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Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island

When our kids were very small, my husband and I couldn’t muster the courage go camping as a family. Our sanity depended on keeping everyone on a routine back then, and “roughing it” meant straying radically from the norm. How would we get the kids to sleep? What would our picky eaters think of camp food? Then there was the whole containment issue — no walls or doors, and certainly no baby gates. With an open fire roaring nearby, it seemed exhausting at best, hazardous at worst.

We didn’t want to deprive our kids of the camping experience, but our reluctance overruled for a few years. We finally took the plunge when the kids were 7 and 3, and our first attempt brought us to Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island. It’s since become one of our favorite places to camp. Whidbey Island is about 30 miles north of Seattle, with the handy option of taking the 20 minute ferry to the southern tip of the island, or driving on at the north end.

The campsites at Deception Pass are “drive-in”, so no hauling your camping gear through trails. The shady sites are private, their perimeters marked by enormous evergreens. The ocean is just a short walk from the campsites, as is Cranberry Lake, which offers swimming, paddleboat rentals, and a concession. Breaking up the day with a little civilization is easy with the charming town of Coupeville just 20 miles south.

Two nights of camping is the perfect balance for us, because it avoids the defeat taking down our campsite the day after setting it up. Besides, we all get a little testy after three nights sleeping in a tent. Sticking to simple meals gives us more time for playing on the beach and climbing the large rocks that line the park’s extensive shore.

2011_07_09_16_34Turns out, camping doesn’t require an abundance of grit or a boot camp mentality. It just takes a flexible palate, a tolerance for dirty fingernails, and the stamina to make it to a bathroom 500 feet away. Our favorite tradition? After the kids are finally settled in their sleeping bags, we sip cheap cabernet out of plastic glasses, and keeping warm by the dwindling fire, take in the stars.  Best date night ever.

Are you a reluctant camper? Have you found a way to make it work for your family?

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