May 13, 2009

Pitch a Tent

Parent Trap + A Family Camping Trip

You can't get a better storyline than Parent Trap: twin sisters, separated at birth and raised by estranged parents without any knowledge of the other, meet up at summer camp and decide to switch places. It worked in 1961 with the irrepressible Haley Mills and the 1998 remake, featuring Lindsay Lohan's debut, was equally infectious. Our kids relish watching the girls orchestrate the reunion of their parents but are particularly fond of the films' subplot in which the girls torture their Dad's prissy girlfriend on a camping trip. They cover her in honey, tempt bear cubs into her tent and float her into the middle of the lake while asleep in her PJ's. Whether you choose Brian Keith or Dennis Quaid as the twins' scowling, but forgiving father or opt for Maureen O'Hara or Natasha Richardson as their elegant mom, both serve up what might be the best Disney ending, ever.

Mother Nature was smiling down on us during a weekend spent at a nearby campground. Having arrived in the late afternoon, we had just the right amount of time to pitch our tent and set up camp before dark. We ate cowboy chili (made at home and heated on the fire) and toasted the first marshmellows of the weekend before tucking ourselves into our sleeping bags for the night. Once the sun came up, we hit the trails. The park was full of Indian history and the ruins of an old plantation. Winding our way up and down hilly paths and over sparkling streams we could see why this was sacred ground. We ended the day roasting hotdogs over the campfire and then heading to the lake for some twilight fishing. Later that night, cozied up around the fire we were reassured that getting away from our routine is a great way to reconnect with our kids and nature.

The Film

Film Title: The Parent Trap
Directed By: David Swift
1961, Rated G, 129 minutes

KOTC Kernels

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:

  • Why This Film is Worth It: The stars - Brian Keith and Haley Mills - were perfectly aligned by the Walt Disney Company for fun and heartfelt family values. The moral of the story (that the girls belong together as much as the adults) hardly applies to modern divorce, but the route to the family's reunion is delicious to watch.
  • Red Flags: The parents smoke and drink throughout the film and the twins really torture their Dad's fiancee. Kids love these scenes, probably because the girls are naughty, get in trouble and are forgiven -- just like real life.
  • Further Viewing: The 1998 remake, the debut of Lindsay Lohan, also offers a double dose of fun. We'd be hard pressed to choose one film over the other, but the earlier one has more camping scenes. (1998, PG, 127 minutes).
  • COOL FACT: Haley Mills and her father Sir John Mills were the first Oscar-winning father/daughter combination. He won as Supporting Actor in 1971 for Ryan's Daughter; she won for Pollyanna in 1960.
Cinema Savvy

Our tips for talking with your kids about this film:

  • Cinema Savvy: One actress played two parts in both films -- a marvel of both special effects and effective acting. Special effects was more sophisticated in 1998 than in 1961 (when the doubling was accomplished with a body double, mostly), but in both films the work is seamless thanks in part to the acting talent of Haley Mills and Linsday Lohan. When she did this film, Mills was in the middle of a five-year contract with Disney; Lohan was discovered for the part which sent her career on a rapid trajectory towards stardom.
  • Twin Savvy: Kids are fascinated by twins. As portrayed in the film, twins that are separated at birth and raised differently do crop up with uncanny coincidences in their separate lives. Ask your kids to think about if they'd like to have someone just like them out there in the world.

