It started earlier this summer, growing as a steady chant from the back seat of the car — their rapidly growing legs now beginning to pin up against the back of our seats.

They are growing so fast, and they are noticing a lot more now.

“We want a camper! We want a camper!”

I glanced at them in the rearview mirror.

“You guys, a camping trailer takes away from all the fun and benefits of camping. Don’t you want to be outside in the elements?”

“But, all our neighbors have campers.”

My 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter had a point, but I told them that a camper was something we really did not want to pay for right now.

I try to take my kids on several short camping trips every summer, and the last four years, my son Mason and I have camped on the Metolius River.

Not far from where the crystal-clear waters of the Metolius trickle out from under Black Butte from springs under the Cascade Range is a walk-in, tent-only camping site.

The spot is lacking in camping trailers, so my son cannot look on in envy as other campers stay warm and cozy inside.

Also, the only things that surround you are towering ponderosa pines, riverside foliage and the Metolius. There is no hum of a generator, only the endless singsong of thousands of birds.

The problem with walk-in tent sites is evident in their name — you have to walk everything in.

But the spot we found was only about a 50-yard walk from the car to the site along a singletrack trail. Our camping neighbors were far away and barely noticeable, and the Metolius trickled 20 feet away.

Heaven is a weekend on the Metolius with your young son. I’m pretty sure he feels the same.

But there are some things I take along each time to ensure his happiness, and I know some of you other parents will disapprove.

Yes, nacho cheese Doritos, 7UP, hot dogs and s’mores are our camping staples. And every time I mention camping, Mason asks if he can have 7UP and s’mores.

Heck, I guess that’s a lot cheaper than buying a camping trailer to keep your kids happy.

Anyway, Mason was helpful in taking stuff from the car to the campsite and in assembling the tent.

Is there any better feeling on a camping trip than getting the tent assembled properly?

Yes: getting it disassembled properly and stuffed into that impossibly tiny bag on the day you leave.

We spent the first day sitting by the river or riding our bikes along the trails that cut through the ponderosas and grassy meadows. Nearby, towering over the area, stood Black Butte. That would be our destination on the second day.

While simply camping and fishing are certainly enough, I like to have a hike or a long bike ride planned for our camping trips.

Black Butte is not necessarily an incredibly demanding or spectacular hike, but it is quite popular. You can see many Cascade peaks from the top of Black Butte, and I knew Mason would appreciate that.

The road to the upper trailhead was rough and slow-going, but we made it no problem. The 4-mile (round trip) hike started in the trees, then took us along the southern edge of Black Butte with a glorious view of the Three Sisters, still mostly covered with snow.

The dusty trail wrapped around the butte to reveal dramatic views of Mount Jefferson and the sprawling High Desert. The summit was crowded with other hikers, but spacious enough that we could find our own space to take in the surroundings.

Mason made a point to identify each Cascade peak.

Back in the serenity of our campsite, we wasted away the day by fishing, playing catch with a baseball, and exploring the pristine beauty of the Metolius.

That night over the campfire, we howled at the moon, drawing other distant campers to do the same.

I’m sure I don’t need to say this to most who are reading this story, but take your kids camping — somewhere without cellphone service.

Get their eyes and ears off the phones, TVs and tablets — and let them see and hear the rivers, mountains, trees and birds. And really, is there any better place to do all that than right here in Central Oregon?

You don’t necessarily need to hike, fish or ride your bike. Just go sleep outside for a couple of nights, disconnected from the office and the daily grind, and connected to nature and your kids.

Do it while they still have that sense of wonder of youth, which is brought out in all of us in a tent along a river.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,