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How to Camp with Kids ~ Tips from a Family Camping Expert

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Many parents, like myself, have romanticized memories of great family camping adventures from our own childhoods. But that was a long time ago and the little details about what made those trips so fun may escape us now. If you are considering a family camping vacation this year, follow these simple tips on how to camp with kids.

How to Camp with Kids ~ Tips from a Family Camping Expert

(Photo credit: olesiabilkei, Depositphotos.com)

Give Kids Time to Explore

Kids love the outdoors – maybe in a different way than us adults, but it’s still a genuine and honest love. One of my childhood memories is the first time I saw a banana slug in one of the redwood forests. The great, majestic old trees were of little interest to me, but those huge yellow slugs were like aliens from another planet!

Memories like this from my childhood, help me to slow down and let my kids exercise their own curiosities when we are camping. If they want to stop and skip rocks across a stream, or poke a mud puddle with a stick for twenty minutes, well, our hike to the falls or the rock formation might just have to wait.

Give time to explore when camping with kids ~ How to Camp with Kids

Give time to explore when camping with kids (Photo credit: noblige, Depositphotos.com)

Choose the Right Place to Camp with Kids

When we, as parents, think about camping, we usually have grand visions of the great parks like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, or the Great Smoky Mountains. These are certainly awe-inspiring destinations, but your kids will probably be just as happy in your local county or state park. They will be even happier with less time spent in the car and more time spent at the campsite.

If you are new to camping, you might be surprised to discover that your city or county may manage campgrounds. These are usually great places to take the family camping, because many other people don’t know about them, either. This makes it much easier to reserve a campsite during the busy summer months, when more popular destinations are already full. You can find out if your city or county offers campgrounds by visiting the parks and recreation section of their website.

State parks are also great family camping destinations. Many of these parks are located near outdoor recreational attractions, such as lakes, which can provide your family with additional opportunities for fun and adventure. Many state parks also offer entertainment attractions, such as music and Junior Ranger programs throughout summer.

For affordable and fun family campsite options from tent camping to cabins and beyond, check out KOA Kampgrounds.

Choosing the right spot is key to a successful family camping trip ~ How to Camp with Kids

Choosing the right spot is key to a successful family camping trip (Photo credit: serrnovik, Depositphotos.com)

Buy or Rent the Right Camping Gear

If you are new to camping, the last thing that you want to do is to run out and spend a lot of money on camping gear. One of the benefits of family camping is that it is an inexpensive vacation. Also, if you do not have a lot of experience camping, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what kind of gear will work best for you.

A much better alternative, and one that is offered by many reputable outdoor gear stores throughout the country, is renting your camping gear. Renting gear not only makes sense from a budgetary standpoint, it’s also a great way to try different types of gear before you invest in purchasing for the long term.

You will need a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and a camping stove. It makes sense to purchase gear that you can also use for other family activities, such as an ice chest and camping chairs. When renting gear, plan to practice setting up the tent and trying out the stove at home – both to ensure you understand how everything goes together, and to check that none of the parts are missing. If you're ready to buy, check out the impressive selection of camping gear at Bass Pro Shops.

Roasting marshmallows is a favorite camping activity ~ How to Camp with Kids

Roasting marshmallows is a favorite camping activity (Photo credit: serrnovik, Depositphotos.com)

Plan Activities to Do at Camp with Kids

Hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, and roasting marshmallows around the campfire – there are a lot of fun family camping activities to enjoy. The campground’s web page will give you some specific ideas, based on the specific activities available. They will also provide a calendar of family events, like Junior Ranger programs, if available.

When camping with kids you can never have too many games, for those down times when everyone is relaxing at the campsite. Our kids love to play Uno and memory card-matching games, which are easy to pack and can be played on a picnic table. Sport balls (check out this set!), a Frisbee and an inexpensive horseshoe set or ring-toss game can also keep the kids busy around the campsite.

Venturing away from the campground usually means hiking, which can sometimes be challenging with kids. One way to add interest to a hike is to make a game out of it. Start with the letter ‘A’ and challenge your kids to spot something that begins with that letter. After they see something, go to the next letter, and so on. The alphabet scavenger hunt is also a great way to fill up a family camping scrapbook, if you take a picture of each object that your kids discover.

Pack the right gear for your camping trip ~ How to Camp with Kids

Pack the right gear for your camping trip (Photo credit: monkeybusiness, Depositphotos.com)

What to Eat when Camping with Kids

Plan on lots of breaks and bring along plenty of trail snacks and drinks. Preparing delicious meals will make your family camping experience more fun for everyone. Check out The Outdoor Adventure Cookbook. It features all sorts of tasty dishes like Lemon-Blackberry-Ricotta Waffles and Piggy Burgers with Bacon, Peaches and Basil.

Have Fun!

Camping with kids can be as much fun for the parents, as it is for the kids. There are few things more satisfying than watching your kids explore and experience nature. This is where memories are made; catching their first fish, seeing their first wild animals, learning to skip a rock across the water – the things they’ll brag to all their friends about, when they get back to school.

Do you have any tips or questions about how to camp with kids? Let us know in the comments below!

Roy Scribner helps parents experience the great outdoors with their kids at CampingBlogger.net. This story originally posted in 2010 and was updated in 2017.

