A girl relaxes in a hammock while camping
A girl relaxes in a hammock while camping

Skip the Tent

I love adventuring. I have built my life so I can travel with my family. Before the great shutdown of 2020 I was known for finding great travel deals and whisking myself and the kids to international destinations like Iceland and Sweden. While adventuring looks different this year, it didn't stop our wanderlust spirit.

Camping was consistently listed as one of the safest experiences in the age of COVID. But if you weren't already a camper investing in gear and learning how to camp, it may not have been on the top of your list of things to do.

"Connecting with my kids in nature is important to me and has become a staple activity during this pandemic."

A great way to get that camping feeling without the whole sleeping-in-a-tent thing is to look for properties that have cabins or yurts. It takes a lot of the pressure off, especially if you are the only adult on these trips - as I usually am.

North Carolina is a beautiful place to explore nature. One of my favorite places is Pisgah National Forest in Asheville, NC. Pisgah National Forest is comprised of more than 500,000 acres of hardwood forest, mile-high mountain peaks, whitewater rivers, thundering waterfalls and hundreds of miles of top hiking trails. There is no lack of areas to explore.

Trip 1 - A Weekend in a Yurt

We took a day trip to Pisgah, and the kids had such a blast that I knew I had to come for more than a day trip. But I was not in the mood to camp. And that’s how we ended up in a yurt. This 30’ yurt was situated right outside of Pisgah National Forest on Wilson Creek. Complete with a kitchenette, full bath, all linens, pots and pans, as well as a hot tub and coffee! All we had to do was show up with some food.

yurt in North Carolina

creek in North Carolina

yurt with a hot tub

The highlight of the trip was a 5-mile hike on Harper Creek Trail with my 8-year old, Reyna. We woke up at 7 a.m. slipped on our KEEN shoes — her Newport sandals and my Targhee II hikers — and off we went. Hiking with Reyna is always a blast because she has an adventurous spirit just like her mama. We made our way uphill, through dense forest and mud, and then down a rock wall to be greeted by Harper Falls, which is a triple waterfall. I love my Targhees because they offer a lot of stability for weak ankles and they are waterproof, which is key if I am going to keep up with Reyna! She loves to take the path less traveled, which is usually rocky, muddy, and wet.

We enjoyed a leisurely hike back and hit up the creek with my 11-year old son Izaiah and finished the day by soaking in the hot tub.

Trip 2 - An Overnight Tiny Cabin

We love Pisgah so much that we decided to explore another side of this glorious national forest with a trip to see Catawba Falls. This is a very popular location, so we decided to go early on Friday morning. And, because adventures are always better with family, we brought along our cousins Damian and AJ.

We checked into our cabin, which was complete with a small porch, and included four built-in beds, lockable storage space and lockable doors, heating and AC and electricity for lighting and computers. Cooking is done outside on picnic tables, and the tiny cabins do not contain bathrooms or showers. We dropped our stuff off and away we went!

tree pose on a tree in North Carolina

creek in North Carolina

making smores

This campground was just half a mile to Catawba Falls. The 1.2-mile hike to Catawba Falls is an easy one. There are lots of places to stop along the way and explore, but the end of this hike is the pièce de résistance.

We explored this waterfall from all angles, spending a good hour reveling in its power and beauty. On the way down we explored some other areas and continued to be grateful for all that mother nature provides us.

Connecting with my kids in nature is important to me and has become a staple activity during this pandemic. I love camping and sleeping under the stars, but sometimes that is just too much to do for busy working parents. Take a look at the range of properties you can stay in while still having the “camping” experience. There is an increased ease and you definitely have more time to play and explore.

One last pro tip: Keep food easy too. Bring pre-made sandwiches, cut up fruit, cereal, hot dogs, etc. This does not have to be a chore to get together. Simple food makes more time for exploration and adventure.

Enjoying the creek in Pisgah National Forest

Yanira Castro lives in North Carolina and is the communications director for Outdoor Afro, a national non-profit that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. KEEN has partnered with Outdoor Afro since 2012. Together we hope to connect more people to outside experiences.

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