Planning an overnight family bike trip

Today’s post is compliments of Stacy from A Simple Six. Her and her family (of 4 kids) recently took a different kind of weekend vacation, they did an overnight bike trip. I love the idea and have recently been thinking to do something similar with my family. While we’ve been eyeing a simple trail in Point Reyes National Seashore, I love that Stacy’s starting point was her own front yard.

Thanks Stacy for all your great advice on how to plan an overnight family bike trip. Fabulous ideas, can’t wait to put them to use! And as always readers, please feel free to leave a comment with your own advice, experiences or questions.

How do you save money on family vacation travel? Have you seen the price of gasoline!? What about hotels? The frugal solution could be in the form of a single overnight bicycle camping trip (S24O), one where you roll right out of the garage and pitch your tent several miles from home. Some tips for planning your trip:

1. Select Your Route

Consider all your options and your needs.

How far do you want to travel and how much do you want to hill climb? You may be carrying more weight than your accustom to on the trail, at the park, or for your work commute. Will your children be riding independently? Is accessibility to retail conveniences important?

Choose a route to meet your personal safety criteria. Adding blocks and miles to avoid high traffic roads will make your journey more relaxing, it may also take you through your favorite park.

2. Choose Your Destination (aka Camping Spot)

  • A friend’s yard across town or out of town. Free, and if they have children, there’s your entertainment, bathing and kitchen facilities
  • City, state and federal parks with approved camping sites. Fees vary. Camp amenities vary, but most will have a place for s’mores, which are required.
  • Scout camps, churches and public stations. A donation could be made or fees may vary. This approach may require a few calls, but checking with area scout leaders, recreation facilities [i.e. YMCA, a soccer complex, fair grounds], and churches may yield a fun, safe and unconventional experience.

3. Plan Your Agenda

This is a S24O, you are preparing to be gone for a single night. Consider the number of meals you wish to eat while away. Think about your children’s nap times, or how well they nap in transit. Will your destination provide a source of activities? Is there anywhere along the route you may like to visit?

The ride itself is a large portion of your agenda. This is your entertainment, your adventure! Explore your neighborhood, count the long haired dogs and listen for trains. Schedule your water breaks at a friend’s home, ice cream parlor, or along the creek bed. Don’t bring the toys, games or books. Play outside and tell a tale of your own.

4. What to Pack

How much do you really need? Make your list and ask yourself if you will use it without a doubt, if your not certain, you may not need it. What do you have on your list that could serve double duty?

Where are you going to stow all these items, and how will they fit on you or your bicycles?

Suggested List of Item to Bring:

  • Light tent(s) with room for all of you and gear that shouldn’t get damp. Remember, you can’t toss the extras in your car trunk. This may mean two light weight tents or water proof cover for the gear.
  • Small hammer for your stakes.
  • Sleeping bags. Leave the sheets and extra blankets in the hall closet.
  • Small travel sized pillows or your folded clothes work well.
  • Camp pads. These are for the adults, the children don’t have heavy bony hips and shoulders.
  • 1 change of clothes (and undergarments) for each person and a spare pair of pants for the toddler. Sleep in your clothes. Check the weather before you leave, plan accordingly.
  • Packable water-resistant jackets. That 10% chance of rain may occur.
  • Minimum diapering supplies as needed.
  • 1 hand towel serves many purposes.
  • Tooth brushes for all and paste.
  • Pocket comb and hair bands as needed for helmet hair and head winds.
  • Full personal water bottles and 1 empty gallon container to be filled upon arrival and as needed. Water weighs 8lbs per gallon.
  • Your Olivia bag.
  • Cell phone and charger. Cell phones often make good cameras and camcorders. Calling card and quarters might also be handy. Technology has it’s limitations.
  • Bike lights, they make great flash lights too.
  • The basic flat repair/replacement supplies. Knowing how to use them is equally important.
  • Deodorants.
  • Minimum supply of shelf stable/room temperature snacks. Plan to eat out or set up camp and visit the local grocer or market. Leave the camp stove and cooler in the garage.
  • Currency and identification.
  • Maps. Bring a paper copy of the route, for that inevitable technology failure and road closure, or sudden “Are we there yet?”

5. Where to Stow Your Luggage

What does your current bike and rider set up look like?

Do you have a commuter with panniers? Would your children haul their own school backpacks while riding their bike? Cargo-bikes with large saddle bags and extra deck space or rear/front boxes make excellent camping bikes.

Where are your passenger children going to ride? Trailer, sidecar, handle bar seat, child saddle, rear seat, cargo box, trail-a-bike, family tandem, or triple are all wonderful options for a S24O. Use what you have, borrow or rent something for the night.

Great places to secure your cargo (in and on all different styles of bikes):

  • Saddle bags on rear or front wheel racks
  • Crates and backpacks bungeed to the top of rear racks
  • Large backpacks for each able rider
  • Smaller school size backpacks for the small but mighty rider
  • Bungee cargo nets attached to the rear of child seats, several bungee cords to secure your load
  • Front baskets
  • Child trailers
  • Cargo trailers

Distribute weight evenly, with the heaviest items toward the bottom and as close to the adult stoker as possible.

Keep your S24O simple and fun for everyone. Pack light, travel just far enough, and expect to stay up and watch the stars!

A few pics from Stacy’s recent family adventure, also check out this group of family bike campers. I’m feeling inspired…

9 Comments so far

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  1. Andree' Walker Bravo

    Point Reyes….ahhhhhhh.
    My bro and I biked up the coast of Cali right after high school. It was a fantastic trip and I’d love to do it again with my family.

  2. Just wrote about my experience biking and camping with my son this past weekend. Check out –
    Did the entire C&O Canal tow path – 184 miles – last year with two good friends. Read about our muddy experience at –

    • Jennifer – Those both look like such great trips! And it looks like you found the perfect dirt trail for biking and camping, thats the problem I run into, finding a good long and kid friendly dirt trail.

  3. Great inspiration! We have been trying to plan a hut to hut bike trip but this might work as our first. Thanks for sharing!

    • Melissa – Sure hope the tips come in handy, can’t wait to read about your hut to hut trip when you finally do it. Sounds awesome!

  4. Lydia

    Hey! I saw that you were thinking about going on a biking adventure. Check this one out! My friends family of five (youngest 2 yrs) traveled across the US all the way to Alaska on their bike. Pretty cool!!!

    • Lydia – Wow! Thats amazing. I’ll have to look into these folks more… Wow…

  5. Lauren

    Love it! We took a similar overnight trip along the Erie Canal in NY a few years back. One caveat I’d like to mention – be cautious of overloading a rear-mounted child seat, as with the bungee-corded add-ons in the photo above. With child and add-ons loaded, wheelies are a distinct possibility when dismounting…speaking from personal experience… Luckily no one was hurt, but the bike just flipped up on end as the adult dismounted, and we just had a kid-sized small daypack with a few items in it attached to the back of the seat. Better instead to get a set of front panniers to balance the load…and only put the child on the rear seat.


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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