Rock Island Camping with Young'ins

Written by Margaret Siebers
    Tuesday, 27 August 2019
Rock Island Camping with Young'ins

This summer, my family had an opportunity to go camping at Rock Island state park in Door County, WI. This was a level up for us because, to date, we had always done car camping. Rock Island does not allow cars or have any sort of store on the island to replenish supplies (read: snacks).

You bring all supplies with you on a ferry. Then cart everything, including your young children, to the campsite, which is located about a half mile from the boat launch.

Leading up to this, I was questioning how to make it work. I wanted details about how much clothing to bring, how much food to pack, should we bring a cooler, and how could I sleep comfortably with a baby. So, I turned to the internet. There were some answers there, though most of what I found about camping with young children was more directed towards car camping. The hardcore backpacking information was a bit beyond what I’m ready to do. I have no idea what the daily caloric intake of my five year old is or even what it should be. Same goes for the 21 month old.

Here is what we did in the following categories:


We decided to not bring a cooler because it would be too bulky. That meant no perishable food. For cooking, we brought a single burner backpacking stove and cooking kit that we borrowed from the Urban Ecology Center through the equipment lending program. We only planned breakfast and dinner. Lunch was just snacks. I’m sure there are a lot of ways to decide what one should bring to eat while camping. There may even be a right way. Here is what I did: I figured out about how many serving of fruit and vegetables we would need for our party of 4 and packed that amount. Once fiber was accounted for, I filled in the gaps with snacks that we all enjoy. We ate mostly dried fruits, fruit leather, carrots, apples, trail mix, and chocolate peanut butter based desserts. Of course we also brought s’mores.

Sample Daily Menu

Breakfast: oatmeal, coffee for adults

Lunch: Carrots, dried bananas, trail mix, and chips

Dinner: Canned tuna with crackers, more carrots, and puppy chow for desert

We stored the food in grocery bags, which was not a great idea. It was really hard to keep track of things, not to mention the raccoons.  Next time we will bring a bin for our food and cooking supplies. It is a good idea to get a clear bin so that you can see where things are located without emptying it every time you need something.


The internet has some good information about this one. The main advice was to layer clothing. We packed pretty light because the weather forecast looked good. One pair of shorts and short sleeved shirt for everyone. One warm outfit for everyone, except the baby who got two warm outfits. One pair of beach shoes and one pair of hiking shoes. 1-3 pairs of socks per person. Swimsuits for everyone.  We added rain coats as an afterthought, and it lucky that we did since it rained the last day.

RockIsland blog 2

To camp on Rock Island, you'll have to cart everything, including your young children, to the campsite!


We borrowed a 4-person tent from the Urban Ecology Center which was plenty of space for our family of two adults and two children. I knew that the baby would be waking me up in the night so I was trying to create a comfortable sleep environment where I could easily go back to sleep again. One of my big concerns was the baby getting cold at night. We decided to use an open sleeping bag below us and another one above us. This was an imperfect system as they were not the zip together variety. Also, one of our sleeping bags was a mummy style bag so it was difficult to keep your feet under it. In the future, I would be sure to have two rectangle shaped bags that unzip all the way. We brought four sleeping pads. These were bulky but getting good sleep was very important to me. Again, with the young kids there are so many hurdles to getting sleep that I wanted to make sure we at least had good padding.

We borrowed a hammock from the Urban Ecology Center. It was easy to set up and very compact in its case. One of my favorite moments on the trip was when my baby took her nap lying on my chest in the hammock. I just laid there and looked at the leaves rustling in the breeze, not daring to move too much lest she wake up. I tried to sleep in it one night but the mosquitos were hungry and a wakeful daughter lured me back to the tent after a few hours.


We considered bringing toys and other playthings for the girls. Ultimately we decided to not bring anything except for my daughter’s special blankie. There just wasn’t enough space in our wagon for toys. It worked out really well. They played on the beach, sat on the path and put dirt on each other, and played with cousins. There was another form of entertainment that was lost to us pretty quickly. My phone was at 30% when we arrived on the island. In the time it took me to get to our campsite it was down to about 9%. There was no place to charge it. So, I took one picture and turned it off for the weekend.

rockisland blog 3

Perhaps it seems overwhelming to go a little ways off the grid with your kids. You can do it. Just look at some of the wacky things we did with sleeping bags and meal planning. It is fun and interesting. It’s great to hang out with your children in a natural setting. For some of you, this may be second nature and you may find some of my methods unconventional, but for those who are new to this, the Urban Ecology Center is a great start to outfit you with the equipment to make it all possible. We have great camping equipment that our members can borrow for free! I hope that my family’s experience will inspire you to try something new.

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Margaret Siebers

Margaret Siebers

Margaret Siebers is the Visitor Services Specialist at Riverside Park. If you visit the center, you will be likely to see her tending the fire, assisting people borrow their equipment, and making sure you have tasty treats to enjoy. She has enjoyed participating at the Urban Ecology Center in many different ways over the years. As a volunteer, class participant, by renting the building, borrowing equipment, exploring the park, and now, as an employee. She loves making food, going on adventures around town with her family, and reading.


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