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Camping With A Toddler: Ponderosa State Park in McCall, Idaho

We love our home state Idaho, and try to explore as much as we can. There are still SO MANY areas that we have yet to cover, but continue to make plans to experience soon! One of the easiest mountain getaway destinations from the Boise area is McCall, Idaho. It’s a two-ish hour drive north, it’s got a large lake in the center of town, and it’s a charming tourist destination!

We go to McCall often, but this was our first time tent-camping there. Luckily the Ponderosa State Park is so close to the downtown shopping area that it could easily turn into a glamping situation, if needed. Since we were bringing our 18-month old daughter, we kept expectations pretty low but still planned on cooking all of our food over the campfire.

We ended up with a campsite that had full electrical hook-ups for RVs and it was very spacious. There was also a water spicket which came in extremely handy for constantly cleaning off my dirt-lovin’ toddler!

This camping trip was during my husband’s 37th birthday. We towed his fishing boat up, brought a picnic basket, and planned to enjoy the lake and family time for 3 days and 2 nights. It was a successful camping trip! We all had a great time, no one got any injuries (which required helicopter-level hovering over Brynnley), and we made super tasty meals with our campware every day :) I’m going to share the camping meals we loved below!

I started off setting us up for success by preparing the first night’s dinner before we even left home. Knowing we had a 2+ hour drive, tent set-up, and a toddler to entertain, I wanted to take one task off our plate (haha no pun intended) for that night and have dinner pretty ready to just place on the fire. Campfire Nachos!

I cut a few russet potatoes into thin rounds. I greased a disposable foil tray, and spread the potatoes out in a couple layers on the bottom of the tray. I cooked up some ground beef with basic seasonings and topped the potatoes with it. I added a can of diced tomatoes and green chiles, black beans, diced purple onion and diced green pepper. Then shredded cheese. I covered it with foil, and once Zeb got the fire going it cooked for about an hour on the grates. We just let it go until the potatoes were nice and soft! I had brought some pico de gallo and guacamole for toppings, and this was such an easy and yummy dinner to eat together at our campsite picnic table!

The toughest part about camping with Brynnley right now is bedtime. She’s always been a STUBBORN sleeper, but does very well at home now with her familiar environment, white noise, and blackout curtains. We did try to get her to sleep at her normal bedtime, but the sun doesn’t set in Idaho until 10pm at this point in summer and she was NOT having it. She got to come back out and enjoy some stickers and the campfire with mom and dad a little while longer until we all just called it a night and went into the tent together. I used a box fan sound on my phone to help her stay asleep through the night with all the campground sounds around us. She woke up at 6am, two hours earlier than her usual schedule. We just rolled with it!


The best part about waking up at 6am was watching two male deer walk RIGHT through our campsite! Their antlers were fuzzy and glowing from the sunlight behind them and it was so cool! Deer are all over McCall and really acclimated to the people, so we even saw a mama and baby deer eating right next to the road and several just munching weeds in people’s front yards. They aren’t very skiddish!

One of our camping traditions that started last year is a Dutch oven coffee cake on the first morning. We have a Dutch oven cookbook with a great recipe. I was able to prep the dry mixture at home, and that way in the morning we would just need to stir in the apples, butter, egg and make the crumb topping. We cook it over hot coals and both times it has come out with the perfect coffee cake texture! Perfect with the percolated coffee.

We packed up my picnic basket and took the boat down to the boat launch not too far from the campsite. Payette Lake is one of the primary reasons McCall is such a perfect family vacation destination. It is gorgeous, and just steps away from the downtown Main Street. There’s a grassy section in front of the docks if you want to lounge and have a picnic. There is a beach area with mild waves from the boat wakes and sand for the kids to splash and play. There are public boat launches for anyone who wants to go out fishing, cruising, jet skiing, or anything else you want to do on the water! We walked down to the beach area with Brynnley in her stroller or our wagon a couple of times because it is right at the entrance of the Ponderosa State Park.

We spent a little time on the lake in Zeb’s fishing boat, which put Brynnley to sleep. It’s the first time she’s napped in my arms in a loooong time since we did sleep-training last Fall, and I loved my hour of just holding her peacefully in the mountain air on the water!

We picnicked with sandwiches, fruit, sparkling waters and some snacks on the grass and Brynnley got to play in the waves on the lake shore. Oh, and this was Zeb’s birthday! We returned to our campsite around 5pm, the perfect time for him to whip up a little birthday happy hour cocktail. He’s a gin and tonic, extra lime, guy. We also put together that night’s dinners – hobo packs.

I had precut the potatoes, bell peppers, onions, and squash into big chunks at home before we left. I packed some steak strips, foil, and seasoning. I put together four big packs to cook over the fire, planning on using one of them as the filling for some breakfast burritos the next morning.

They were very yummy, but you can’t really go wrong with hobo packs! Brynnley liked to go on lots of little walks around the campground, laughing at the silly squirrels that ran up the trees. She waved “bye!” to each one several times.

We also made popcorn over the campfire, which Zeb always has fun with. This time, I packed some popcorn butter spray & white cheddar seasoning for some extra pizzazz. I prefer the popcorn over s’mores for my evening camping treat!

The next morning, it was our third and final day! We made breakfast burritos and coffee, went for another family walk, and then started the arduous task of tearing down camp and getting everything packed up again. EVERYTHING was soooo dirty. Whether we used it or not; if it was in the campsite, it was covered in dirt. We were able to time the two hour drive home just right (for once) and Brynnley actually slept the whole way – win!

Coming home from camping means an incredible amount of dishes and laundry, but I was mostly done by the end of the night and it was worth it for a fun mountain trip with our little family of three.

I’d recommend Ponderosa State Park for camping to anyone! There are restroom facilities with showers that are kept nice, and you really can’t beat the location.

You can watch my vlog of our camping trip on my YouTube channel here:

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