Cuivre River camping trip

After our “adults only” camping trip last fall, we decided to venture into “camping with a toddler” this spring.  The idea of joining the Missouri Mycological Society’s (MOMs) “Morel Madness” weekend spurred the trip, but their gathering was closer to Kansas City than to St. Louis this year, and I wanted something a bit closer to home, as well as something we could do on our own schedule.

Enter Cuivre River State Park, the site of last year’s “Morel Madness,” conveniently located about ninety minutes from home.  (For those not from the StL area, the common/local pronunciation of this state park name is “Quiver” River, no doubt a horrible bastardization of the French word for copper, for which the park/river is named.)  The park was lovely — nice campground, well-maintained hiking trails (well, the little we saw of them), and many areas nicely cleared from recent-ish controlled burns.

When we camped last fall, I remarked on the lack of space in the car for Gabriel.  It wasn’t any different this time, especially with the addition of a third sleeping bag — we just smushed everything in more.

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I’m afraid in the not-too-distant future, we’ll need to borrow or rent a larger vehicle for camping trips.

After getting stuck in Friday afternoon traffic on the way out of St. Louis, we were extra glad we’d reserved a campsite ahead of time (there were actually plenty of vacant sites when we arrived, but it was one less worry), and we arrived in time to pitch a tent, start a fire, eat dinner, and roast marshmallows for s’mores.


The afternoons and evenings were warm, but the mornings start out a bit chilly, and, after enjoying Friday night, Sir spent a good deal of Saturday morning requesting Baba’s (grandma’s) house.  He started Saturday with a 2+ hour sleep debt, having both taken over an hour to fall asleep (due to light and noise at the campground) and woken early.  Le sigh.


We explained that we’d be staying at the campground another day, and made plans to take a hike.  You know, just a couple of miles.  With a toddler.


We chose a 4.75-mile loop trail, planning to alternate between Gabriel walking and riding in the backpack child carrier.  Hiking was not particularly to Sir’s liking.  Over the course of two hours, we heard, “Why going on hike?  Me not want hike,” on almost constant repeat.

He didn’t really want to walk, but carrying 36+ pounds of squirmy toddler in the back pack was no picnic.


Especially when he realized he could stand on the frame.  This made it more comfortable for Sir, but far less comfortable for the bearer.  (This hiking pack is one of those items that seemed like a good idea, but that, in retrospect, we’ve rarely used.  It takes up a lot of space, and, except for the sweaty factor, a basic baby carrier, like the Ergo, works just as well, and is much more comfortable.)

Fortunately, the loop we chose had a cut-off option, making it about half the total distance (a bit over two miles).  If we had had to cover the entire 4.75 miles, we’d probably still be out on that trail!

It was a near thing, but all three of us made it back to the car, and, subsequently, to the campsite, for some much-needed lunch and rest time.

After our morning hiking experience, we kept the afternoon low-key, honoring Sir’s request to visit the play ground.  That evening, we built a nice fire and enjoyed grilled bread and cheese sandwiches, plus more s’mores.

Saturday night’s bedtime was much like Friday’s.  It took a long time and required one of us staying in the tent with Sir until he fell asleep.

Our overall campsite conditions were made a bit better by the departure of our Friday night “neighbors,” who were exceeding their campsite occupancy limit and showed little concern for campground quiet hours.  We also scoped out some campsites that might be better situated for quiet (the site I picked, which looked good online, actually had quite a bit of passing foot and vehicle traffic).

Noise level aside, two months away from the lightest day of the year, it’s pretty darn bright at 7:30pm in a tent.  For future kid-camping, we decided late September would be ideal — similar temps to late April camping, but earlier nightfall.

Matthew couldn’t resist building one more fire on Sunday morning, and after breakfast, we had an Easter egg hunt.

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We decamped rather efficiently, and, after one last playground visit, returned home to recover.  All-in-all, it was a successful first camping venture, but I’m glad to be [almost] unpacked, cleaned up, and back to normal sleep conditions.


