Whether it’s Fall Break, Spring Break, or a shorter trip like Labor Day or Memorial Day weekend, you should definitely be headed out on a lovely weekend (or longer) trip to regroup and reconnect with your family. It’s a time to let loose and have a little hard-earned rest, relaxation, and fun!
So why not pack your camping gear and take off for a long weekend at Piney Campground? This is the perfect family camping destination. Located a two-hour drive from Nashville in the wonderful Land Between the Lakes national recreational area. The peninsula offers tons of fun outdoor activities such as biking, hiking, picnicking, relaxing, kayaking, swimming, and watching wildlife.
Where to Stay
The Piney Campground offers several loops — many of them being overly crowded. Because of this, I strongly recommend staying either at the Chestnut Loop (which, in my opinion, is the most peaceful and scenic place on the campground) or the non-electric loops (which are specifically reserved for tents). See pink marks on map below.
What to Bring with You
Whether you are an experienced camper from pre-kid days or first-time campers, it’s wise to be prepared for this little adventure. It can be difficult to figure out what kind of gear will work best for you. (That’s why you might want to consider renting it.) We finally went for the inexpensive but decent quality equipment at Walmart. If you’re willing to invest more in high-end products, check out the impressive selection of camping gear at Bass Pro Shops or REI.) My list of must haves:
Campsite gear: Tent (Be sure you have ALL poles and stakes. Check before you leave!), a hammer (I can tell you from experience that hammering down the stakes with a piece of wood does not really work…), sleeping pad (or an air mattress for your own comfort), sleeping bags (or blankets depending on the temperature), and pillows (yes, I know this may sound girly. But your neck will thank you for that!). If you plan to roast marshmallows over the fire pit, I also recommend foldable camp chairs (which we obviously forgot at home). Last, but not least, some flashlights (with extra batteries).
Kitchen: Swiss pocket knife (being Swiss, I had to list this to justify the cliché), matches or lighter, frying pan which you can put directly onto the fire, a pot (or to kick off your day in a even more enjoyable way, a French press or portable coffee maker), cutting board, cooking spoon, tablecloth (you never know what has been on this table before). And in order to spare you from nerve-racking dish washing at the shared bathroom? Disposable tableware! Furthermore you need a cooler, a food-storage container, bags (e.g. for trash, dirty and wet laundry), Tupperware, lots of paper towels, sponge, dishcloth, dishtowel and soap. (Need food ideas? We’ve got those too.)
Personal items: I highly recommend a minimum (!) of clothes and toiletries because you are going to smell like a smoked sausage from day one no matter how many fresh shirts or what conditioner you put on, and your kids will insist in spending the whole day in their swim suit anyway. And please, do NOT forget your flip flops. (You do not want to enter these shared showers barefoot!)
Luckily, there is a well equipped shop on Piney Campground selling all different kinds of food, camping gear, ice (for the cooler), and firewood. (Normally you are not allowed to bring this from outside.)
How to Cook on a Fire Ring
If you want to make your life much easier, it is a smart idea to do some food prep before leaving home. Try chopping vegetables and sealing them in plastic bags, filling a small Tupperware with pancake batter, and mixing marinades for meat ahead of time.
When cooking on-site, anything on a long stick is fun, because kids can stand back from the fire while roasting the food: sausages, campfire breads, and marshmallows.
Another great tool is the iron frying pan in which you are able to cook marinated meats, vegetables, risotto, and scrambled eggs for breakfast. To speed up the cooking process, you can even put the pan directly on the coals.
Which Activities to Plan
The Land Between the Lakes is a natural playground for explorers, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone who needs a break from their urban landscapes. You will find plenty of opportunities to swim, hike, bike, fish, picnic, boat, bird watch, and even ride a horse.
On Piney Campground, you will be able to enjoy a nice little sandy beach which is perfect for kids to swim. If you own a kayak or a stand up paddle, you should definitely bring it. (Unfortunately, there are no rentals available.)
If you want to discover more of the peninsula, consider visiting the Elk and Bison Prairie. For a small fee, you can drive in your own car through 700 acres of native grassland and observe the wildlife that roamed Kentucky more than a century ago. Best times to view the animals are in the early morning (we went at noon and unfortunately did not see one single elk or bison).
Another enriching way to explore the Land between the Lakes is taking a ride on a horseback through the backcountry roads and horse trails that wind through scenic woodlands of western Kentucky. You can board your horses at the Rocking U Riding Stables and take guided trail rides from there. Be aware that kids must be at least six years old. They offer 45- and 90-minute guided horse trail rides. (They leave on the hour, except at noon.) For young children, six years old and younger, pony rides can be reserved.
To sum up: you don’t need to prepare a lot of activities or bring many toys. Just let them get dirty and wild. Let them explore the nature and make use of their imagination. Include them as much as possible in everything you do: let them choose where to set up the tent, slip the tent poles into the fabric, pull sleeping bags out of stuff sacks, blow up mattresses and gather firewood.
Camping with kids can be as much fun for kids as it is for the parents. There are few things more satisfying than watching your children explore and experience nature. This is where memories are made: catching their first fish, seeing their first wild animals, learning to skip a rock across the water – the things they’ll brag to all their friends about when they get back to school.