Weekend at Laurel Hill State Park

We spent the weekend camping with my parents and brother at Laurel Hill State Park. It's a large state campground with a little man-made lake and beach and lots of hiking trails, about an hour and a half east of Pittsburgh. Memorial Day weekend is pretty busy at most of the state campgrounds and this one was pretty much filled up. We went on a really nice kid-friendly hike on the Hemlock Trail and saw a stand of old-growth hemlocks. Laurel had a good time identifying flowers using our Audubon guide. We saw jack-in-the-pulpits, violets, bluets, trillium that were done blooming, foam flowers and some interesting fungus. A portion of this trail is slightly treacherous for the 3 and under crowd, so if you take little ones be on guard for that. The stretch isn't very long - maybe a quarter of a mile up, but we had Marko in the backpack and I wouldn't have wanted him to walk there, because of the steep drop down the side of the hill. I know not everyone has a 2 1/2 year old that is still small enough to easily carry around, though. M got some good long runs in, as the Laurel Highlands trail passes through the park here. My brother had the excellent idea of renting some canoes and going out on the lake, where we saw a bird fishing. We think it may have been an osprey. It was impressive to watch it soar above the lake and then dive down into the water. It made about 3 dives before it got something big enough that it carried it away into the forest. The beach provided a lot of entertainment for Laurel and Marko. Laurel caught tadpoles and made friends with every kid there. Marko moved sand around with his tiny shovel and rolled in the sand, telling us he was a turtle.

We camped in a tent loop and I'm always pretty satisfied with the noise level, even when there were thousands of people there like this weekend. Things do settle down once it gets dark and it's really quiet after 11, other than the occasional crying kid. (Including ours, from time to time.) It was freezing cold on Friday and Saturday nights, but I expected this so the kids had long underwear, coats, hats and mittens, which they slept in some combination of.  We lucked out and had no rain at all. Laurel is big enough now to let her join the throngs of children roaming around the campground. Occasionally kids would stop by our site, and my mom taught a couple of them to play bocce.

As for camping with kids, it's definitely getting easier and more fun now that they are a little older. We go to sleep with them when it gets dark, and usually end up splitting up because we have two backpacking tents that are not really big enough for all four of us anymore. We make s'mores at the breakfast fire so there's no pre-bed sugar rush. I take a lot of baby wipes and don't bother trying to really bathe them properly. They get incredibly filthy, regardless of what you do. A thorough tick check, including scalp, should be done when you get home. My parents can be sort of fancy when they camp...so it was fun to be with them this time and have full meals. My dad was all about the bacon-wrapped gourmet hot dog this weekend. We often just eat Clif bars, apples, pb&js and will maybe roast hot dogs. For entertainment I brought sketch paper and colored pencils, a soccer ball, 3 Audubon guides and a couple of Ranger Rick magazines. Laurel also had her razor scooter. Mostly, they dug in the dirt and enjoyed lighting sticks on fire.

I brought a red quinoa salad and it really traveled well. You can check out the recipe here. It was very easy to make and filling if you have vegetarians along.

I'm glad we kicked off the summer season with a camping trip and I hope we can get out there a lot in the next couple of months.

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