I can still smell it. The huge ten-person canvas tent that my family had while growing up. It weighed a ton, had that distinct weathered canvas aroma, and came accompanied by an arsenal of no less than 40 tent poles. But oh, once it was set up, it might have well have been the Taj Mahal
Of the things I remember most doing as a family growing up in Michigan, camping was in the top two (skiing being the other one). Several occasions throughout the summer, we’d pack up the station wagon (did you think a family of seven would drive anything different?) and head to whichever campground my parents had selected for that particular voyage. My mom always tried to ensure that there was a body of water nearby, and now that I’m a parent, I know why. There’s an immeasurable value, come nighttime, in a child well worn out from a day prancing in the water. Of course in Michigan, finding water was never a problem.
What was it that made these excursions so memorable and so special? Everything. Like the special menu that came along with camping: hot dogs cooked over a bonfire, Jiffy popcorn or S’mores when it got dark, sausage and scrambled eggs in the morning (the morning smells at a campground are always so wonderful) and if we were really lucky, Snack-Pack pudding in those little flip-top cans
There are also those little family stories that have now become legends that we retell every time we gather as adults and recount our days as youths. Like the time my sister burnt her foot on a bonfire or the mystery that surrounded my Dad’s air mattress. No matter what type he tried, his mattress was always, always flat come morning time, leaving nothing more than the canvas tent between him and the hard ground below it.
Of course now, as a MittenKidz mom myself, I know the biggest reason. The intangibles. The chatter in the car on the drive up I-75 to Northern Michigan – and yes, a song or two. Or six (so Brady-ish). It was the five of us kids, sans any of our friends, playing together and, for the most part, free of argument. We had each other and that was it – my siblings were my best friends on these trips. And it was the beauty of seeing parts of the great state of Michigan that were a world of difference from our sidewalk-adorned neighborhood. No schedules. No TV. No phones. Just us, and Michigan.
If you do nothing else this summer, take your MittenKidz camping at least once. Even with a toddler, it’s on our Summer Bucket List. The memories you create will be of the type that just don’t go away.
Here are a few spots other MittenKidz parents recommend:
I rented a teepee at Traverse City State Park with the kids. It was fun…even during a thunderstorm! – Kandy, mom of two
There is a federal park between Manistee and Scottville that is wonderful for the kids. Right on Lake Michigan. My family camped there when I was young and we have taken the kids a couple of times. – Heather, mom of two
State park on Higgins Lake. When I was little, my parents took my sister and me there every summer. We would hang out on the lake all day and ride bikes around the campground with the other kids staying there. We would catch tadpoles and just be kids! I haven’t been there in years but for a little kid (0-7 yrs) it was awesome. – Caitlin, daughter of Sparty
Fayette State Park in the U.P, amazing beaches and a ghost town left over from the time of iron ore mining. – Kate, mom of two
Love the rustic side of Interlochen State Park… It’s so “up north”… from the look the feel and the fresh woodsy smell. – Jill, mom of one, Gigi of two
Higgins Lake…great childhood memories! – Staci, mom of one
Sleeper State Park…Port Austin – Denise, mom of four
Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor. Its between lakes Fanny Hoe and Superior. I have been going there since I was a kid. My own children love going there. – Marcie, mom of one
Ludington State Park is amazing. It is right on Lake Michigan, also has a private lake for swimming. Miles of bike trails. Extremely well maintained. They also rent cabins in the campground. Love that place! – Josh, dad of one
Porcupine Mountains State Park in the western Upper Peninsula. The hiking trails and views are fantastic! Doesn’t feel like you’re still in Michigan. – Kiersun, dad of two
Fayette State Park is a good one with kids! Beach is great, you have the ghost town to explore and kids to run around and Kitch-i-ti-kippi isn’t a far drive for a half day, and really fun to ride the raft – Joanna, mom of two
Cheboygan State park – it’s remote and beautiful. Lots of trails to hike kayaking is available. – Marie – mom of two
Porkies (Porcupine Mountains). Summer. Winter. Nothing else like it. . .anywhere! – Frida, mom of two and still a kid herself