So, camping.  Our last camping trip was over two years ago.  It involved a nine-week-old baby, unforecasted rain and chilly temperatures, a leaky tent, very little hiking, and an early return. Gabriel’s look says it all.  (I can’t believe he was ever that tiny!!!)

“WTF, guys? Can we please go home already?”

A few months after that adventure, we received a new tent as a Christmas present.  Despite being an upgrade over our leaky, musty version, it sat untouched for almost two years.  This is more related to our “garden” baby than to our actual baby.

In retrospect, hiking/camping with a small, very portable infant was relatively easy, but despite our best intentions to do a lot of hiking and camping those first months (when we were both not working due to maternity/paternity leave anyway), there was just that one trip.

For our great return to camping, we left Gabriel with Baba, and had our first multi-night kid-free time in over a year.

We planned our adventure to southern Illinois, home to some state parks, national forests, and wineries.  Thanks to Congress, we had to remove the national forest from our itinerary.

Saturday morning, we loaded the car and drove through two-and-a-half hours of rain to Giant City State Park (just south of Carbondale, IL).  We kept peering at the sky, thinking that certainly, at any moment, the rain would stop and it would clear.

Failing that, we decided to stop in Carbondale for lunch.  We ate at Longbranch Coffeehouse and Vegetarian Cafe, a spot I’d scoped out ahead of time.  We enjoyed their house recipe veggie burger and a breakfast burrito-type thing — a fun stop and tasty food — would definitely return!

It finally did stop raining, just as we arrived at the state park to be met by a “Campground Full” sign.  We continued to the host’s site to discuss just what they meant by “full.”

Turns out there was exactly ONE tent site left in the entire campground, so we paid our eight dollars and proceeded to stake our claim.  I really didn’t want to set up our nice, clean, dry tent on the wet, muddy ground, so we hung our claim tag and drove to some short hiking loops.

We returned a few hours later to slightly less wet ground, and went about setting up camp.  Between our new tent, new screen house, almost new sleeping bags (which I decided I loathe), and a couple of new backpacks, I felt like we were doing some kind of gear review (minus the free gear).


We built a fire, ate dinner, and decided to call it an early night.  Unfortunately, our fellow campers had other ideas, and what seemed like a relatively quiet campground before 9 p.m. became obnoxiously noisy for the next couple of hours as we tossed and turned.

Our ultralight fabric (made from recycled plastic bottles), mummy-style sleeping bags, while perhaps great for back-country camping, were just not comfortable for me.  Between that and the noise, I was NOT a happy camper.

Come morning, I strongly advocated for turning our planned two-night stay into a one-night stay.  The lure of a nice, comfortable bed in a quiet apartment only two hours away was just too much.

But before we left, we decided to tackle a 12-mile hike, giving us some more of the outdoor time and scenery that we came for and giving our tents time to dry (just dew, not rain) before decamping.

Unfortunately, the “construction” that the guide at the visitor’s center indicated would last for about a mile of the 12-mile loop, combined with Saturday’s rain, turned our hike into a muddy slog, made extra frustrating by the complete lack of trail markers (perhaps removed because of the construction).


Heavy machinery, dirt trails, and rain are NOT a good combination.  We found this guy with the keys in the ignition and were rather tempted to just drive ourselves out.

The “path” we were on finally led to a waste-water treatment site (beautiful nature, eh?), and we followed a gravel road back to civilization, i.e., the paved road that runs through the state park.  From there, we “hiked” along the road for a couple of miles (I was tempted to stick out my thumb and hitch-hike) before finally returning to our campsite.

Pea in a pod

Midday fire, lunch, showers, and some time in the hammock put us in better spirits.  We packed up our nice dry tents, drove back to St. Louis, and concluded our weekend with dinner at Tree House, a [relatively] new vegetarian restaurant.

Our camping gear is packed away again, probably until the spring, when we might get really crazy and attempt camping with a toddler.  Until then, I’ll be enjoying my own bed!