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Celebrating the Fourth of July While Camping with Kids in Frankfort

There’s always a moment when you’re stuffing bags full of clothes, snacks, stuffed animals and swim goggles that you question yourself: Is this really worth it? After all, camping with kids is a messy and exhausting proposition.

But camping also can be a magical experience full of special connections and silly moments (assuming you join us in classifying kids’ hands and hair full of melted marshmallow a “silly moment”!). There’s nothing like driving home from an active outdoor excursion and seeing three little sun-kissed heads slumped to the side in the backseat of the car, sound asleep, to know that all of the the work was time well spent.

With this perspective in mind, last Friday we loaded up the car and picked up our camper, Susie Q, for a camping trip near Frankfort, Michigan. We’ve partied with Susie Q. We’ve sold our products out of Susie Q. But this was our first experience camping as a family with Susie Q. Five of us staying in a 16-foot camper (plus our dog Izzy) – it was sure to be an adventure!

Frolic and Fun Near Frankfort

The Betsie River Campground, basecamp for our trip, is a short 45-minute drive from Traverse City. It’s a quiet, although active spot to camp, with a mixture of mostly RVs and campers and some tents, and is located about two miles outside of downtown Frankfort. It’s not quite “glamping,” but there are some nice amenities available that take off the rugged edge, including good, hot coffee available in the camp store. It’s a simple luxury that becomes an urgent necessity when the dog wakes up everyone in the camper at the crack of dawn.

We only planned to be away from home for around 24 hours, so we wanted to pack in a lot of activity during a short window of time. Our camping experience as adults (limited as that experience is) typically involves equal parts recreational activity and relaxation around the campfire. But camping with kids tends to be all “go” all the time. There are no screens to watch and few toys to distract, and so lots of good old-fashioned fun must be on the agenda for the little ones.

We also tried to put the kids to work. Most kids want to be useful, if you let them, especially when setting up a campsite. Heather is really good about getting the girls to do little chores that are age appropriate, from setting the picnic table to unpacking our bags. Kids are also pretty awesome when it comes to gathering kindling for the fire!

Our quick camping trip ended up being a great 24 hours of playing, exploring and bonding. We started our adventure by checking out the Point Betsie Lighthouse, which marks the southern entrance to the Manitou Passage. It’s said that it’s one the most photographed lighthouses in Michigan, which is easy to understand once you’ve seen its beauty and character up close.

 
Camping in Frankfort, Frankfort beach, Point Betsie Lighthouse

Camping in Frankfort, Frankfort beach, Point Betsie Lighthouse

Camping in Frankfort, Frankfort beach, Point Betsie Lighthouse

Camping in Frankfort, Frankfort beach, Point Betsie Lighthouse

We then had dinner at Stormcloud Brewing Company in downtown Frankfort. We’ve tried but failed to get a table at Stormcloud on a few other summer weekend trips to Frankfort. This time we learned our lesson and showed up around 4:30 p.m. We got a table (although it was inside), and enjoyed pizza and a delicious roasted vegetable salad with pints of the brewery’s signature Rainmaker beer. We also enjoyed a couple of baskets of popcorn with different toppings including butter, sea salt, parmesan cheese and black truffle oil. We capped the afternoon with a stroll on the beautiful and expansive Frankfort Beach, which was still buzzing with activity after 6 p.m.

 
Camping in Frankfort, Frankfort beach, Point Betsie Lighthouse, Green Point Dunes Natural Area

Camping in Frankfort, Frankfort beach, Point Betsie Lighthouse, Green Point Dunes Natural Area

After returning to the campground we got the campfire going and busted out the marshmallows for s’mores before it was time to put the kids to bed. We knew it was going to be awhile before the kids were actually asleep, but Heather and I were prepared with a six pack of Oberon on ice in our cooler. We toasted to a day well spent.

We woke up early the next day and prepared some eggs using our propane stove, and snacked on the banana bread we made at home before the trip. Heather’s grandparents had a cottage near Alpena when she was young, and before each excursion Up North from Toledo she would help her mom prepare loaves of banana and zucchini bread for the trip. As we’ve done a bit more camping, we’ve come to learn from other more experienced campers that it’s an activity full of family tradition and routine. From food, to games, to campfire stories, it’s all about passing meaningful moments forward. Making bread, and then breaking bread with family at the picnic table, is a tradition we hope is carried on in our family for many years to come.

After breakfast the crew was ready for a rigorous hike, so we headed over to the Green Point Dunes Natural Area, which is part of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. We hiked up and then down the dunes to a great Lake Michigan beach. The girls did great, moving so fast that we had to jog to keep up. There are a few notable stopping points along the way, including a couple of observation platforms that offer expansive views of the lake. On a clear, calm day you see parts of an old shipwreck a couple of hundred yards out in the water.

 
Point Betsie Lighthouse, Green Point Dunes Natural Area

We were rewarded by having the beach to ourselves. Everyone had fun and was happy with the experience, especially our dog Izzy who spent a solid hour chasing sticks and swimming in the lake. The hike back up to our car was a bit more challenging, as we struggled a bit with the rising temperatures and elevation. We took a short break to catch our breath and chat with the caretaker of the natural area who was walking his dog on the trails. He was a delightful older gentleman, and it was clear that he was extremely proud of the pristine property he was charged with looking after. He told us, “This is as close to heaven as I’ll get with my feet on the ground.”

At that moment, set among the towering pines and with the distant sounds of Lake Michigan’s waves crashing on the shoreline, we could not have agreed more.

Camping with small kids is not easy. It can be pretty exhausting to get everything pulled together before the trip, to keep the kids entertained without access to modern day distractions, and then to shake the sand and dirt out of every bag and article of clothing when you get home.

But there are rewards from all of the effort. More than anything, camping is a shock to the system for everyone, and it helps to reset old patterns and routines. It’s a memory-making experience that has impact far beyond the short time you may spend gazing at the stars around the campfire.

Moments spent camping – especially in a place as beautiful as northwest Michigan – are ones that last a lifetime.

A New Take on an Old Favorite

Camping and s’mores go together like peanut butter and jelly. What goes together even better? Well, that’s something we wanted to explore on our latest camping trip

While the traditional s’more style is great, we like to experiment around the campfire with new flavors and combinations. Sweet is sumptuous, but sweet and salty – done right – can be downright delicious.

 
Camping in Frankfort, Frankfort beach, Point Betsie Lighthouse, Green Point Dunes Natural Area

We figured out a new favorite s’more last Friday: Graham crackers, marshmallows, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and bacon. Yes, everything is better with bacon. Enjoy!