In partnership with KOA

Camping outside of St. Louis with a dream, a dog, and twin baby girls

These adventurous fathers both grew up with a profound appreciation for nature and the outdoors—something they want to pass down to their daughters

Photo: Brandon B.

Our lives are so different now compared to 20 years ago, or even 15 years ago. Actually, our lives have completely changed since last year. And while my husband and I enjoy city life, living in St. Louis, Missouri, is a far cry from where we both came from.

Andy, my husband of almost three years, grew up on the plains of Kansas, in a town of less than 1,000 people, and he spent long days working on the family farm. I, on the other hand, grew up with a wanderlust spirit—I spent summers working in Yosemite National Park and lived in Hawaii for three years (a little longer than the originally anticipated three months). But despite our vastly different childhoods, Andy and I had one major thing in common: We both grew up with a deep appreciation and admiration for the outdoors.

Smiling dad sitting on a deck holding twin baby girls
Andy with his twin daughters. | Photo courtesy of Ben Smith
Smiling dad standing on a deck holding twin baby girls
Me (Ben) holding Wren and Kit. | Photo courtesy of Ben Smith

Nowadays, our neighbors are less than 10 feet away and our front lawn can be mowed in 11 minutes. Quiet is nearly impossible to obtain in our neighborhood. Sure, we can get any type of food we want, and our commute to work is less than five minutes, but we cherish the times we get to step outside all of that and tap into what we remember about life from our youth. The twin daughters that have joined our family in the past year also make things very different, in the best possible way.

A new kind of adventure

Andy and I have always been active, outdoorsy people and have a goal of visiting as many national parks as possible. And while we haven’t been to as many as we’d like, we still make a point to get outside and explore the nature around our city. And there is plenty—we regularly camp and hike with Milo, our german shorthaired pointer, and frequently visit Lake of the Ozarks in the summer.

German shorthaired pointer dog standing on a dock overlooking the water
Milo is the best big brother to his two little sisters. | Photo courtesy of Ben Smith

Last spring, our adventuring changed quite a bit when we became fathers to our beautiful twin daughters. The day they were born was undoubtedly the best day of our lives. It has been a long time coming and we already have so many hopes, dreams, and traditions to share with them. In the 12 years we’ve been together, Andy and I learned that some of our happiest times were when we were outdoors. Now, we are applying these same lessons to our little family.

Thankfully our girls were born in April, which meant warmer Midwest weather was on its way. So when the sun was shining, Andy and I would load up the strollers and take long walks around the city. And while it was nice to get out of the house and see a little bit of greenery, our route was starting to feel worn. We needed a place where we couldn’t hear the continuous drum of traffic, where we could actually see stars, and where we could simply kick back and catch our collective breath.

Twin baby girls happy in a stroller with a pink blanket
Raise your hand if you’re excited to go on a stroll outside? | Photo courtesy of Ben Smith

The great thing about camping

After a few really long (and, I’ll be honest, challenging) road trips in the past, I knew driving somewhere far away with two young babies was out of the question. Instead, I found a great little campground only a few hours outside of St. Louis—far enough away to feel the city behind us but close enough to not feel completely isolated.

So, we booked it. And breathing the fresh air in the woods was exactly what we all needed. Becoming a parent is life-changing and adds another level of depth to your identity—I’m a son, husband, adventurer, employee, and now I’m also a father. But with the warm breeze coming off the lake, the sound of the waves hitting the shore, and the rustling of leaves in the wind, the only thing I had to be was present.

Smiling dad sitting on a dock holding his daughter high above his head
The girls absolutely love being outside. | Photo courtesy of Ben Smith
Dad sitting on a dock hugging and kissing his baby daughter
There is always time for hugs and snuggles. | Photo courtesy of Ben Smith

There are plenty of reasons camping with two children under the age of one isn’t on the top of most people’s travel itineraries. But watching them watch the world—gazing up at the trees and following the sunlight as it dances across the lake—was pure magic. While their eyes wandered everywhere, taking everything in, they remained so calm and relaxed. It was incredibly rewarding for us to watch them experience their first nature trip. This is exactly what we had hoped for—it slowed us down long enough to realize just how precious and beautiful our lives had become. And this was just the first of many such trips.

We’re already planning our next nature trip with the girls. And thankfully there are plenty of camping options close by, including a beautiful, family-friendly Kampground of America (KOA) site within 30 minutes of our house. The great thing about camping is you don’t have to travel very far to truly get away. 

Dad in a hat holding his baby daughter on his shoulder looking out over the water
Becoming a father is life-changing. | Photo courtesy of Ben Smith
Young baby girl smiling and sitting in a green seat holding play toys
All smiles for being in the great outdoors. | Photo courtesy of Ben Smith

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