta over chopped onion to lightly soften it), olive oil and lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. I dress it very lightly if we’re going to eat it away from the campsite.

Quesadillas/Grilled cheese – I would make these with some spinach in the morning and pack them up for a hike. We usually have cherry tomatoes on the side since salsa can get messy and the kids don’t usually like it.

Antipasto – okay, I’m just using this as a fancy term for bread, cheese and sliced veggies. Our family usually brings some assortment of olives, prosciutto/salami, carrots, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, a hard cheese and bread (I made focaccia and brought it on a recent hiking trip and it was so good!).

Snacks

My kids get plenty of pouches, goldfish and raisins on camping trips. Non-packaged snacks require the most pre-work, but I usually make one or more of the following to bring along and portion out:

Toasted Garbanzo Beans – toss with olive oil and spices (I like cumin and coriander, or a little chickpea miso with ginger) and roast until crispy (about 25-30 minutes).

Muffins – combinations like zucchini/cranberry, carrot/date, banana/carrot/lentil, blueberry/almond meal or morning glory are usually winners for us. I love anything from the blog Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Granola Bars – I don’t have a fancy recipe for these, although I got my inspiration from the Cotter Crunch blog and used it the first couple of times for approximate proportions. I combine dried fruit like apricots or dates with nuts (I love pistachios and pumpkin seeds), oats, flax seeds, maple syrup, coconut oil and spices (cinnamon, ginger and cardamom work well) and a little salt in a food processor. Sometimes some hot water is needed to help bind the ingredients together. Press the mixture into a wax paper lined pan (we use an 8×8 pan for thicker bars), drizzle melted dark chocolate over the top and chill in the fridge before cutting into bars. These are reasonably crumbly, but really delicious.

Dinner

Dinner is my favorite camping meal – we’ve usually hiked or kayaked all day to work up an appetite and we have some time to let the kids explore the campsite while we work on dinner and sip some wine or beer.

Bacon-wrapped dates (appetizer) – this feels like “glamping” without the king size bed. Before our trip, I wrap dates in a half piece of bacon each and hold them in place with toothpicks. At the campsite, we roast them over the fire on a marshmallow stick and enjoy a tasty treat while dinner is baking in the coals (they’re also sweet enough for dessert). These could definitely be a main dish, maybe with a veggie foil packet and some cous cous.

Fajitas – we love fajitas, particularly as an option if rain is possible, or if the campsite has a grill for the meat. I marinate the meat (we prefer steak since corn/soy free chicken is hard to find) in lime juice, olive oil, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper mixed in a ziploc bag and bring it in our cooler for a relatively mess free option. We usually pre-chop the veggies and cook them (and the meat if needed) in a cast iron pan on our camp stove for even heating and a nice char. Tortillas can be quickly heated in the pan while the meat rests.

Risotto – sound like a weird choice for camping? I thought so at first, but we went camping during a burn ban in Washington and I wanted a one pot meal I could make on our camp stove. Boxed vegetable stock, arborio rice, frozen peas (also help to keep the cooler cold and it doesn’t matter if they defrost) and pre-grated parmesan make this a pretty easy dish.

Dumplings with cut veggies – I make the dumplings at home (ground pork and radicchio or mixed veggies are good fillings) and freeze them to be pan fried on the camp stove. I serve them with some sliced veggies and a little premixed dipping sauce (coconut aminos and rice vinegar).

Baked potato bar – The kids aren’t currently fans of russet potatoes, but they love sweet potatoes, so we wrap them in foil and serving them with sides of butter, cheese and some frozen broccoli that we cook on the stove (or wrap it in foil too and make it roasted broccoli).

Foil meals – A camping classic. I usually use salmon as the protein because it seems to cook at about the same rate as the vegetables (I like mine cooked through). The key to the best foil meal is to include some water-heavy vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini, onions and mushrooms, topped with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and some thyme or oregano. Adding some small potatoes makes them more filling. I usually pre-wrap the packets before we leave so they’re all ready to pop on the fire on our first night.

