A Camping We Will Go – First Time Camping Experience


Rainbow Springs

Picture it…Florida….Spring Break….March of 2013.   We were eager, excited, and downright ecstatic about our very first camping trip.   We were also novices, naïve, and never expected what happened on this trip.   It was challenging but very memorable and whole lot of fun.  Most things didn’t really go according to plan so this trip goes down as one of the best misadventures we have ever survived.

Rainbow Springs River

Dusk on the river

The Plan:

As I’ve shared with you before I wasn’t raised doing things like hiking and camping.  I’m citified but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.   However my boyfriend said he used to camp with his mom and sister as a kid.   In his mind this makes him the de facto expert.    Right.  Naturally that means I reached out to my coworkers who do this kind of thing all the time to get their advice in case my “expert”  led us astray.    I was actually given a very good and comprehensive list of suggestions and must haves as well as do’s and don’ts. I even had a coworker who was nice enough to loan us his 10 person tent. Everyone I spoke with said it was a good idea to take the time to set up the tent in the yard at home one time since we weren’t familiar with it.   The Expert’s response to that:  “Babe we’ll be fine.  Nobody does that.  How hard can it be?”  They also highly  highly suggested we either get camping cots or take an air mattress to sleep on.  The Expert’s response to that: “No we’re not doing that.  That’s not real camping.   No mats!”    Some things I wasn’t going to bend on were selecting a campsite with electric hookups and real bath/showers.  I was also adamant that my coworker said we should lay down a tarp and then put the tent on top of the tarp.

The Trip:

We settled on Rainbow Springs State park campgrounds.    It was just a couple of hours north of Tampa.   We packed up my small SUV with all of our supplies, a teenager, and a toddler and 2 adults with very long legs.    This made for one of the most uncomfortable car rides I’ve ever been on in my life.   We were all smushed in there like clowns in a circus car.   *Lesson #1.  Invest in a hitch trailer or utilize the luggage rack on top of the truck or rent a truck with more space.

Packed to max capacity

Well it’s all in there…

The Set Up:

Ahh we made it.  Great site not too close to the bathroom but no too far away.   We got the tent up in just about 10 minutes with no issues whatsoever.   And if you believe that I have an island in Iowa to sell you.   Of course it didn’t go as smoothly or quickly.  We were actually halfway through the erection steps when we realized we had done something backwards which meant we had to disassemble our progress and start over.  Two adults and one teenager, several swear words, and 3 beers later we finally managed to get the tent up and secured.   Expert…..right.    *Lesson #2.  If you aren’t familiar with your tent go through a dry run prior to the trip.  It’s worth the effort.


The “Expert” hard at work

Tent Finally

Yeah….easy as pie. 3 beers later we have a tent.

The Food:

Now I must say this is where my resident camping expert did shine through.   He built one heck of a fire.   We roasted hot dogs and sausages and made s ’mores.  He kept that fire going into the night to keep us warm too.   All of our campfire meals for those few days were excellent and the expert cooked all of them.   He ran to the store to get a few supplies we still needed but he definitely kept us well fed for the entire trip.  Score 1 for the expert!


Now that’s what I call campfire food!

The Survival:

We knew that at night it was supposed to cool off into the 50s  but that forecast turned out to be temps into the high 40s at night.  We definitely didn’t expect that.    We had brought with us sleeping bags as well as 7 or 8 blankets.   The expert suggested we all sleep in as many of our clothes as we could and huddle together inside the tent.   He also kept the fire going in the pit to give us some added warmth.    Bless his heart he really did the best he could but we both learned a very hard lesson that first night.   The earth is cold.   The air temperature may read one thing but when the ground is cold there isn’t much you can do to warm up.    The tarp did help some to provide a barrier from the ground and we had blankets but it was still bitterly cold.   The kids seemed to sleep just fine because we were surrounding them with our bodies but for the adults it was THE longest night of both of our lives.   It was bone chilling cold and it was extremely uncomfortable to be laying on the hard ground.   Never have I been so happy to catch a glimpse of the sun finally starting to rise.    *Lesson #3.  We are too dang old to be sleeping on the ground.   Get the camping cots or the air mattresses.   Not only is it more comfortable but it also shields you from the cold hard earth.    That was unnecessary misery.  Thanks a lot expert.


Our saving grace….a roaring fire

The Fun:

We really did enjoy that time together.  We fished from the pier .  We hiked the nature trails.  We explored the waterfalls and old gardens of Rainbow Springs.   We swam in the head springs which was really nice because the water at a constant 73 degrees was colder than the air temperature.  We also rented kayaks to explore the beautiful spring fed river.    We  played and told ghost stories and star gazed.   It was good old fashion family time.   We felt close to nature, and thus closer to God and more bonded with each other.


Waterfall in the gardens of Rainbow Springs State Park


The gardens were cool and serene.


The toddler not so sure about getting in a kayak.


Ready to paddle


My teenager paddling along


The boys all had an amazing time on the river


On this day my son and I decided that he’s strong enough to paddle by himself from now on….way too much weight in this kayak!

I’m really excited about doing this again but we WILL NOT be sleeping on the ground again.

-Lauren G., Outdoorsy Diva

All pictures and content on this site are the sole property of Lauren Gay

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    Spring Break…..Are You Ready? | Kayaks, Canoes, and Shoes
    August 8, 2014 at 9:36 am

    […] camping trip to Rainbow Springs in Dunnellon, Florida for Spring Break 2013 is one of the most memorable.   It was a first time […]

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