The Adventure

A Family Camping Trip


Age Recommendation: All Ages!
Time Allotment: A weekend is a good start

KOTC Kernels Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Popcorn Adventure:
  • What Worked for Us: Our family prefers the drive-up campsites. You don't have to hike to your site, and you are usually not too far from a bathhouse, where you'll have access to bathrooms, showers and electrical outlets.  Get there early so you have your choice of sites.
  • Before you go: Find the right campground. Keep in mind how "isolated" you really want to be, do you want a body of water nearby, hiking or biking trails, historical sites? We like sites with lakes or streams, for swimming, fishing, or just exploring. Make a list of everything you need to bring. (see our tips on the basics below). Prep your food as much as possible and use plastic tubs for camp-side storage. Forget the iPods and cellphones because you won't think about them!
  • Go Ahead, Rough It: Most campgrounds cater to families who want to pitch a tent, but not hike with lots of gear into the wilderness. Most state parks and private campgrounds have "drive-up" campsites, bath house facilities, and a water and ice source. However, you'll also find many back woods camping opportunities. Keep in mind this usually means no water or facilities and hiking to your site!
  • Research and Reserve : If you want to camp this summer, reserve now! Some parks will allow you to reserve an exact spot, others just a space in a certain section and then it's first come, first serve. Take note if tent campers and RV campers are in the same sections. We like campgrounds that keep tent campers separate, after one too many nights listening to the hum of our "neighbors" generator.
  • The Basics: If you've never camped before don't be overwhelmed. The essentials: a waterproof tent, sleeping bags, a gas/propane camping burner or stove, and a lantern or two. The good news is, while you can certainly buy the best of the best, you don't have to invest a lot of money. Check online or at big box stores for great prices on camping gear. The rest of your supplies you probably already have. We do recommend splurging on a camping mattress or two- at least for the grown-ups!
  • Good Eats: S'mores are the obvious dessert choice, and you can't go wrong with fire-roasted hotdogs and hamburgers, but we also suggest shake and pour pancakes, and eggs and spam (yes, spam!).
  • What to Do: Besides enjoying the peace and quiet, you can hit the trails- long or short, fish, swim, or bike. Check the website or rangers office for information on guided hikes and activities. Bring board games, books, bug catchers, bubbles and light sticks. Our kids have fun just puttering around the campsite, foraging for sticks for the fire, hanging lanterns, and creating their own spot.
City Savvy

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:

  • Anywhere: Google your state + camping. Search your state park website. Best Campgrounds in America has a top ten list, plus a good listing of campground search sites.
  • Boston: Normandy Farms is a four season family campground only 30 miles from Boston in Foxboro. Run by the Daniels family for nine generations, the campground boasts over 100 acres, and the activities are endless. Family activities include: swimming in one of four pools, fishing in a fish pond, entering the recreation lodge and playing in the arcade or the fitness center, visiting the creative arts center, playing on the playground, trying horseshoes, shuffleboard, bocce, basketball, volleyball, softball, soccer or golf and if tranquility is what you seek, hiking on the miles of nature trails. This is a virtual paradise. Electric, cable and sewer hook-ups are available for daily, weekly or monthly rates.
  • Houston: Let Brazos Bend State Park transport you to a world in which the American alligator, white-tailed deer, raccoon and bobcat reign supreme.  The park offers more than twenty miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.  Fishing is permitted from the lighted fishing piers along three lakes. Picnic tables are located in scenic lakeside areas throughout the park. Visitors wishing to stay overnight in the park have several hundred campsites to choose from, ranging from RV and tent sites to screened shelters. The George Observatory houses several telescopes, including a 36-inch reflector that is usually available for public viewing on Saturday evenings from 3 PM to 10 PM. Make your reservations now and head out for a nature-filled adventure!
  • San Francisco: Northern California is literally a playground for anyone looking to get outdoors -- and stay overnight. There's Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, and the Redwood Coast. But if you want some close-by camping that's fun and family-friendly, check out this list of campgrounds, from a few minutes flung out from downtown (Angel Island, sitting smack in the San Francisco Bay), to about an hour's drive south of the city limits, in Saratoga Springs. P.S.: If you want luxury camping on the Pacific Coast -- also family-friendly -- check out the to-die-for digs at Costanoa, just 55 miles south of San Francisco (between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz). It's a wonderful blend of the rugged outdoors and urbane comfort: There are cabins, family bungalows, and tent/RV sites nestled high atop sea cliffs that are a short hike away from on-site amenities like a restaurant, general store, and spa. Onsite activities include horseback riding,  a kid's camp, naturalist hikes, mountain biking, surfing, kayaking and yoga classes.
  • Washington, DC: Trout Pond in the hills of West Virginia is a little over an hours drive from D.C., but a world away. The campsite sits amidst mountain lakes, and streams. Campers can swim in the lake, boat, hike, and fish. Check the website for information about campsite reservations and more details.  Cunningham Falls State Park in the Catoctin Mountains of Thurmont, MD. is known for it's 78' waterfall. Hiking, fishing, swimming, and boating are all available. Camp sites and a few cabins are available for reservations.  There are also four campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park all offering spectacular scenery.

Cultural Connections

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

Film Festival

Want to see more camping films? Click here to be connected to the Kids Off the Couch store at

Books Want to read some camping stories? Click here to be connected to the Kids Off the Couch store at