Bike camp trips with kids

Delaware Water Gap June 2013

Delaware Water Gap June 2013

I wanted to record distilled advice for anyone crazy enough to do these kinds of trips. After seven trips in eight years with a group of 12- two families with four kids each, the youngest kids being two years old on the first trip and the oldest being 15 on the most recent trip- here is what has worked well (in no particular order):


Poppa with Cleverly on a tagalong

1) Find bike paths. They have no cars and it makes the biking so peaceful. The kids can bike ahead and have a little independence. We like the Schuylkill River Bike Trail, the Greater Allegheny Passage, the C&O Canal bike trail, and any Rails to Trails we can find!
2) While riding, meet up every three miles or so. We found this to be a good way to allow some independence but keep the group from getting too dispersed.  It is also excellent to help be aware of tantrums, mechanical problems, berry patches, interesting scenery, changing plans, anything that could affect the trip.

3) Don’t worry about having the best gear. One family slowly added lightweight tents, panniers, etc over the years and that is a great way to do it. That said, not having these things should not prevent an enjoyable trip. Neither family has specialized bikes, for example.  Enthusiasm for the trip is more important than gear!
4) Consider tag-along bikes and trailers for younger riders. The trailers are great for hauling gear when the kids can bike more on their own. For a couple of years we had the twins take turns riding on a bike then resting in the trailer. When they both were too tired, they could both rest and we fastened the bike to the top of the trailer with a bungee cord. The trailers, even inexpensive and used ones, can take a lot of abuse and still remain functional.

5) Vary the schedule. Take a day or two to see local sights and do less biking. Spend a night at a hotel rather than camping every night. Go to a restaurant for lunch. It isn’t the cheapest way to go, but it improves morale and gives variety to the trip.                             6) Make plans, but allow for spontaneity. True of any trip. Figure out how far you want to bike and how you willl break it up, but don’t make too many commitments to this schedule (like hotel reservations, etc.).You will find unexpected things!  See the sights along the way, but look for other distractions.  We have stalled the troops for wildflowers, snakes, creek walking, berry picking, interesting rock formations, etc. Similarly, we have cut out some plans when weather or fatigue have interfered.                                                                                                                                       7) Share things! We organize group meals since it is easier to cook one big breakfast than two or more. The non-cooking adults get a nice break.  We also take turns riding with/encouraging the slowest riders.  Sometimes mixing it up helps everyone’s mood on an 8-hour day of biking.  Sharing other things, like camp stoves and repair tools, literally lightens the load with economy of scale, which you will appreciate as you pedal uphill.


Those were some of my thoughts as I biked along on our latest trip, which may have been the best yet!  Watch for posts coming soon!

Evansville State Park June 2011

Evansville State Park was a wonderful bike/camp trip and our 3rd – or was it our 4th? – with our intrepid friends.  That year, the Fantastic kids were 5, 5, 8, and 11 and the twins could ride bikes!  This is noteworthy as they were about to turn 6 and had learned to bike as 4 year olds.  Fiercely, by comparison, had not learned until just after her 7th birthday and Cleverly around her 6th.  At this rate, if we had more kids, they’d be biking at birth!!


Heading out on Philadelphia’s Kelly Drive, closed to cars on summer weekends. Papa has Really on the crooked tagalong (on right).


Bikers on Kelly drive with Philadelphia Zoo Balloon in the background

We were thrilled that all the kids were bikeable, and the 4 kids from other family were as well.   We packed our camping and cooking gear in bike trailers and brought 1 twin bike alternating between a twin biking and riding in a trailer as she tired out.  We also had a car as a back-up and to carry some gear.  Parents took turns driving.


Really taking a break

This trip involved riding with most of our gear about 35 miles to the park from Philadelphia and back.  We had done parts of this route in previous years but decided to bike it all in one day, camp a few nights, then bike back to Philadelphia.  The day was long as the pace was leisurely, if you can call motivating 8 kids leisurely!  It took about 9 hours including several stops for snacks and breaks.  The older kids sped along singing [charming? irritating? lively?] kids songs like the self-explanatory “this is the song that never ends” and “I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves” and suchlike.  The younger members tended to go more slowly so we parents spread out along about a mile to escort them.


Bike trail heading North

The trail is the Schuylkill (pronounced ‘skoo-kill’) River Trail and is 130 miles from Pottville, PA to Philadelphia, PA with some sections pending. The part we rode goes through downtown Philly, north through Valley Forge National Historic Park, and into Collegeville, where we went off-trail for a few miles to the park.  The trail is well-used, often by the bike-gearheads training for something or other, speeding by us on bikes worth more than our car, with the spandex outfits and specialized water bottles, etc. So we had to be aware of their warning bells and calls of “on your left!” as they whizzed by and left us in their wake.   Of course, we did have the moral high ground since we had 8 young bicyclists-in-training but that doesn’t get you much love if you’re blocking the trail.