Pumpkin chili– I pre-make vegetarian chili with a can of pumpkin puree, a mix of beans, diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, bell pepper and spices and freeze it to be reheated at the campsite. Because it’s vegetarian and can be frozen, it’s a good option for later in a trip. You could also bring the ingredients along, but I prefer pre-mixing for ease.

Grilled meat with spinach rice – I pre-make the spinach rice ahead of time. I blend about 8 oz of fresh spinach with some cilantro, onions, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and add it to vegetable stock in which I cook rice. The rice can be frozen or just refrigerated and reheated to serve with meat or shrimp that we grill on the campfire.

Moroccan skewers – while we mostly make these vegetarian to serve alongside something else (like hot dogs or shrimp, or even toasted cashews and pitas), we love prepping veggies in this flavorful Moroccan-style marinade from the blog Natasha’s Kitchen (not me!).

Foil-wrapped burritos – somewhat similar to a foil packet meal, but this one is a little easier to set up as a build-your-own bar. We pre-cook veggies (peppers, onions, broccoli/spinach, chopped tomatoes) and meat or beans and shred cheese. Then, everyone can add their desired toppings to a tortilla and wrap it up in foil to pop in the fire. There’s minimal risk of undercooking since you’re just warming up pre-cooked items and melting cheese.

Dessert

We really only make s’mores or sometimes a dutch oven pineapple upside down cake (my last attempt at chocolate cake in orange peel failed miserably). This is an area where I could really use tips, but often the kids have to go to bed pretty soon after dinner and clean-up, so we just skip dessert at times.

Roasting marshmallows at Moran State Park

What are your favorite camping meals? Do you do most of the prep ahead of time, or make things at camp?

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Washington Family Camping List – 2020

With the current coronavirus pandemic going on, it seems like everything we look forward to over is getting cancelled: vacations, summer camp, and most of the activities I track in my “Seattle Summer Bucket List” Google Sheet (I stopped editing it for this year because it got depressing). We are currently in the fortunate position of being an employed household with food and childcare (aka me), but these major departures from the norm without an end in sight are still challenging. It motivated me to step up our camping game for the summer. I had already scheduled some trips back in December when they started to open up, but I’ve sprinkled in a few more to give us changes in scenery.

Here’s our camping list for the summer with what I’m most looking forward to about it, organized by month. An asterisk * denotes a spot that’s new for us.

June

Grayland Beach State Park – we haven’t been to this state park since before we had kids, but I have fond memories of camping here with my in-laws and niece and nephew, driving out onto the beach, and eating at a cool restaurant nearby with a pirate ship in front. We’re staying in a yurt since it’s still early in the season.

Edit: this trip ended up cancelled due to COVID-19 (at the time, all roofed accommodations were closed)

Beckler River Campground* – this is a favorite campground of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law and we’re supposed to overlap with them. I’m excited to try a new spot with water nearby for the kids to throw rocks and dip their toes. The Wellington Ghost Town Trail and the Great Northern Cascade Railway mini trains are nearby (although unfortunately I don’t think the trains will be open for this trip).

Edit: see blog post here for trip report

July

Camano Island State Park* – we were supposed to be finally be in Banff in the summer this week, but I don’t think we’ll get to stay, so I booked a short mid-week stay at Camano Island. We’ve been to the Cama Beach State Park before for the Center for Wooden Boats activities and the cabins there looked fun, but very close together, so the campground here looked like a better choice for social distancing. I’ve been trying to book places near water so that we can try to take our kayak out with the kids, or spend time on the beach digging and splashing.

Edit: see blog post here for trip report

Penrose Point State Park – Penrose Point was Julia’s first camping trip at 17 months, and James will be just slightly younger. It’s not as challenging to get reservations there and it’s fairly close to Seattle. On our last trip, we loved the rocky beach as a jumping off point for our kayak, and we could see sand dollars in the shallow water. Julia and I also got up early and walked down to a different part of the beach to see clams squirting like the Bellagio fountain in Vegas. The route back to Seattle can easily go through Gig Harbor, which is a great place to kayak (we saw a couple of harbor seals on our last trip).

