Family Biking: Make this the summer you pedal to camp with the kiddos

Bike camping with kids: pedal hard, sleep hard.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

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Biking is fun. Biking with kids is double the fun. Bike camping with kids is triple the fun, triple the exhaustion, and the biggest adventure I’ve ever experienced!

For me, summer means bike camping with Kidical Mass. My first bike camping trip was six years ago with the Seattle chapter. Having only been car-camping meant I didn’t have small or lightweight gear, but I was able to fit our old four-person tent and all our full-size pillows onto my cargo bike and we had a blast.

Over the years I’ve replaced older gear so it’s much easier to carry everything and I’ve even become confident enough that I camp without a big group. However, for many years our camping trips were only done surrounded by a bunch of brand new friends, and it’s still my favorite way to camp. And it just so happens Kidical Mass PDX is hosting their annual bike camping event next month at Dodge Park.

Our first bike camping trip in 2012. (I’m better equipped now, but I still sometimes bring full-sized pillows.)

The campground

View of the Sandy River and Dodge Park beach from SE Lusted Rd.

Before Dodge Park was open for the season I biked over to check it out and have already decided it’s much prettier than the places we’re used to camping. The Sandy River looks very inviting and the beach is going to be fun for the kids while I read in the shade. For more about the park, check out recaps from Jonathan Maus when he camped here with his 6 year-old son last summer and from Path Less Pedaled’s Kidical Mass trip six years ago.

The playground at Dodge Park.

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The route

The route to Dodge Park.

Like most campgrounds, there’s a hill — downhill to get in Saturday afternoon, uphill to get out Sunday morning. I rode my single speed cyclocross bike over, figuring it would be a somewhat accurate representation of riding a heavily-loaded cargo bike, and it wasn’t that bad. I checked with Patrick, who led the Kidical Mass PDX camping trip a couple years ago, and he provided me with the 20+ mile route. The one and only unpleasant part (besides the aforementioned hill) is crossing Highway 26 which is uncontrolled (no light/stop sign/crosswalk) so it might take a long time to wait for a break in traffic. The rest of the route is really great, a big chunk (12 miles!) of which is along the Springwater Corridor Trail and then it sticks to quieter country roads. Gresham’s Main City Park is halfway to Dodge Park and right along the Springwater Corridor Trail and will probably serve as a rest/potty/snack stop.

Inviting river, party pooper sign.

Camping tips

Family bike camping: It’s fun even in the rain.

Kidical Mass will host a bike camping workshop/meetup in the coming weeks. Details should be posted soon. I expect to learn a lot from more experienced families.

My brief advice to would-be family bike campers is: yes, it will be hard, but you can do it! Bring lots of snacks and water and be prepared to take several rest breaks (or run-around breaks for passengers). I’ve compiled my packing list and tips here on my Family Ride blog. A general tip for camping with young kids (no matter the conveyance) is to camp for two nights since you’ll all sleep so poorly the first night, you’re guaranteed to sleep well the second. For bike camping this means you get a rest day!

Thanks for reading. Have you been bike camping? With kids? At Dodge Park? Please share your advice! Feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She's the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books). In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle's Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.

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Cory P
Cory P
5 years ago

I’m so excited to go bike camping!

Alan 1.0
5 years ago

So awesome! Such good times, camping by bike! Thanks, Madi.

What has happened to Cycle Wild? 2016 looks is the most recent I see on their Facebook page, and cyclewild[.]org has some unrelated content, while also retaining some of its old posts…?? I’ve seen Matt P post here a few times since then. He had a great collection of camping areas in the Portland “ride shed” and it would be really nice if those destinations and route info were easily accessible.

(Still grateful to Tomas Q for making sure I made the hill into Milo McIver late in the evening.)

Madi Carlson
5 years ago
Reply to  Alan 1.0

Matt moved to Seattle right before we moved to Portland! I met him on a Kidical Mass Seattle bike camping trip, naturally 🙂 Hopefully he’ll comment and steer us towards Cycle Wild resources.