We could really slow down a biker like this!  Sorry, dude, just trying to instill a love of cycling with our EIGHT kids, ok?  And trying to get our gear to the camp site without a car!

Luckily, though the trail is rather narrow, there are bump-outs with benches for resting and once at Valley Forge there are bathrooms, water fountains, picnic tables, and plenty of space.  The bus station at Norristown is another good pitstop along the trail. Also, one may venture into Conshohoken, Norristown, or other towns en route.


Really and Truly at the campsite


Papa cooking at the camp stove


Truly with a toad

Evansburg has camping only for groups, defined as 5 or more people. This served us well, since it appears to be seldom used and we were the sole campers each time we went.  The campground included a bathroom building with flush toilets, a water pump, picnic tables and fire pits.  Once we set up our tents, we had access to miles of hiking and biking trails, and also could bike back to Collegeville if we chose.  We hiked to a playground, a river perfect for wading, and a historic home near remnants of a mill.

Friedt visitor center – an historic building in the park

We stayed several nights and biked the same route South back to Philadelphia.  We did this on a weekday, so there was less bike traffic but we also lost the benefit of the carless Kelly drive for the last couple miles of the trip.  The bike path instead goes next to Boathouse Row and the Philadelphia Art museum with its flower gardens bursting in the early summer, so it was a great end to a great trip!

Ohiopyle State Park June 2012

Don’t be fooled by the name, this park is actually in Pennsylvania. We set out in cars packed with children and bikes for our 5th bike-camp adventure with ourselves, the Fantastics, and our intrepid friends, another family of 6!  Yes, adding it up, we had 8 kids, 4 adults, and all that gear.


The idea was to bike about 60 miles on the Greater Allegheny Passage, a bike trail that goes from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC (or vice-versa if you prefer!).  The Passage is a wonderful biking experience with many options for tent camping, hotels, B&Bs, cafes, small towns and gorgeous scenery along old train routes.  It is well-organized with maps pointing out amenities at each town.  We brought our gear for tent camping, but were also able to enjoy ice cream along the way!

The towns are well-spaced so that one could do the trip without camping gear, also there are train options for transporting yourself and you bike between many stops.  The paths were well-groomed, and our ride was smooth.  We planned to start at Meyersdale, stay a night in Rockwood, spend 2 nights at Ohiopyle before finishing the trip at Connellsville.  This route proved ideal as most of it had a 2% downhill grade, perfect for our 4 kids who are 8 and under and still challenging for the older ones.

The viaduct near Meyersdale, PA.

Meyersdale had a train museum in an old train station filled with semaphore lights, old photographs, dining car place settings, and other paraphernalia of the golden age of train travel.  We spent some time there, then loaded up our gear and biked about 12 miles to our campground for the night in (if I remember correctly) Husky Haven campground in Rockwood “near mile post 43” as the directions go.  We camped by the river, cooked our dinner, then packed up the next morning for the trip to Ohiopyle, approximately 30 miles away.  This was our longest day biking and we took a few breaks along the way.

Ice cream break at town center in Confluence

Once at Ohiopyle, we headed to our campsite.  This proved to be the most arduous part of the day, since the elevation of the campsite was about 1000 feet higher than the bike trail.  We were warned by a bicycler heading towards us who actually offered to drive our gear up for us, but we thought “meh-how bad can it be?”.  Friends, when someone offers to drive your gear to your campsite, you may want to consider the implications more seriously than we did, because, whew, what a trail!  Between the 2 families, we had 4 fully loaded bike trailers, like the kind shown here, and 

well, the under-7-year olds, all 3 of them, were riding on top of the gear stored inside.  Their bikes were strapped to the top of the trailers.  I have no pictures of this because I was just too darn tired to be taking pictures while slogging uphill against all that gravity with sleeping twins!  Those trailers can really handle some weight and rough trails, I will say that.  We did make it to the campsite, which was really nice.  The sites were spread out, each had 2 picnic tables and a grill and modern bathroom building nearby.  We spent the entire next day at the park, mostly swimming in the Youghiogheny (yaw-ki-gay-nee) River Gorge, which is just fun to say.  There are natural water slides, which were oh-so-fun even as you sustain a massive wedgie and fear a head injury for yourself and your offspring as you consider the many hard rock formations whizzing by your delicate cerebrum.

Natural water slide at Ohiopyle

We were able to go on these slides, hike several trails and also enjoy lunch in town without a car since there is so ch right there.  There are rafting, horse riding, and other available things to do at the park as well.  It is an amazing place!

Our last day, we packed it all up and went down that steep trail back to the Passage.  We biked about 15 miles to Connellsville and parted ways.  We Fantastics had lunch in Connellsville, a small town that has seen the effects of a changing economy over the years.  We saw an excellent decrepit building that had been a fancy department store in its salad days.  We had some mediocre chinese food and pointed the car back home.


I can’t help it, I love old buildings