Edit: cancelled due to an unexpected (non-COVID!) hospital stay for Peter

Exploring the tree roots at Penrose Point State Park

August

Deception Pass* – we added this cabin camping bonus trip on when roofed accommodations opened back up at the state parks. I just looked for anything available in August and booked a Sunday-Tuesday stay in a cabin.

Edit: see blog post here for trip report

Ohanapecosh (Mt. Rainier)* – August tends to be wildfire season in Seattle, so camping is sometimes iffy. A couple of years ago, however, we were able to camp and have a little fire at the Cougar Rock campground (there was a state burn ban, but campfires were allowed in the National Parks and it was a cold and misty night) and it was far enough away from the smoke to be relaxing. I’m looking forward to hiking in wildflowers and seeing the beautiful old growth trees on the Grove of the Patriarchs trail.

Edit: cancelled due to recovery time for Peter’s hospital stay (non-COVID)

Grove of the Patriarchs Trail in Mt. Rainier National Park

September

Salt Creek Recreation Area – the tidepools here are phenomenal, and there’s a nice playground (for when we can use playgrounds again… #thankscovid) but you have to be careful about reserving. We camped here a couple of years ago and even 5 months out, I could only get an RV site for our tent camp set-up. This meant that we were sandwiched between loud groups in RVs with no privacy or space and fog horns sounding at regular intervals through the night (also, I was about 2 months pregnant and nauseous). I was better about setting my reminder this year, but even on the day reservations opened (January 1), I had trouble finding a summer weekend in the tent camping area. I’m excited to try this spot out again because we saw so many different kinds of amazing tidal creatures.

Note: don’t make my mistake the first time we went here and accidentally reserve at Saltwater State Park (close, but not quite). It meant I had to cancel and rebook, losing all my fee payments in the process.

On our way to the tidepools at Salt Creek Recreation Area

Kalaloch Lodge* – Okay, this isn’t exactly camping (we’re staying in a cabin that has a kitchenette), but since we’ll already be half way out onto the Olympic Peninsula, we decided to reschedule our March trip and spend a couple of days on the far west part of the peninsula where we can hopefully see Ruby Beach and the Hoh Rainforest.

October

Dosewallips State Park – this is our last fall without a school-aged child (sobbing over here), so I’m excited to visit our October standard. We love this time of year at this particular state park. We can see elk in the meadow, fall leaf colors, salmon spawn in the creek, and herons and other birds soar over the wetlands near the beach. I wrote more about our love of this park here.

Headed to the lookout tower at Dosewallips State Park

Summary

I’m still really disappointed about all the plans that have been cancelled, but I’m trying to look at the positives – we’ll have more outdoor time as a family exploring nature in some of our old favorite spots, and some new spots that we might not otherwise have visited. Any favorites we should add to our list for next year?

Cabin Camping at Dosewallips State Park

Tent camping with small children can be terrifying challenging. There are intrepid families who camp with their kids as tiny newborns, but all the packing for camping intimidates me, let alone with a very tiny person. We finally started camping with Julia when she was about 16 or 17 months old, and while it wasn’t bad in the summer, I still wanted 4 walls around us in the late fall to help keep us warm and comfortable. Enter the cabins at Dosewallips State Park. These have become our go to in October when we want to enjoy the fall colors, but don’t want to deal with all the layers that cold-weather camping entails. We’ve since taken James as well, and it’s quickly becoming an annual tradition I really look forward to.

Drive Time from Seattle and Recommended Stops

We live in North Seattle, so if we time the Kingston-Edmonds Ferry right, it takes just over 2 hours to get to the park, even though we can never seem to drive more than an hour without stopping. Sometimes we go through Tacoma on the way home, which is about 2.5 hours.

We always stop in Port Gamble on our way. One year, we forgot a warm hat for Julia, so we popped in the Port Gamble General Store and picked up a cute little gnome hat. We enjoy the views(including Point Julia!) and the beautiful dahlia garden at the waterfront and then stop at the playground (if there isn’t a pandemic going on). There is a large lawn that is great for kids to stretch their legs even when avoiding high touch surfaces. After we get the wiggles out, we grab some lunch at Butcher & Baker Provisions. Their treats and sandwiches are so delicious!

