Family Camping Review: Laurel Hill State Park

Last week I blogged that we had been waiting to go camping to keep Mark O out of the cold weather. Well, it turns out, we needn't have waited. Mark O is as hardy as the rest of us, and it was an enjoyable, if chilly, Memorial Day weekend at Laurel Hill State Park. And by chilly, I mean it was so cold we had to put Laurel in snow boots, and we burned 8 bundles of wood.

My mom and I headed out of town early so we could set up camp. We weren't sure when my dad and M would be off work and didn't want to risk getting up there too late. Setting up tents with a 4 month old and a 3 year old is not for the faint of heart, but we managed to keep them fed, warm and entertained while we did it. It was freezing cold and very windy, but sunny enough that we all ended up with rosy cheeks and noses.

The pros....
This park is an awesome place to take kids. Our site was near a bathhouse with hot showers and a faucet where you can fill up your drinking water containers. On our loop, a playground was tucked in the woods next to a shallow creek. Laurel Hill, like many DCNR parks, has a sandy beach with playground equipment on it, as well as a roped off swimming area. You can rent boats or kayaks or go fishing along the lake as well. It looked like they had done a lot of work to make it handicap accessible - a ramp goes into the swimming area, and they even had a beach wheel chair with big fat tires.

Laurel really loved going to the beaches in Florida so I was worried she wouldn't be impressed with a man-made lake and trucked-in sand. But, kind of like how kids like the box better than the toy itself, she was just as happy to build sandcastles and go wading with the minnows. Unfortunately, it was way too cold to go swimming.

The other nice thing about this park is that it has access to a lot of trails. Some of the trails are short loops (1-3 miles), while others are longer or connect into more extensive trails into the Forbes State Forest. M loves running through the woods, and was able to plot a pretty long run on the trails right from our campsite. It was nice that he didn't have to drive to a trail head.

It's also a really easy drive from Pittsburgh. Just 11 miles up route 31 from the Donegal exit, and the turns are well marked.

The cons...
They weren't diligent about enforcing quiet hours, which were supposed to start at 9pm. However, everything had quieted down by 10:30 or so and the noises were more from kids running around and playing rather than adults getting drunk.  Firewood was $5 a bundle. They have over 200 campsites, and some of the sites are not that secluded. Ours was quite muddy. My mom and dad went around and wrote down the site numbers of the best sites, so we'll know what to reserve the next time we go.

A bit about the weather....
A lot of people asked us how we did in the weather. It went down into the 30s at night, and was really windy so it felt much colder. We sleep in a 3 season backpacking tent that is not all that warm. We made a good investment for Laurel and bought her a kid-size 20 degree sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. She sleeps warm anyway and was totally fine. Mark O slept in his car seat in the tent and just wore a bunch of layers. He didn't wake up any more than he normally does and never seemed to get cold. I could have used an extra pair of socks and maybe a heavier coat. Every time I got up with one of the kids, it took me forever to warm up again in my sleeping bag.

On camping with kids....
Bring a big bin of toys and books. Laurel sometimes likes to sit in the tent and read books or play dolls. Bring lots of changes of clothes because if your kid is anything like ours they will fall in creeks, slip in mud, or accidentally pee on their pants when they are squatting in the bushes. Our tent is small, so we don't keep much in there, but I did learn to keep a diaper and wipes and extra pajamas for both kids so we didn't have to search for that stuff in the middle of the night. Even in the summer, you might want to pack hats, mittens and a coat for your kids, depending on their tolerance for chilly weather.

It was nice to be with my parents this weekend and have extra sets of hands. We'll see how we do on our next trip, which will be just the four of us.


Anonymous said...

Maybe your great aunt could go along on one of your future trips.

Love, the great aunt

Anonymous said...

Where's Laurel????

Aunt DC

k said...

Peekaboo! She hates getting her picture taken now. So we have to either do it secretly, or deal with the goofy expressions she makes (or hiding).