Camping with a Baby: A 3,000-Mile Family Road Trip in Canada

My wife and I travel with our daughter, Georgia, regularly. In her first year, we took her on 23 flights to three countries and 14 states. So when she turned one in October, I wanted to do something besides just hosting a birthday party for her. I wanted to go somewhere new as a family and ditch city life for a while. I’d also carefully spread out my paternity leave over a year, rather than taking it all at the beginning, so we had time to take two weeks off for our first family road trip from New York City to the Canadian Maritimes.

My dad is outdoorsy, which made me outdoorsy. I grew up in a small town on Vancouver Island, and my dad injected nature into my blood with formidable-bordering-on-foolish camping trips. From as young as I can remember, we would hike for days on end in the wet, soggy weather the Pacific Northwest is famous for. I sometimes hunger for the times we spent days far away from civilization, traversing tributaries by canoe.

As an adult, I'm not the remote-living outdoorsman my dad is , but I’m half-decent at lighting a campfire in the rain and sourcing the ideal terrain to set up camp sheltered from the elements. I also have an exceptional sense of direction; it’s unlikely I’d ever become lost in the woods. My own daughter’s environment could not be more at odds with my upbringing, since we’re raising her in New York City and spend a lot of our free time visiting art galleries and discovering new restaurants. But providing her with time in nature is invaluable to me. Since she was one month old, I’ve taken her hiking with me on the weekends.

Family photo in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island

So I was thrilled when my wife, Paige — who also loves the outdoors and embraces sleeping in a tent under rainy skies — agreed to my wild idea of taking our infant on a two-week, 3,000-mile loop up the entire coastline of New England before circling the Canadian Maritimes. Leaving in mid-October, we’d be camping most nights and could expect wet and cold weather. In many ways, it felt like a familiar return to my childhood trips, but on the opposite coast. And now I was Dad and this time I would be in the driver’s seat, quite literally.

I researched extensively for two months before we left the city and took my commitment to the trip as far as trading in our family Jeep for a Ford Transit Connect van, making us an entry-level campervan family. I spent my weekends outfitting the van to get it camp-ready, building a convertible bed setup and multiple storage areas inside. I hung my surfboards from the ceiling and designed compartments for our bedding, food and camp gear. It was a DIY, figure-it-out-as-I-go approach, consisting of buying materials from Lowes and working on it on the street outside our apartment in Brooklyn. The finished product was far from the custom “van life” artistry you see from Instagram influencers in Big Sur. But it was perfect for our humble purposes.

The van packed up and ready to go in Brooklyn

Having a general idea of the areas we wanted to visit, I sought advice from other parents about driving such an ambitious distance with a baby. Opinions were 50/50 on the trip being a terrible idea or a brilliant one. Asking for tips led to two essential purchases: First, an Orca 20-Quart cooler, so baby food would keep fresh for days. And second, a Babybjorn Travel Crib, so on the nights we weren’t camping, we could set our daughter up to sleep comfortably anywhere. Beyond camping gear of down sleeping bags, a tent, chairs, and headlamps from REI, we packed warm clothes, wet-weather Gore-Tex gear, plenty of snacks, and a collection of Dr. Seuss books for long hauls on the road. We also brought our dog, making it a full family affair.

As a kid on family trips, my overwhelming feelings balanced between the excitement of adventure and a nervous discomfort. It felt the same way when we started off on this trip. The first day was the longest drive of the trip. We bypassed Boston and headed straight through New Hampshire, driving the coast up to Kennebunkport, Maine.

Our first night of camping was a success with the girls in the van, and the dog and I in the tent beside them. It was raining, but I put my old skills to the test by tying a tarp over our site and cooking a full meal on the fire. We were the only people in the campground. In the morning, we awoke to a misty sunrise in a glowing red forest. It was so quiet I could hear leaves falling to the ground as I walked a footpath through the trees to the edge of a lake.

A quiet morning at the campsite in Kennebunkport, Maine

We ate in Portland before driving north to Acadia National Park. Making several stops to sightsee on Deer Isle and eat at a lobster shack in Belfast, we arrived in the park with enough daylight left to set up camp and get a fire going. For the next two days, we explored Acadia and did a handful of different hikes—some long and leisurely, others short and steep scrambles. I have an Osprey child carrier backpack that Georgia will ride in for hours, giggling and smiling the whole time. We had a mix of weather, as expected for October in coastal Maine, but there were moments of warm sunshine and the most stunning views, from open granite ridges out across valleys of red forests to glowing blue fjords of the North Atlantic.

