Effortless Camping for the Whole Family (Even Dad!)
The Easy Way Out
The kids were painting around the campfire—yes, painting, I tell you, with a small watercolors set I’d packed at the last minute—while Julie and I dawdled on the shores of Jackson Lake. The tents were pitched on Grassy Island, the sun setting behind the great bulk of Mount Moran. I could hear the chop of kitchen knives from somewhere in the pines. I could smell woodsmoke. And I was in an unfamiliar circumstance: I didn’t have anything to do.
On any other family camping trip, much less one that involved sea kayaks, backpacking tents, and a surprise birthday cake for my daughter, I would have been crazed with camp chores—chopping veggies, chopping firewood, sweating over a Dutch oven birthday cake, issuing orders to my loyal subjects. Instead, my son and daughter channeled Monet. My wife and I channeled hand-holding couples you see on sappy Valentine’s Day cards, walking in the sunset. Instead, a couple of whistle-while-they-work kayak guides dealt with the details.
Getting the main dish and the sides ready at the same time? Their problem.
Bear-proofing the kitchen? Their problem.
Fretting about the height of the firewood pile? Don’t look at me.
Hear me out: I absolutely enjoy putting together a big ol’ family camping trip. I enjoy the logistics, I love to cook, I like the feeling of doing it on my own, I get a lot of satisfaction from using my camping know-how to create great memories for the family.
But every now and then, I like to hand over the reins and outsource most aspects of a family camping trip except the family part. Hiring an outfitter to sweat the small stuff—and the big stuff and the medium-sized stuff—frees me up to worry more about the hand I’m dealt in a family game of fireside Crazy 8s than whether or not the pineapple upside down cake is burning in the fire.
Maybe it’s the easy way out. But we’re still in the back of beyond, together. We’re still a long ways from a hotel room and family night glued to Netflix. On Jackson Lake, we still paddled our own kayaks. We still set up our own tents and set up house just the way we liked it—one tent for the father and son, another for mother and daughter, facing each other so we could chat back and forth in the long twilight of the Grand Tetons.
But I didn’t have to think about what time we had to leave to catch our shuttle or whether I tied the boats up far enough from the water or what time I had to get up to get the coffee on.
On Grassy Island, I had time to help out with the the painted colors of a Jackson Lake sunset, instead of the baked-on aftermath of a pot of Dutch oven stew.
I’ll take that trade, every now and then.