Not too outdoorsy but want to give your kids a classic, back-to-nature camping experience? The Minnesota DNR “I Can” program is the perfect opportunity to expose your kids to camping without making a huge financial investment.
Seriously, all you need to supply are the kids, the food, and sleeping bags. The “I Can” team will take care of the rest. Even if you don’t have sleeping bags for the whole family, just pull together some blankets and sheets and you’ll be all set.
I grew up with lots of opportunities to enjoy and experience nature – overnight canoe trips to the Boundary Waters, and plenty of tent camping in state parks. My husband – not so much. But with one child eager to sleep in a tent, we decided the “I Can” program would be the perfect way to introduce camping to our kids.
This reasonably priced program ($60 for one night, $85 for two nights) includes your state park permit and all of the equipment you need. It is run by experienced, friendly staff who are eager to share their knowledge and love of the outdoors.
Don’t know how to set up a tent? Operate a camp stove? Build a campfire? Never fear. You will receive instructions. First, you’ll need to decide what is best for your family:
- Do you want to camp for one or two nights?
- Do you want a park with hiking? swimming? boating? fishing? Remember, not all state parks in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” have bodies of water.
- Do you want a quick drive or are you willing to travel for several hours?
Our family selected two nights at Scenic State Park, which was a five-hour drive. But it’s a gorgeous park with a great lake for swimming and canoeing, which was important to us.
Prior to your camping weekend, you will receive a detailed supply list from the staff, including menus for meal planning. A few recommended items were actually supplied (i.e. dish soap, sponge), but that may have been a fluke. So I’d definitely encourage you to follow directions and bring all of the suggested items. Also, don’t be intimidated by meals that seem too hard to make.
Upon arrival at the state park, your “camp counselors” will provide a tour of the site and show you where your family’s tent will go. Depending on the park, you may have anywhere from six to twelve families participating in the program. We cooked meals on both the camp stove and over the fire. Never have my kids been so eager to clean up after a meal. They heated water for dishwashing, washed, dried, and put away dishes. Apparently clean-up is way more fun in the woods.
While the “I Can” leaders provided plenty of support, our two days in the park were quite unstructured. They told us what was available, and we headed out to explore.We rented a canoe and paddled on a very windy lake, went swimming, attended a ranger presentation about bears, played cards by the fire, stargazed, and read books by flashlight. And, of course, repeatedly applied bug spray.
We shared s’mores around the campfire with our “counselors,” and they taught the kids a new card game. It was a nice balance of family time and group time. We’re still not ready to invest in a tent or a camp stove, but it was a great vacation. Maybe we’ll just sign up every year and pretend we’re beginners!
Additionally, the MN DNR offers other “I Can” programs, including paddle, climb, fish, and mountain bike. Head on over to the MN DNR site to reserve your spot before they fill up for the summer.