A Camping Trip Alone With My 3-Year-Old Changed the Way I See Her

little girl camping

“Mama! Stop and look! Look at this!” I turn around and see my 3-year-old daughter crouched down on the hiking trail, a look of pure wonder on her face. An enormous daddy longlegs spider is scuttling across the damp ground and my daughter, the one who screams at the sight of the tiniest spider in our house, is watching it like it is the most amazing thing she has ever seen.


We are hiking through the woods to get from our tent to the nearby beach and Mille Lacs Lake, which our state park campground is known for. Ever since I told her that we were going camping, just me and her, my daughter has been talking about swimming in the big lake. But this is northern Minnesota and last night a big storm blew through, turning the trails to mud and lowering the air temperature to a brisk 63 degrees. I don’t even dress her in a swimsuit for our walk to the beach because surely it is too cold to swim.

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We get to the beach and are the only ones there. I spread out our blanket for our breakfast picnic and turn around to discover that my girl has already pulled her pants off and marched into the lake. Her movements startle the resting crawfish and I expect her to freak out at the sight of these lobster-looking creatures with their pincher claws, but again she surprises me.

“Good morning, crab fish!”

This is my daughter in the woods.

When I decided to take my 3-year-old camping by myself, I truthfully wasn’t sure how it would go. She’s never been camping and can be a finicky sleeper, so would we sleep at night? She is also a bit of a girly-girl. She likes to wear dresses and tends to dislike when her hands get dirty. We’d be at a campsite with no running water. She enjoys her fair share of screen time, and we’d have no electricity for three days. My daughter is also 3 and though she is easygoing, she is prone to epic (and typical) 3-year-old meltdowns when she gets frustrated.

Don’t worry, I told myself, if it is a train wreck, we can always go home after the first night.

But then we got there and I watched my daughter come alive in the muddy woods. Under the canopy of towering trees, I began to see sides of her that I might never have seen at home. She was more daring, more curious, more focused than I had ever seen her. My girl who loves to take hour-long bubble baths was lying on her belly in the dirt to watch a slug and an earthworm wiggle across the earth. She was climbing trees and happily sitting in cold lake water for hours, digging for shells. At night we would go back to our tent and she’d press herself into my side and sleep more soundly than I had ever seen her before, her quiet snores the only sound in our dark and cozy tent. She was peaceful and meltdown-free, with the exception of when I pulled her, blue lipped and shaking, from the lake after hours of playing.

After I had taken our tent down and loaded the car to head home, she cried and said, “Mama? When we doing this again?” As I looked at the mud-streaked face of my brave and strong little nature girl, I knew what my answer would have to be: Soon, little nature girl, soon.


Image via MNStudio/shutterstock

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