One of the many summits conquered together in Maine's Acadia National Park

By the time we reached the Canadian border at Calais, Maine, we’d eaten a lot of lobster. Some might even say too much. But that didn’t stop us from continuing to happily gorge on it in Canada, though we did switch from lobster rolls to chowder and bisque.

One of several lobster rolls consumed

After five days on the road, we crossed the Canadian border into Saint Stephen, New Brunswick. That night, we camped oceanfront in St. Andrews. It was bitterly cold and we arrived too late to buy firewood anywhere, but some kind neighbors in an RV gave me a stack of lumber scraps. I got a fire going to warm us before bed and added some extra layers of blankets in the van. We had to catch a ferry from Saint John in the morning and lost an hour crossing time zones, so we packed up camp and set off before sunrise.

A cozy campfire setup

The two-hour ferry crossing of the Bay of Fundy landed us in Digby, Nova Scotia. We drove south to Yarmouth and stayed at Ye Olde Argyler Lodge, a rustic bed and breakfast on the edge of a rocky inlet. The weather turned again and the temperature dropped significantly, so it was a relief to unpack in an inn at the tail end of the tourism season, where we were the only guests.

We drove much less in Nova Scotia, slowly making our way up the east coast. Paige was in paradise discovering thrift stores in every small fishing town and I took Georgia to multiple craft breweries. We explored numerous hiking trails on the South Shore and visited friends who live near Lunenburg. A high school friend of mine now lives in Halifax, and we stayed with her and her family for two nights in the city. This was the only urban exposure we had on our trip and we were hilariously restricted to our fleece and Gore-Tex clothes when we went out for dinner downtown since we hadn’t packed anything else.

Georgia and Paige on a ferry ride

After a relaxing couple of days, we left the city and drove west to catch another ferry to Prince Edward Island, where we were met with the most stunning scenery of the trip thanks to the island’s unique landscape of red soil and rolling farmland that runs to the coastline. We spent a full day hiking across red bluffs and standing under quaint lighthouses. After a night in a bed and breakfast outside of Summerside—where Georgia logged a blissful 13 hours of sleep in her travel crib in the corner of our room—we drove across the entire island.

Boat houses in New London, Prince Edward Island

We watched beautiful Victorian-era farm houses roll by out the windows and sampled chowder in the cafés of various fishing villages before stopping for some sightseeing in Charlottetown. PEI is not large, but it’s spread out and remote. This became a slight problem when we ran out of baby food and diapers on our final day there, and had to do a lot of extra driving with an unhappy baby fussing in the van until we found a spot to restock our supplies.

Red bluffs at the Cape Tryon Lighthouse on Prince Edward Island

Leaving PEI, we drove eight miles across the Confederation Bridge—the longest bridge in Canada—into New Brunswick. A few hours later, we crossed the border back into Maine. The trip south was a mix of coastal roads and inland highways (plus one last lobster shack stop) before we finally posted up in Rhode Island for a final day in the outdoors. We stayed a night at a friend’s house in Wakefield and squeezed in one last family hike the following morning at Black Point and Point Judith. We arrived back in New York City that evening with the van in great shape and all the passengers happy and well-rested.

I thought a lot about our first long-distance family road trip in the days after we returned home. I’ll be the first to admit that it was perhaps overly ambitious to drive thousands of miles in late-October with a one-year-old, while camping. I could have been better prepared, we could have covered less ground, brought more supplies, and slept indoors at some of the remote spots. I didn’t sleep at all the entire night we camped in New Brunswick because I feared the baby was too cold and couldn’t stop checking on her. But just like it used to on trips with my dad, everything worked out in the end.

Georgia happy with dad in her Osprey carrier

It’s clear that our daughter has a love for the outdoors already, which is one of the greatest things I could ask for. She’s going to grow up in a city, but having a connection and comfort with nature will provide her with a broader perspective of the world. I’m prepared for her interests to lead her far away from my interests as she grows into herself, just as mine eventually led me from the woods of Canada to an apartment in New York. But for now, I’ve got big family plans for us to visit National Parks across the country, sleeping in tents and hiking new trails together the whole way.

Story and photographs by Eric Greene