A Weekend Camping Trip to Coopers Rock State Forest West Virginia

Coopers Rock State Forest West Virginia

My skepticism faded the moment we rode up into the hills of western Maryland. Suddenly we were surrounded by bright bursts of Fall colors and this trip to Coopers Rock State Forest in West Virginia didn’t seem quite so crazy.

At the beginning of the summer my daughter had only a few things on her Summer Bucket List. She wanted to;

  • swim at the beach. Check.
  • go on the rides at Coney Island. Check.
  • learn how to do a cartwheel. Ummm…work in progress.
  • and she wanted to go camping…

Truthfully I am not a big camping person. I like hot showers and soft mattresses and falling asleep to the hush of a sound machine.

So that camping trip kept getting pushed off.

But she kept after me.

Driving into West Virginia I was glad she had been such a pest about this trip. I was also kind of glad we had waited until Fall.

This part of the country is truly magnificent in the Fall. The mountains, the colors, the blue sky and the trees…

So beautiful.

In case you are headed to West Virginia or Cooper Rock State Forest for some camping or just for a day of hiking, some helpful things to know are below.

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A Weekend Camping in Cooper Rock State Forest

Why Cooper Rock State Forest? Why West Virginia? Good questions.

Since we were going in the Fall we wanted somewhere that would be full of foliage. We looked at upstate New York and Vermont feeling confident in their splendor this time of year, but their cut off for camping is earlier than the 3 day weekend we happened to have free.

So we looked south.

As many super random seeming travel decisions in our house, this one was made because West Virginia was a place we had yet to visit. Cooper Rock State Forest came highly recommended so we booked a campsite and started dusting off our family tent.

STAY.

We camped in a tent in the Rhododendron Campground.

Things We Liked:

These campsites are spaced a little further apart and are a little more picturesque. They are also closer to the trails, playground, and shop.

Things We Didn’t Like:

The other campsites have electric outlets and a bathroom with a shower.

I was happy with our choice, but we did drive over and use the shower one morning.

The kids had a blast helping us set up our monster of a tent. We own this 3 room family tent and although it is admittedly a bit intense I love it.

When my husband and I used to camp pre-kids we had a tiny little two person thing that you basically waved in the air once and it was ready to go. This one is a bit more of an event to assemble, but it is easy to use, well made, and has SO much space.

I’m pretty sure that having their own “rooms” is the only reason my kids finally settled down and went to sleep, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

EAT.

There are some crazy awesome creative people out there that cook amazing things on the campfire but we tend to go simple. Hot dogs. Baked potatoes. We did try a couple of fun treats though you have to try some time!

  • Best Breakfast: Campfire Cinnamon Rolls – Being honest, these are HARD to get right and I think cooking them on tin foil might have been a better way to go than the skewers but the ones we got right were yummy. Go heavy on the cinnamon and don’t skip the glaze. I used this recipe.

  • Eat by lantern light. Not a food, obviously, but we waited until after dark for dinner one night because my kids were so happy playing outside. I can’t explain to you how exciting this was for my kids. Headlamps like these were super helpful.
more recipes & Fun stuff on my family camping pinterest board

TO DO.

There are a lot things to do in the park. Read more on the Coopers Rock State Forest website.

My kids spent the better part of the first afternoon being delighted by everything outdoorsy. Poor deprived little city kids.

Once they stopped bouncing up and down about every leaf and bug, here are the other things we enjoyed in the park.

  • Hike the trails. There are a bunch of options (get a free map when you check in at the front) and they range in difficulty and length.

  • Enjoy the view. (Full disclosure – I was way more excited about the view than my kids but they tolerated my delight)

  • Look for signs of the season

  • play on the playground.
read also: Essential Tips for surviving camping with a toddler

Final Thoughts?

Worth the drive? Absolutely!

We would camp in Coopers Rock State Forest again in a heartbeat. We pried ourselves away earlier than we planned because of an impending storm and it was so hard to say goodbye to all this beauty.

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Mess-Free Nature Shake Paintings for Toddlers

Nature Shake Paintings with rocks

Nature Shake Paintings are perfect for a lot of kids and situations. They are perfect for…

Kids who are active.

Kids who like to collect rocks.

Times when you are outside.

Times when you are inside.

Times when you don’t have a ton of time.

Times when you don’t want to clean up a big mess.

Nature Walk

You get the idea.

This simple activity works great for different ages, inside or outside, and for active boys and girls (aka pretty much every kid under the age of 5).

This activity combines art and movement – two of our favorite things.

We did this Nature Shake Painting activity twice. Once at home with rocks we had collected on a hike and once while we were camping. Both times the procedure was similar.

How to do Nature Shake Paintings with Toddlers

Materials + Set Up:

Gather materials. You will need:

  • Box (I recommend 1 box for every 1-2 kids so there isn’t much waiting)
  • Construction Paper (cut to fit inside of the box)
  • Rocks (gather – or have your toddler help find some when everything else is ready)
  • Paint
  • Masking TapeMake sure to cut the paper down to fit into the box before hand – again to decrease waiting around (waiting is basically toddler kryptonite).Nature Shake Painting Steps

Activity

Invite your active one to join you for rock painting.

Help them fill a box with a piece of paper, a handful of rocks, and some squirts of paint.

Tape the box shut (very securely) and then hand it back to them for some vigorous shaking.

Encourage them to shake, even run or dance around with their box. When they are done, help them open the box up and discover what their painting looks like.

Easy! So easy you could do it all over again…and again…and again just like your toddlers will probably want.

Clean up:

The rocks are going to need a rinse if you are planning to keep them around. Otherwise, clean up is super simple with this activity.

