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 Special Needs Camping:
Our Experience

Is special needs camping possible? We think it is!

Camping is the perfect family vacation - but what if someone in your family is disabled or has extra needs?

Perhaps you have a family member with a chronic illness that requires careful monitoring, or maybe someone in your group has a disability. Is camping even a possibility for you?

I'll share our family's experience in the hopes that it will encourage you to think about camping, no matter what obstacles seem to stand in your way.

Our story

When our youngest son was almost a year old, he developed a serious illness. He was admitted to the hospital, where he endured endless tests and treatments.

After many weeks, he was discharged with a tentative diagnosis, a feeding tube, a multitude of medications and an uncertain future.

Life as we knew it had changed, and we were faced with re-creating our lives.

Our days revolved around the intense care that our baby required. Our older children were bewildered and saddened.

We needed to find a way to create a "new normal", a way of life that nurtured us all. We needed to find some joy in our lives, in the midst of the uncertainty and worry.

Camping had always been an important part of our lives.

Could we continue to camp - and should we?

We decided to give it a try. Since we already owned a trailer, the logistics were relatively easy.  My husband rigged up an inverter so we could run the electric feeding pump on the trailer battery. We stored the medication in the fridge. We stocked the cupboards with medical supplies ... and off we went.

We wanted to be close to our son's doctor and to a hospital, so we didn't go far - just to the campground down the road. Happily, we discovered that we didn't need to go far at all to enjoy the benefits of camping.

I've always known that being outdoors in the natural world is healing, and learned that in a deeper way that summer.

It was obvious that being outdoors was soothing and healing for our baby. His whole being radiated "If you have to be sick, it's better to be sick at the campground!"

Camping was good for the rest of us, too. The big boys went exploring, played on the beach, rode their bikes and built forts. They were able to be carefree children again.

Although my days were organized around medications, tube feeds and the intense care required by our son, I felt at peace.

We found creative ways to deal with the practical needs. See the feeding pump sitting on the plastic tub, and the feeding bag attached with a suction cup hook to the side of the trailer?

When we wanted to venture away from the trailer, we filled a large syringe with formula and used that for manual feeds.

Some days, our son felt really unwell. On those days he hung out with a parent.

Some days, he felt better. On those days, he could play with his brothers and have fun!

We were even able to go canoeing!

Later in the summer, our little guy's condition deteriorated further. Now he required full time oxygen support.

But he still loved camping!

We discovered that a portable oxygen tank fit nicely in the trailer. We purchased a portable feeding pump.

My ever-creative husband rigged up a backpack to hold a mini oxygen tank and the pump. Now we could even go biking together!

As always, everything was better when we were camping.

That year was our only experience with special needs camping. Our boy died that winter.

We are immensely grateful to have the memories from those camping trips. We are glad to know that our son's last months were not only about pain and illness. There was joy and peace and laughter - and much of that was because we were outdoors, together, making the commitment to continue living and enjoying and adventuring.

Perhaps your family too has a challenge that makes the idea of camping seem daunting. Only you can say if camping is reasonable for you. If you think it might be possible, I encourage you to give it a try. I will always be so very glad that we did.


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