Adventures Afar, Illinois, Outdoor Play

“Camping” With Toddlers | Utica, Illinois | Starved Rock

Growing up, my family set out in a caravan from the Quad-Cities to either Marble, Colorado or South Dakota.  We all piled into cars and headed out west. Just the thought of it brings such warm nostalgia to my mind.  We would always camp on the way, usually somewhere in Nebraska.  We would sit around the campfire and listen to ghost stories, roast s’mores and gear up for our next day of travel.  I remember looking for campgrounds in those pre-internet days and I would always shout out “There’s one!” when I saw a KOA. My family would scoff at me and say that’s not where real campers stay.

Fast forward to about ten years ago when my sister, of Campfires & Concierges, began planning an annual canoeing trip in the midwest for our family.  We all meet on a Friday at a campground near the canoe launch site and the party begins. This tradition takes place each year on the weekend before Labor Day. We have made it on a few occasions but had yet to try camping with our kids. This time, my uncle announced that the trip would be only an hour and half away from our house and they had cabins that accepted dogs! At the KOA. Well, we aren’t really real campers so it sounded perfect. We were in!


I am such an over-packer and this trip was no exception. I had two toddlers, a husband, myself and a dog to pack for.  We were going from Friday-Sunday and our cabin had no bathroom or kitchen.  Here were some of the necessities that I would recommend bringing:

  • bug spray
  • sunblock
  • first-aid kit
  • citronella candles
  • lighter
  • entertainment (bubbles, play-doh and glow in the dark bracelets were big hits)
  • linens & pillows
  • water bottles (frozen ahead of time to serve as ice in the coolers)
  • cooler for drinks
  • cooler for food
  • pack and play
  • paper plates and plastic cutlery
  • tablecloth
  • toiletries
  • garbage bags (for garbage and dirty clothes)
  • spatula/serving utensils/ tongs
  • table top grill
  • swim gear
  • stroller
  • ergo for carrying H on the hike
  • sound machine
  • sippy cups
  • lots and lots of snacks
  • diapers
  • clothes

As you can see, I packed a ton and I was fortunate enough to join some legit campers so I didn’t need a lot of necessities like dish soap, sponges, etc. Of course, even though my mini-van was packed so full that I couldn’t see out the window I forgot my son’s beloved Dog-Dog. Luckily, my sister came to the rescue {for quite a high ransom fee!} and brought him to us on Day 2 after we spent the first night cursing ourselves while listening to our son cry about missing his “Dog-Dog”.

Camping at the KOA

Once we got to the camp, we were able to set up our beds right away and have dinner.  Our cabin was so adorable and while we didn’t have a bathroom in our cabin, it was just a short walk to the bathhouse. We had so much fun at the KOA.

I have literally no idea why my family avoided this place. It was perfect. It is camping with amenities, which I am all about!  There are tent camping sites, RV sites and cabin sites. The campground is relatively small, which was great for our purposes because we were all right next to each other. Some of the amenities include: wifi, a swimming pool, cable tv, immaculate restrooms and showers, washers/dryers, fishing and a playground. For a first-time camping experience with our children we really couldn’t ask for more amenities to make the trip more convenient. They even had a hayrack ride that we went on through the campground. We took full advantage of the pool and playground and my kids loved it!

Day Trip

While hanging at the camp ground is always fun, I think it is always a good idea to have a day trip or two to get out and get exploring new areas.  Most of our family goes on a canoe trip, but since our children are so little we knew we weren’t ready for that. We decided to visit Starved Rock State Park. Starved Rock is gorgeous park with towering trees and stunning waterfalls. The St. Louis Canyon is an easy hike. Sadly, we were mistaken when we thought we would be able to take our stroller on the hike and ended up tucking it into the cliffs and grabbing it on our way out.  The best option for your little ones would be a carrier. Our 3-year-old was able to climb most of it.  At the end of the trail, you will find a stunning canyon and a gorgeous waterfall. The water isn’t deep and some of the kids were able to get in and enjoy the “refreshing” water. Our lab, Kinnick, loved it and couldn’t keep himself out of the water.  We only had time to visit the beautiful St. Louis Canyon waterfall on this visit but I cannot wait to get back and see them all.

What Went Well

  • KOA Lasalle/Peru – great amenities, extremely clean, cabins that allow pets
  • Being able to be in a {mostly} relaxed environment with family and friends
  • Starved Rock-you just can’t beat the gorgeous scenery here

What We Will Change Next Time

  • We might need to upgrade to a bit larger of a cabin in order to accommodate two adults, two young children and a dog
  • I might venture into town. Utica has a really cute downtown area with popcorn shops and such
  • Plan more activities for our kids. I brought games and puzzles and books but I felt that they needed more independent activities for when we were trying to make dinner or setting up the cabin


Overall, I am looking forward to next year’s trip when my littles will be a little less, well, little.  What tips do you have to make a camping trip successful?




21 thoughts on ““Camping” With Toddlers | Utica, Illinois | Starved Rock

  1. Looks like an incredibly fun trip. We also love the family camping tradition.. although it’s turned into glamping because my husband is a bit afraid of bugs!;)

  2. My mother in law has an obsession with KOA’S, so we are quite familiar. I am more of a day trip fan because I hate all of the packing! If it was up to me we would be much more minimalistic on our trips. 😂 In any case having fun adventures with your kids is worth every second of work involved, and I love that you had helped spell out your methods. Way to go!

  3. I really enjoyed reading this! We have a cabin trip planned in two months and I cannot wait to take the kiddos. I love getting out in nature as a family. Thanks so much for all your trips!

  4. This looks like such a fun trip. I haven’t tried camping with my little ones yet, mostly because until now, we haven’t had a car to pack enough stuff for camping in. I might consider it in a couple years when my littles are less little also. 😉

  5. I love your “What went well” and “What I would change” sections. I find that so often we want to show off our best experiences and in reality, sections like these are probably most useful ones! PS. You’re a brave woman. We didn’t go camping with out kids until the youngest was 4. Power to you 🙂

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