First family camping trip in Clay County, Missouri
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First family camping trip in Clay County, Missouri

A family experiences their first camping trip at Smithville Lake.

Tackling The Wilderness

My kids, Jessie and Peter, were raised with a love of the outdoors. Biking, hiking, you name it; they’ve conquered it. But the kids had never been camping before and it was my goal to make sure they had as many unique experiences in life as possible. I wanted them to look back on their childhood with fond memories of their family adventures.

I needed to find somewhere new for our next trip. When a neighbor mentioned a campground at Smithville Lake, it sounded like a great option. When I got online to check things out and make a reservation at the campground, I was happy to discover a new destination for my family to visit together. The more pictures I scrolled through, the more I knew they’d love it. In addition to Northland Outdoor Adventures, where we would rent our kayaks and paddleboards, the parks and public lands surrounding Smithville Lake had so much to offer—27 miles of hiking trails, a nature center, disc golf and more than 777 campsites.

Rick, my husband, rented a cozy 28-foot travel trailer that would serve as our home for the next few days. When he arrived home later that day, the kids were jumping around with beaming looks on their faces.

“Can we go now?” asked Peter.

I think it’s safe to say they were more than ready for another adventure.

Starting the journey

After making all the preparations, we had everything packed in our trailer, including bicycles and fishing poles, for our first weekend of camping at Smithville Lake. My family and I were ready to tackle the wilderness.

We decided to hook up the RV and camp at Crows Creek. The campground had over 415 campsites available, several with electrical hookups. Rick and the kids headed out to explore while I decided to take it easy and do some reading. As it turned out, our campsite backed up to the Cabin Fever Trail, a 7.5 mile paved trail along the southeast corner of the lake. Within a few minutes, the kids were back for their bicycles, but Rick was gone for an awfully long time. He finally returned for dinner with a mischievous smile on his face. He had ridden all the way down to the Camp Branch Park Office and returned with a brochure from Northland Outdoor Adventures in his hand. He had called NOA and reserved two tandem kayaks to be delivered to us the following morning.

New experiences

The sun’s rays filtered through the canopy, the birds singing in the early hours of the morning. Surprisingly, Peter and Jessie got up before us, eager to start.

Before long, we were all tandem kayaking as a family. We got our strokes synchronized and moved with ease out into the cove, waving at those swimming at Camp Branch Beach and those on stand-up paddleboards.

“I think I’m going to try that tomorrow,” I called to Rick seated in the other kayak with Jessie.

“And I’ll rent another kayak so I can paddle along beside you and get a picture when you fall,” he teased while splashing me with his oar and totally messing with our rhythm.

The two hours passed quickly, but not before the muscles in my abdomen began to complain. That meant I was using the right muscles. Yay me!

After a quick lunch back at the trailer, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at the Camp Branch Park swim beach. I immediately lost myself in my book as my husband splashed with the kids in the water. Relaxing on the beach was exactly what I needed after paddling all morning. The warm sun was comforting, and soon I let myself drift off into a well-deserved nap.

Before long, it was time for dinner. Stomachs were rumbling.

“I want a hamburger,” Jessie announced.

Chicken, hot dogs, steak and lots of salad fixings filled our trailer refrigerator, but no hamburger or buns. Then, a mom on a beach towel not far away saved the day.

“Don’t cook,” she said. “The best hamburgers in Clay County are over at Captain’s Corner in Paradise.”

The kids immediately latched onto the idea, begging to go with a chorus of pretty-pleases. She had me at “don’t cook.”

We had hamburgers and hot dogs and ice cream, and of course, crispy fries in Paradise. And I didn’t need to worry about supplies from the Price Chopper in town. This little store had it all.

The next day, I tried my hand at paddle boarding. We laughed together at my wobbly attempts to stand, but with my family cheering me on (and my stubborn determination) I was finally standing proud on my paddleboard. And my husband, just full of surprises on this getaway, surprised us again by renting a pontoon boat from Camp Branch Marina

for the afternoon. He and the kids caught a few fish, and then threw them back.

Once we returned to the trailer, Jessie hugged me tightly. She looked up at me and grinned. “Let’s do this all the time.”

I couldn’t help it and smiled too. I kissed the top of her head, enjoying the sun, the laughter of my family and the entire weekend at our new favorite camping destination. To put it simply, I would remember this time with my family forever.

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