Later this year will see my first visit to somewhere I’ve always dreamed about visiting, Yellowstone National Park. I can’t wait to hit the trails, exploring this extraordinary diverse ecosystem, walking past the iconic geysers and maybe even catching sight of bears, preferably quite far in the distance.

This trip will also involve another first – camping with my son. He’s just turned three, and never slept in a tent before, not that I’m exactly an expert. Where most people might take half an hour to put up a basic tent, I need to put aside an entire morning, and even then it usually falls down by day three.

In preparation, then, I have been reading up on tips for camping with small children in the hope that any problems can be minimised and we can all enjoy an amazing holiday in Yellowstone without Dad going crazy because he forgot to bring the pegs. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Practise makes perfect

We have a tent, a new tent in fact, that has so far not even come out of the bag. Supposedly it’s very easy to put up, but I’m not taking any chances. In the weeks before we go I’m going to practise putting it up and taking it down several times in my friend’s garden, so that when it’s time to build our shelter in Yellowstone, I should be able to do it within a few hours tops!


I’m not sure how Charlie will take to sleeping in a tent. Pretty well I think, but we’re taking no chances, especially in Yellowstone where the weather can be unpredictable even in the early summer. Besides sleeping bags and a ground sheet, we’ll bring pillows, a warm blanket, and an eye mask. I’m expecting some early starts because on warm days a tent can get uncomfortably close, especially when there’s three of you all bunched up together.

Get them involved

As anyone with young children will know, they always want to try things for themselves. So I’ll be getting Charlie involved at every stage, from unpacking the tent to gently tapping the pegs into the ground, to searching for firewood and collecting water. The idea is to make camping as fun an experience for him as possible. And for us.


The other thing that parents of young kids will know, of course, is that they often leave a hurricane-like trail of devastation behind them. If we have to stay home all day because it’s raining too heavily to go outside, then it will usually take the rest of the week to tidy the apartment up, from paint stains to lego bricks to train-tracks and jigsaw pieces. So being well-organised is key – everything we need for camping, the plates and cutlery, bug cream, torches and spare batteries, wet-weather gear, will be stowed away in the same place at all times so we don’t spent ages searching for what we want every day.


Camping anywhere with young children poses certain safety hazards, and in Yellowstone, there’s another major one to consider, which is the wildlife. Strict rules are in place for food cooking and storage to ensure that no bears come wandering in, attracted by the smell, which we’ll follow to the letter. We’ll also make sure Charlie’s pockets are stuffed with torch, whistle and a card with our names and phone number on it. My plan also is to pitch the tent close to an obvious landmark such as a tentpole or building, so if he does somehow wander off, he can find his way back.


The main reason we’re visiting Yellowstone is to get out in the Great Outdoors and see the full majesty of nature in one of the world’s most beautiful locations. But that’s easier said than done with a young child who will walk probably a mile tops before he starts getting a bit fed-up. So we’re also bringing with us a carrier that I can mount on my back, and we’ll be researching child-friendly trails where there’s lots to see and do along the way. I’m sure Charlie will love the thrill of seeing Old Faithful spring up from the ground, or waiting breathlessly to catch a glimpse of elk or buffalo as they pass.


It’s crucial to bring some form of entertainment for the evenings, so we’ll be packing a few of his favourite toys and games, lightweight and compact stuff that will also keep him busy for several hours. That’s going to be things like jigsaws, toy cars, and we’ve also given him his own pair of mini-binoculars, which should come in handy!

Do you have experience of camping with young children? What advice would you share?