When I was a little girl, camping was our main family vacation every summer. We would head down to Huntington Beach State Park with a couple of friends and spend our days playing in the sand and our nights around the campfire. I grew to love sleeping outdoors and the connection to nature – the sound of crickets all night long, the smell of campfire and sweat, a sky full of stars. I love getting to share this with my kids. The minute we pulled up to the campsite, my soul exhaled. In a way, I think I’d been “holding my breath” since October when I realized that my life was about to change in ways that I had never imagined. Plus, it’s good to get away.
The drive into the property. Gorgeous.
That was the last moment of calm that I had during the trip, haha! Camping with kids isn’t exactly relaxing and doesn’t leave much time for soul searching, like it used to. In fact, it’s much like every day life in that we still had food to prepare, naps to take, fights to mediate but most importantly, fun to be had! We spent the week together, all SIX (I still can’t quite believe it) of us. And everyday was just about being together.
The following is what our week looked like. There are some really great hikes for families with younger kids especially, but older kids would like these spots too. If you want more details on any of the spots, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have been going to this area regularly for the last 12 years and through process of elimination have found some great hikes and swimming holes. And you don’t have to camp to enjoy them!
Click on any underlined section for details.
Day 1 Travel and Camp Set Up
We piled the sleepy but excited kids into the car around 5am, about an hour after Charlie Mac’s 4am feed. We left this early in the hopes that they would sleep a little more and they did, plus they were more quiet than they normally are in the car. They also didn’t need to pee as much, so that was a bonus. We only stopped for one bathroom break on the 5.5 hour car trip. We arrived around 11am and set up camp. We put Elle down for a nap and I laid down as well. Big Luke went to the grocery store and did a little work while he was in town since we don’t get reliable service at camp. We did some river walking on the property in the afternoon.
We were fully loaded. We are going to need a bigger vehicle. Luke always packs a lot of toys like paddle boards and kayaks!
Day 2 Camp Day and Blowing Rock Park
Mama was pretty tired again (because newborn) and we spent most of the day exploring the property. We climbed some boulders and found a rope swing that went over the creek. In the afternoon we took a quick trip to the picturesque little mountain town of Blowing Rock. They have a really beautiful park in the middle of town with green space, tennis courts, basketball court and playground. We also took some rides on the four wheeler that’s on the property . . . the kids LOVE it.
Luke bought this bread and goat cheese at the prettiest gas station I’ve ever seen in Blowing Rock. We ate almost all of it on the drive back to camp. Fresh food really does taste better.
We left camp today in search of a water spot that we could kayak and paddle board on. We headed to a beautiful park in Valle Crucis but the water wasn’t deep enough for these activities. The park was really nice with lots of green space, a playground and shallow water access on the river. We explored the town a little and then hoped on the parkway and ended up stopping at the Price Lake Picnic area. It’s huge and probably gets very crowded on holidays and weekends. There are a couple of fun things to do here if you have small kids. Last year we hiked to Hebron Rock Colony which is about a 3-4 mile easy hike. The boys were 6 and 4 at the time and they did great. This year, with a 2 year old and newborn, we opted for the easier/less commitment route of walking down the river that flows through the park. Luke brought a big float and the kids took turns riding in the float and pulling one another down the river. It was simple, easy fun. There is also an easy hike around Price Lake that departs from the campground about a half a mile away.
Day 4 Tanawa Trail
Today we hiked a part of the Tanawa Trail which takes you to the top of Shiprock (where my brother was climbing). It’s a pretty easy hike with spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The boys hiked circles around us and had a blast. Elle hiked most of it herself . . . we were not in a hurry! She loved it. If you follow me on Instagram- this is the trail that so many people stopped to comment about the size of our family. It was pretty sweet. You can lengthen this hike by continuing on to the Linn Cove Viaduct trail or Wilson Creek trail, we’ve done both hikes. Linn Cove is an easy and short addition. Wilson Creek is an awesome area with a great swimming hole. The hike is a little more intense, maybe next year the boys will be up for it.
