Happy campers at Oregon's Family Forest Fest in 2016. Photo credit: Tais Kulish
Four years ago, a Portland, Oregon, mom named Shanti Hodges had an idea: Why not create a platform that connected new parents who wanted to get outside with their kids? Her inaugural Hike It Baby hike included three moms with their babies. Since then, Hodges' fledgling organization, now incorporated as a nonprofit, has spread to more than 300 regions in the U.S. with 47,000 families registered.
The model is beautiful in its simplicity and accessibility. Pay an annual fee of $10 and sign a waiver and you can access information about all the Hike It Baby hikes in your area on a weekly basis. (Washington state is very active, with 17 branches.) If you’re especially eager, you can train to be a hike host and lead other families into the nearby wild, or volunteer to start a branch in your area. Along the way, you'll nurture a love of the outdoors in your kids, make parent friends and protect yourself from isolation.
To say Hike It Baby has been successful is a bit of an understatement. “It’s so exciting,” says Hodges. “I had this dream — I wanted to get a million families with babies out there hiking and we’re cruising along to that.”
"A festival for kids that parents are invited to"
Hodges isn't one to rest on her laurels. With Hike It Baby growing steadily, she’s ready to make another outdoor adventure more accessible for families: camping.
Last year, Hodges piloted the Family Forest Fest in Oregon, a two-day group campout in the woods with workshops, food trucks, entertainment, s’mores, massage therapists and even limited childcare. Some 150 families joined and the event went off (mostly) without a hitch, says Hodges. Kids played together and built fairy castles through the woods; parents made new friends. A sure sign of success: People lingered after the official end to help clean up. “We were shocked … I thought we’d clean up all day,” Hodges says.
This year, Hodges is upping the ante by organizing three Family Forest Fests in three different regions, including one on Whidbey Island from August 18-20.
While some families might reject the organized group campout as antithetical to the spirit of camping, for others it will be a perfect intro. Family Forest Fest even provides volunteers who can help set up your tent if you get flustered by endless tent poles and rain flies (raised hand here).
Hodges says that it’s not just a campout — it’s an event designed from the bottom up for kids. “It’s a festival for kids that parents are invited to,” she says. “Most festivals are family-friendly but, at the end of the day, they’re for adults. We’re trying to create a full kid experience.”
She ticks off the planned kid-friendly activities: teddy bear hunts in the woods; a bubble guy performing; kid authors; creativity areas; a water zone; bikes and trikes for kids to play on; activity fields; music.
“In the afternoon on Saturday we’ll do music, a couple of hours of different bands.” Evenings will include movies and campfire chats. And of course there will be hikes — including one with glow sticks.
Want to put a tent stake in this festival? Act fast: It’s almost 50 percent sold out.
Know before you go
When: Friday, Aug. 18, noon, to Sunday, Aug. 20, noon
Where: A 20-acre space on Whidbey Island called The Wildes Land. Hodges says "this is the most campy of our festivals." There are flat meadows for camping, forested trails for exploring and rolling hills for festival fun. Parking is adjacent to the festival area. One car per family.
Bathrooms and amenities: There will be porta potties and water stations but no built restrooms.
Cost: $125 per adult for an early-bird adult ticket for a campsite for the weekend (bring your own tent and food); kids ages 7-17, $10 (kids 6 and under are free). Price goes up to $145 per adult once early bird ticketing ends (available until sold out). $250 for the VIP option, where a luxury tent is set up for you, power is provided, etc. You can also rent camping gear from The Camp Kit. Tickets are non-refundable except in the case where the event is cancelled.
Child care: Child care will be offered at $5/hour throughout the festival, with child care discounts available to families who need it. Find information on this page.
Activities: Ticket includes music at the forest stage, movies under the stars, nature play, education and creativity, authors and story time, family yoga, activities like teddy bear hunts and a talk from a National Park ranger about minimizing impact in the woods.
Food: Bring your own cooking equipment; there may be food trucks on hand.