Hang the paintings, everything else can be put away or tossed.

Nature Shake Paintings

More A-Z Play Ideas

This week we are sharing ideas for the Letter N.

Naming Game from Teach Me Mommy

How to Make a Potato Clock (with nails) from The Gingerbread House

Essential Tips for Surviving Camping with Toddlers

Camping with Toddlers

“You’re going camping with your kids?!?”

If you have ever considered the idea of camping with toddlers out loud around other people, you are probably familiar with this response.

Camping with young children can seem daunting. I know that I was nervous before our first trip and may have over planned a bit.

Our first trip, however, exceeded my expectations.

To be fair my main goals were just that no one would get hurt by the fire and that they would successfully sleep in the tent, so the bar was set pretty low.

We achieved those goals and kept our toddlers happy and occupied.

Top Family Camping Tips

Let’s be honest about those concerns after all.

  • Will they sleep? I don’t know, but I don’t really consider it a guarantee when we’re at home.
  • But they’re potty training! Yup. It’s a nightmare. Anywhere.
  • What will they do? They’ll get into trouble. Well first you’re hilarious if you don’t think my kids get “into trouble” at home, but they will play. They will explore.

Camping with toddlers is a lot like life with toddlers.

It is messy. It is chaotic. It is exhausting. And at the end of the day it is 100% worth it.

So yes, we camped with our kids when they were toddlers.

We survived and you will too!!!!

Essential Tips for Camping with Toddlers

1. Camping + Toddlers = No Sleep?

Our kids actually surprised me. This was my #1 concern about taking them into the great woods, but they took naps and slept through the night.

*Our toddlers slept in their pack and plays in our tent and this was a huge success. Even though they took up most of the tent it felt like the best way to duplicate the crib environment they slept in at home.

*Sleeping bags would make more sense for kids in a big bed. Our 3 year olds did well in these sleeping bags on our trip to Tallulah Gorge State Park.

*We followed their typical sleep schedule and it seemed that all of the time outside sufficiently tired them out.

*Depending on the time of year when you go camping, bedtime might have to be later due to the time of sunset. That was our one hiccup – when we went camping in June it was still completely daylight at their usual bedtime so we did push it back a little.

Camping Cheerio Craft

2. Camping & Activities for Kids

I recommend bringing along some easy and read-to-go activities for your toddlers to do.

There is a lot to keep them busy with walks to the bathroom, helping with campsite chores, exploring, etc – but it is nice to have something they can sit at the table and do while dinner is being prepared or when you need a little break from running around.

Our Favorite Camping Activity Ideas:

  1. Sand toys – they work just as well in dirt.
  2. Flashlights – endlessly entertaining.
  3. Magnifying glasses – for hunting for bugs.
  4. Bug Jar – for when you find a bug.
  5. Books – always a go-to for me
  6. Cheerio Craft – simple activity and then snack, double win.
  7. Markers and Nature Notebooks – give a prompt, such as: draw what you see above us or just for toddler scribbles.

It is helpful to look for a campground with a playground or beach to have another activity for them to do, but these are all camping friendly activities that work anywhere.

Top Tips for Camping with Toddlers

3. Campsite Chores + Kids

My top tip for camping with kids is to involve them as much as possible. This was one of my favorite parts about camping when I was a kid.

It is so easy to just do things for them, but the more you involve them the more enjoyable it will be for everyone – even if it requires some patience.

This true at home as well, but I think when you are camping and life is suddenly much less complicated and distracting is one of the best times to slow down, move at their pace, and involve them as much as you can.

Way to Involve Toddler Around the Campsite:

  1. Collecting firewood
  2. Filling up water
  3. Drying or Washing Dishes
  4. Setting the table
  5. Sweeping the tent

So, go for it!

Find a campsite that isn’t too terribly far from home that you feel like you’re trapped if it sucks.

Find a campsite with water or a playground – or both.

Find a weekend, just a night or two.

Pack up your gear and go.

It will be chaotic and messy and totally worth it.

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Easy Directions for a DIY Bug Jar

DIYBugJarInstructions

The screen door slams and little feet patter into the kitchen. “Mama, look what I found?”

The screen door. The patter. The uncontrollable enthusiasm. The sweet sweaty faces. The expectation.

These are the things that scream summer to me.

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“Look!” That same sweet child thrusts a huge squirmy bug into my face. “LOOK!”

These are the moments that bug jars are made for.

You can definitely find some bug jars online or in stores. This one looks awesome and it’s only $10.

However, if your child suddenly develops an interest in your backyard bugs and you would like them at least contained before they are handed to you or shoved at your face – then this one below will do just fine.

Easy DIrections for a DIY Bug Jar Simple STEM for Toddlers

Directions for a DIY Bug Jar

Materials

  • Large Empty Jar (I believe ours was an old mixed nuts jar)
  • Screwdriver or Scissors (adult use only)

How to Make

  1. Punch a couple of holes in the top with your screwdriver or scissors. If you’re handy with tools then a drill would definitely be quicker and easier.
  2. Have your child help you find some sticks and leaves to put inside for a bug to crawl on.

Done. Easy, right?

DIY Bug Jar Instructions

How to Use

  • Together search for a bug to put in the jar. We found one crawling on a leaf and added it, leaf and all, into our jar.
  • Watch the bug together. Pull out a magnifying glass to look even closer!
  • Ask what your child sees. Listen to their observations. Write down or remember their questions.
  • Release and repeat!

Want More Simple Play at Home Ideas?

Alphabet Jenga from Teach Me Mommy

Jewelry Making from Line Upon Line Learning

Up-cycled Jigsaw Puzzles from The Gingerbread House

Complete A-Z Ideas for Play at Home