Backyard State Park

When you think of going on a fall camping trip with your family,

your mind likely drums up images like this:

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Happy, flannel-clad families, roasting marshmallows together around a roaring campfire…


Brilliant orange forest with a cozy tent nestled in the trees….

If you looked long enough you could probably smell the damp earth and feel the lifelong memories being created. *SWOON* These types of images were responsible for my incessant NEED to take the Tiny Traveler on her first camping trip.

I started obsessing about the idea of being snuggled up with my whole family under the stars and breathing in the crisp night air. I was fascinated with the notion of leaves rustling around my feet, smoky delicious foods cooking over hot coals, and images of Lucian and Jordan frolicking around the woods filled my mind. It wasn’t long before the planning began.

But first, I had to figure out how to go camping in the fall in Wisconsin.

So here is the scoop: I pretty much know nothing about camping. I know even LESS about camping in the chilly nights of October. Did I mention that I’ve literally only been camping like 5 times my entire life? So, I did what any camping novice would do…I started scouring fellow travel blogs, googling “How To Camp In 40 Degrees”, and reaching out to my blogger buddies for wisdom. The advice all seemed really simple.

Wear warm clothes, stay dry, have fun.

The next part of the planning was a little more difficult. This included figuring out what gear I would need and where to find this magical stuff.  I visited all the local sporting goods stores and hardcore outfitters (looking like an amateur) and I quickly discovered that I would have to sell my kidneys to pay for the camping stuff I wanted, so I cut my list of “needs” in half and resorted to borrowing most of the gear I would need.

The second part of my planning involved squaring away a few critical details.

I needed to sweet talk (and bribe) my husband to get him on board with my fall-tastic vision.



You see folks, he is a hunter, fisherman, and semi-outdoorsy type and thus he is more aware of the challenges and obstacles first-time campers may face. That being said, he wasn’t gung-ho about this half-wit plan I was hatching.

Next, I was ready to start polishing up the details.  What to eat, where to camp, when to leave, what to pack, etc. – Ok, but for real, I actually just spent most of my time watching my weather app like a hawk and praying for warmer weather.

“OH YES! It’s up to 44 degrees! Kill me now, down to 37. Heat wave! It’s going to be 40! ”

Throughout this planning process, I was second guessing myself the whole time. Should we really be going? Is this a good idea? Will Lucian be too cold? Are we all taking a pneumonia souvenir home with us? Will we die from propane gasses in our tent from our heater? Does my family even WANT to be doing this with me? Am I completely losing my mind? But, onward I pushed with the plan despite my apprehension.

It was time to get REAL!

The big camping day came and anticipation was high. I woke up to a perfectly crisp, beautiful, sun glistening morning. I immediately started in with last-minute googling, frantic 11th-hour planning and even made a couple anxious phone calls to my husband.

“So what do you think? Should we still go for it? The low tonight is 36 degrees. We’ll be fine, right?”

His response was always the same, “It’s your call.” Which is husband code for “This is a stupid idea, but I’m not going to be the one saying it.”  Smart guy. ??

I was bound and determined to press on. In the midst of all the camping preparation hullabaloo, I had a crystal clear moment that was a game changer! I went outside into my backyard to check the temperature (for the 890th time that week), and all of a sudden I had one of those cartoon lightbulb moments….”Why don’t we just camp out here in the backyard? It’s close in case things don’t work out, it’s free, and it feels a little like a campground!”



I realized in that moment that my backyard was actually the PERFECT solution!

Campfire pit for cooking and keeping warm – Check

Rustic outdoor scene – Check

“Cabin” to hang out in – Check

Nature to explore – Check

From that moment forward, the Backyard State Park Project was in full effect.


No more worries, no more complicated planning, no more risky temperatures!

I hauled our propane heater and pile of blankets out to Lucian’s playhouse (now the “cabin”).  I filled a laundry basket full of all our camping essentials and started stoking a fire. We cooked over the open flame, played in the dirt, inspected nature up-close, took creature walks around the yard, spent time with each other, told stories, read books by lantern light, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, and had an awesome first-time camping trip.

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Here’s the craziest thing, it was everything I wanted it to be but BETTER! I had all the conveniences of being at home like running water and flushing toilets, and I STILL had all the camping wonderment of soaking in the night air, cooking dinner in a cast iron dutch oven, and snuggling together as a family in the chilly night. But the secret to why this was so amazing is, when we all started getting crabby, tired and cold, we were able to go inside to warm and comfortable beds.

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The key is that you need to know the limits of your family. Sometimes you have to get creative about alternative options for your plans.  Just because it’s not traditional or not what you had in mind, doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to make it work. The truth is, I was dreaming of a perfect night of tent camping with my family, but a toddler probably shouldn’t tent camp in 37 degrees. I was excited about adventuring through the forest with my family, but I was able to have all the fun of camping without ever leaving my own backyard. Knowing when to pull the plug on an idea, and when to try something new, is really the secret sauce to being a successful Tiny Traveler.


As I sit to write this story, I’m overlooking my Backyard State Park campground, through a frosted window, in 34 degrees. I can’t help but appreciate that I’m INSIDE, I’m WARM, and I still had a great time “camping” with family.

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