Dashing through the leaves by the Port Gamble playground – October 2019

On our last trip, Peter wasn’t feeling well and we didn’t want to risk missing a ferry and delaying our return, so we drove through Tacoma and stopped at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Refuge that’s between Olympia and Tacoma. There are beautiful boardwalks in a short loop trail and a longer trail was under construction – such a nice spot to stretch our legs. The refuge is also included in the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass (carry it with you rather than leaving it in your car), which we are really making use of this year.

Looking for tiny frogs at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge – October 2019

Cabins

Like most state park cabins, these are equipped with a bunk bed that has a twin bed on top (with a nice railing – Julia started sleeping in it at age 3) and a queen bed on the bottom, as well as a futon. They also have a table with chairs and a covered porch (good for cooking on a propane stove if it’s wet out). We have stayed in C6 and C8 – I like the cabins near the trail that goes under Highway 101 because it makes it easier for us to walk to the water, but there is some highway noise as a result. Some cabins are slightly closer to the restrooms, but they’re also close to the main campground road, so there’s more traffic that makes me nervous with little kids moving around.

Beware the 2-night minimum stay in cabins (and all “roofed shelters” like yurts etc). It has gotten stricter every year, so that it now applies to weekends year-round and any time between May 15 – September 15.

Testing out the top bunk in the cabins
Pre-dinner entertainment at our cabin site – a picnic blanket and beach ball were gold!

Things To Do

There are a couple of trails that depart from right next to the campground. There aren’t significant changes in elevation (they are loop trails that are between 2-3 miles) and there are some bridges and boardwalks to enjoy along the way.

Exploring the beautiful (but short!) wooded trails in Dosewallips – October 2017

The biggest highlight, though, is the trail to the beach area that starts on the East side of the Highway. You walk on 101 for a bit and can see spawning salmon in October. Then the trail continues through a small meadow and parking lot, down a gravel trail, and out to a viewing platform and the beach. It’s not a traditional beach with lots of sand, but more like a wetland area.

Plenty of stumps and logs to climb on the way to the beach
The lookout tower is a big hit with kids and offers gorgeous views

The beach is available to dig for clams or harvest oysters. We haven’t dug yet, but have seen people out with their buckets. Make sure to check the Parks website for alerts – sometimes the season is closed early due to overharvesting.

If you have painfully early risers like we do, take the trail out in the morning to watch the sunrise and have a picnic breakfast. You’ll have the place to yourself and we have seen herds of elk (they make the most interesting sounds!) and different species of birds every time we’ve visited. Watch out for elk droppings throughout the meadow (and on your way to the restroom from your camp site).

A herd of elk grazing in the meadow on our early walk to the beach
Sunrise snack near the waterfront
A fall sunrise at Dosewallips is my personal version of paradise

Nearby

This state park is right on the edge of Olympic National Park, so it’s a good gateway for any hikes on the east side of the peninsula. I have Rocky Brook Falls, Murhut Falls and Lena Lake marked for future trips, but we haven’t stayed long enough to do them yet.

If you don’t feel like cooking all your meals (or if one of your party develops a man cold and couldn’t possibly rise from bed with the children), we love the Halfway House Restaurant that’s just right up the road. The staff are really friendly and have even given us a free side of fruit in the past when the kids get hangry before their breakfast is ready. They do food to go, too, so you can call in an order to bring back to your campsite if you go while we’re still navigating COVID-19.

Summary

With campsites fairly close together, I’m not sure Dosewallips would be my first choice for a summer camping trip when I expect it would be busier. However, in the early fall the leaves change colors, the sun rises later (so you have a chance to see it at a halfway reasonable hour), the salmon run, and the elk meander through the meadows, making it a magical place to cabin camp with little ones.

Travelogue: Southwest Road Trip, Part 2 (Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend)

After seeing pictures of Antelope Canyon on Instagram, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Slot canyons are full of beautiful rock formations that are just hidden beneath the surface, and they’re so different from our Pacific Northwest terrain, or what I grew up with in California, so it’s just the kind of thing to get my travel bug going. The city of Page, AZ, is pretty small, but with a variety of slot canyons in the vicinity, there are a lot of hotel chains and services ready to take care of tourists, so it was actually a pretty easy component of our road trip to plan, and it’s a little less than 2 hours drive from Zion National Park without stopping.