I love this picture because I think that’s how the mountains make you feel – like stretching out your arms and trying to reach the sky.
The mountain in the background in Grandfather Mountain.
We had never been to Upper Creek Falls. It was fantastic. It was a short .4 mile hike down to the falls. You can also do this as a 1.7 mile loop hike and hit multiple falls. There was a swimming hole and rock slide that the kids and big Luke had a blast on. We brought life jackets and helmets (Big Luke is big on safety!) for the kids plus a raft. We heard that this place also gets crowded but we were there on a Thursday and there were only about 3-5 other families there. We will definitely be going back to this spot.
That afternoon Luke took the boys bouldering on the Beacon Heights trail. This might have been their favorite part of the entire trip. This trail also has spectacular views and is easy and short i.e. kid friendly! He forgot his camera so unfortunately we don’t have any pictures of this little adventure.
Day 6 Mama’s Day
Day 5 was a bit of a rough day for me. Charlie Mac had slept terribly the night before. I had gotten one 2 hour stretch of sleep and the rest of the night was 15-30 minute naps. I was a zombie. Then we did the Upper Creek Falls hike which was super fun for everyone except me because you can’t swim for 5-6 weeks after giving birth so I had to sit on the sidelines. I ended up with Elle who had to use the bathroom 3 times and Charlie Mac who was hungry. I didn’t get to have fun on the rock slide or relax and enjoy watching the kids, plus I was exhausted. On the drive home, Luke suggested that I get a massage. So that’s what I did!
Serenity Day Spa was a quirky little spot in Banner Elk. They were easy to book with, especially as I was booking last minute. The masseuse was great and I left feeling much better. Plus Charlie Mac slept 5 hours in a row the night before! I was starting to see the light . . .
Day 7 Camp
We spent the entire day at camp today. We slept late, made a leisurely breakfast, I got in the hammock for the first time! . . . the boys river walked, played frisbee and UNO and rode the four wheeler. It was one of the best days.
Day 8 Heading Home
We packed up pretty efficiently. We were in the car, ready to go by 10:30am. Luke cranked the car and nothing. The battery was dead. Luke being the safety, ultra prepared guy that he is, always carries a portable jump starter (these are pretty cool). This thing has jump started his car when my car won’t do it! He hooked it up and again, nothing. We tried this several times to no avail. Then he decided to try to jump the car using the battery on the four wheeler . . . again, nothing. We were starting to get pretty desperate at this point. We were deep in a valley, with no cell service and no town within several miles. But Luke can be very resourceful. There is a boat parked on the property. He took the battery out of the boat and put it in the car. It started. We drove into Boone and bought a new battery, then drove back to the property and put the boat battery back in. It was close to 2pm before we actually left! We had terrible weather on the drive home and after a quick trip to Lizard’s Thicket in Columbia, didn’t get back to Charleston until 10pm. It was a long day!
Here are some random photos from our trip.
Spaghetti over the campfire. All food tastes better when you’re camping.
3 week old Charlie Mac getting his camp on!
Look at these lovers. I can’t even stand it.
When you give your 2 year old a ring pop and then she falls asleep . . . she was one grumpy girl when she woke up. Look at that belly.
This picture doesn’t do the moment justice. My sweet little baby snuggled up in the tent with lights hanging all around him = good stuff.
Sitting around the campfire, I couldn’t help but think about how drastically different my life is now from one year ago. Not just different but different in ways that I could not have predicted. Up until this past year, I have always felt so “in control” of what went on in my life. This past year has really shown me that I am not in total control and that maybe that’s a good thing.
I have a few more pictures to add to this post but I’ve had a tough time getting them from the hard drive to my computer. Hope to have them by tomorrow but I wanted to go ahead and get this posted. Check back for more pics!
For a list of camping essentials, click here. I am updating this list with some explanations about why specific gear is necessary.
Resources: Blue Ridge Parkway
Trail List along the Blue Ridge Parkway that includes distance and level of difficulty.