Comments

  1. Great info! I agree with Roy that most of our anxiety about camping actually is our own. 🙂 We did our first family camping trip last year at the local park nearby our house. It was a blast and my kids are still talking about it.

    One more suggestion I would add for newbie is to start with a few days. Plan a weekend camping trip instead of a week long. This will help ease you in the camping routine. Or you can do what we did. We started off by camping in our backyard for one night before planning our weekend camping trip. 🙂

  2. Fantastic info, Roy! I agree with Amy that a great way to start may be with a campout in the backyard. Then plan an overnight somewhere close to home & see how it goes.

    I’m continually reminded with my little guys that you can plan all you want, but the kids will let you know what they want to do. Our adventures are so much more rewarding when we let the kids take the lead.

  3. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Thank you for being the first Travel Daddy to write for Travel Mamas, Roy! I would love to take the kids camping but have always felt a little daunted at the prospect of planning the trip. Your story has me thinking I should put aside my fears and just do it! I love the tip to test out the equipment at home first. And, I think it’s so important to remember to let the kids take their time exploring…it’s something I always have to remind myself whenever we travel anywhere!

  4. Great post Roy! We have been a bit hesitant to take two toddlers tent camping (and we are campers!) and I feel so guilty about it. I am determined to go this spring. Do a little test weekend at a nearby campsite. That way if things go horribly wrong, we can sneak home to our beds… 🙂

  5. Thanks, everyone! Amy – I totally agree with keeping it short, until you get comfortable with the amount of food and gear that you will use. It also really helps to keep it close to home!

    Debi & Colleen – backyard campouts are a lot of fun and a great low-risk way to workout the kinks (how does this tent go together, again?). Just remember to turn off your sprinklers!

    Sharlene – it’s a great idea to identify some nearby campgrounds. We have several that we frequent, as it’s really our only option for a quick weekend getaway, due to the Friday traffic.

  6. Great post!

  7. This post is beyond awesome. I am always wondering what to do and what not to do so I will follow some of these tips.

  8. These are great tips! Camping is fun, but only if you’re outfitted well and you go in with the right attitude. We love to camp whenever we can.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Good for you, Stacie! The right attitude makes such a difference…with everything!

  9. robin rue says:

    We don’t camp, but I know a bunch of families that love it. We have tons of campgrounds in my area.

  10. This was one of my favorite activities as a child. I loved it when we were out camping as a family. When my kids were growing up, we also had a lot of camping trips! Thanks for these tips. I agree that renting camping equipment would be best for first time campers.

  11. Family camping is always a fun. The tips are really helpful.

  12. We definitely want to plan a big camping trip sometime soon. This is great advice. I’d probably want to bring plenty of games and sports equipment.

  13. I have never gone camping. I know, I might be the only one in the world maybe. Haha. It looks like fun for sure

  14. We never went camping with our kids when they were younger. These tips would have made it easy.

  15. These are all great tips to camp with kids, I really love your first photo even the doggy is smiling! Camping with kids can be super fun if you follow all of these tips you provided, that’s for sure!

  16. What great tips! As a newbie camper (we’ve gone twice!), I loved the part about planning ideas. Nowadays, kids are glued to their smartphones, and those withdrawals can make for very grumpy kids. Having something for them to do helps!

  17. Our family has visited the same KOA for over 20 years now. For years we were in a travel trailer and now we’re in a cabin that I like quite a bit.

  18. We used to camp a lot. Last year we took a road trip out to NE, CO and UT and camped along the way. We all enjoyed it and discovered some great parks.

  19. Making sure that they have everything they need will make it easier for the kids to camp out especially if you’re far from home. These are awesome tips! I’d love to take the kids camping one of these days.

  20. Michelle Waller says:

    These are really great tips. My kids have been asking to go camping for awhile, but I was not sure where to even start. I do see a camping trip happening over the summer.

  21. I like to camp. I haven’t been for years, but we used to go when I was a kid and it was always a blast.

  22. It never occurred to me to actually rent camping gear. That would be a fantastic choice for my family since we don’t go camping often enough to invest in the good stuff.

  23. These are really awesome tips! I love camping with kids but sometimes it can be stressful when not organized. Thanks for sharing these tips!

  24. I have not been camping since I was a kid. I have no gear or knowhow but I think it would be a great family bonding experience. I will start with this post but my meals will not be that good like yours.

  25. The right spot and having the right gear is important. Kids need different things than adults do!

  26. We have never been camping directly with kids. Our daughter and her friends spent the night in a tent while we slept in the bed at our house. That is as close as we have come, lol.

  27. My kids are getting to be pretty good campers. I love finding activities that we can combine appreciation for nature with fun family time. Need to check out state parks.

  28. I will be honest my family and I arent much campers. I think its fun to explore the outdoors maybe one day we will make it an activity.

  29. My children just asked if we could go camping this summer! I will be saving this post!

  30. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Great! Enjoy camping with your kids!

  31. Great suggestions! We’re planning to get a campervan to travel around Australia and NZ soon, so its good to get great tips for living life out doors, especially for food as i’m often stuck with what can be cooked outdoors. Thanks!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Husnara – So glad you found our tips helpful! Enjoy your camping…and cooking!

  32. Excellent tips. Very informative this can be very helpful especially for our beloved newbie campers who want to go with the kids.

  33. Thank you for this brilliant tips, this tips can really help to lessen the risks and to avoid any unwanted accidents when going to camp with kids.

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