Where We Stayed

Country Inn & Suites

The “suites” in the name is a misnomer (they don’t have separate rooms in the suites), but our two queen room was large and had a pack and play available for James. After the disappointment with outdoor pools not being open in February at our Zion hotel (understandable, but not advertised when I booked, and some outdoor pools are heated and open in winter), it was great to have a small heated pool and hot tub inside. There was also a reasonable breakfast and lots of dining space, which was great because we opted to eat grocery store tapas for dinner (most restaurants in town are chains with minimal choices for Peter’s allergies).

What We Did

We arrived in Page via Zion in the late afternoon and had time to leisurely get groceries and diapers from a Safeway in town, eat dinner in the hotel dining space, and hit the pool on the early side.

We had a fluke efficient morning getting the kids fed and ready, so we had some extra time to stop at a little playground en route to Lower Antelope Canyon to get the wiggles out. All the major slot canyons I’m aware of in the area (Canyon X and Upper Antelope Canyon are two of them) are on Navajo land and require a guided tour. After reviewing reviews and descriptions, I picked a 9:45 a.m. tour with Dixie Ellis (kids less than 4 are free, so Julia just squeaked by!). Lower Antelope is less busy than Upper Antelope (they are differently shaped – Upper Antelope is more like an A with small light beans and a short walk, Lower Antelope is more like a V with more light and a longer walk), and also had a bit of a walk so I thought it might feel less like a quick photo opp and more like an adventure. Our tour guide, Angie, was fantastic. As a younger Navajo person, she had a great sense of modern humor mixed with stories about life on a reservation. We had a diverse, but relatively small, group consisting of our family plus a retired couple and two honeymooning couples from Korea. Angie did a great job catering to everyone’s needs (taking lots of pictures for the honeymooners, making Space Balls jokes to Peter and me, etc). All told, the tour is just a tad over 1 mile long and they say it takes an hour, but we were out for about 90 minutes. The kids did really well, all things considered. You aren’t allowed to bring much of anything with you – we carried James in a baby carrier and he napped for about half the tour. We put a pouch in the carrier pocket, clipped a water bottle to a strap, changed James’ diaper before leaving the parking area, and crossed our fingers that he wouldn’t poop while we were out. Julia walked the whole way and enjoyed tracing patterns in the red sand on the canyon floor when she was waiting for our guide to talk to us or take pictures. Angie took all the pictures below that include the whole family.

After wrapping up the tour, Angie recommended that we visit Horseshoe Bend. It had already been on my list, but her suggestion put us over the edge since we were trying to balance nap times and drive times and it seemed like a medium-sized diversion. It’s $10 per car to park (National Park passes aren’t valid here), and there are limited facilities (essentially porta potty buildings), so we were grateful to have hand sanitizer and a space to change diapers in the back of the car. The hike is about 1.5 mi RT, so Julia walked on the way down, but rode in the toddler carrier on the way back. The walk has a low grade hill, but the trail has recently been improved to make it wheelchair and stroller accessible with a couple of shade structures along the way (although it would be horribly hot in summer). There are tons of rocks to climb at viewpoint and the bend really is a beautiful sight. We were happy to have made the extra stop!

After our hike, we headed out again towards Ivins, stopping at River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin for a really delicious coffee and smoothie break.

Summary

When I booked the trip out to Page, I had some doubts that adding that extra length would be worth it, especially since James isn’t the best long drive companion. However, I’m so glad we went because Antelope Canyon was one of the highlights of our trip for everyone. The rock formations are so unique and spectacular and it’s an experience I’ll remember forever. I could have stayed an extra night to do another slot canyon, but there aren’t a lot of other facilities in town or restaurants with Peter-friendly food, so I think we had enough time for our family.

Next stop – Valley of Fire State Park!

For the Zion portion of our trip, click here.