Recently, I had the urge to try something new outside. My boys, ages 5 and 7, had finished formal summer camp experiences and it was the week that I had planned to take them on a reprise of a cross-country RV trip. Last year, my best friend and I took our kids (she had two year-old triplets at the time) on our first trip in a RV. Over six days, we traveled from Virginia to Colorado, celebrating every milestone and laughing at every mishap.

Given our schedules and the expense, our RV trip did not happen this summer, but I didn’t want that to cancel all possibilities of making a similar memory. In reflecting on what was so special about our RV trip, it was my sense of independence in navigating something new with my kids outside. My favorite day of that trip was coming across a swimming lake while taking a detour to Mousetail State Park in Tennessee for a picnic.

Watch the video of our outdoor adventure >>

Searching online for swimming lakes, I came across several options. My original plan was for two nights camping at a state park nearly four hours away. Given that it was my first camping trip alone and that I would take my newly adopted dog with us, I was happy when I found an option just two and a half hours away. On, I found swimming holes tagged “family friendly” and one in particular whose description also included a recommendation for a swim lake campground that would make a perfect one-night trip.

Packing the car took all morning, but I found that taking my time ensured I packed what I needed. Of course I had the staples: a tent, sleeping bags, water shoes, swimsuits, bug spray, sunscreen, life vests, and lots of towels. In addition, each boy had their own lunch box with snacks and drinks for the car, and I put all supplies for each meal in their own large zip lock–utensils, paper plates, and napkins too. Given I was the only adult, packing each meal separately meant that I could grab the hot dogs in the dark and even the sandwiches the next day in the car calmly and with ease (both of which happened!).

The swimming hole was the experience I always imagined it to be and more. There were other families enjoying the crisp, cool water and teenagers and adults flying from a rope swing into the natural pool. For smaller kids and those like me into trying it out for the first time, we still got to jump from a rock into shallower water, and had fun discovering tadpoles and salamanders.

We left the swimming hole after about an hour and drove into the U.S. Forest Service campground just before sunset. The boys helped me set up the tent, and then we purchased firewood and ice cream from a small store nearby before heading to the swim lake. We were just in time to get in for a dip and watch the sun slowly set over the water. High above, bats started to appear for their meal at dusk as we headed back to camp for ours.

My first camping trip alone with the boys was definitely all new for me. But with a little preparation, we had everything we needed. And with my help, my sons also got to have a new experience and a memory with their mom that will last a lifetime.

Rebecca P. Cohen is Founder and President of Rebecca Plants LLC, is a gardening and outdoor lifestyle company that inspires families to be outside and improve their well being. For her weekly online video series, “Get Out of the House” as well as Starla J. King’s guest blog series “Savoring Summer,” visit