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How to Camp with Kids: 12 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, then follow these 12 essential tips for camping with kids.

Follow these camping tips for a fun and safe trip with kids!
Follow these camping tips for a fun and safe trip with kids! (Photo credit: Depositphotos.com)

1. Give kids time to explore nature.

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

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

Dad and son hiking in nature
Give time to explore when camping with kids (Photo credit: noblige, Depositphotos.com)

2. 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 Zion. National parks are 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 in the fresh air.

You might be surprised to discover that your city or county manages campgrounds. These are usually great places to take the entire family camping. Many campers don’t know about them, either. This makes it much easier to reserve a campsite during busy summer months when more popular destinations are full. You can find out if your local area offers campgrounds by visiting the parks and recreation website for your hometown or doing a search at Recreation.gov.

State parks are also great destinations for camping with children. Many of these parks are located near outdoor recreational attractions such as a nature center or a lake with a swimming beach. Some also offer options like live music and Junior Ranger programs.

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

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

3. Rent or borrow camping equipment.

If you are new to camping, then 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 camping with kids is that it's an inexpensive vacation. But it can be difficult to figure out exactly what kind of gear will work best for you.

A much better choice is to rent camping gear. Many reputable outdoor stores offer rentals. Renting gear makes sense from a budgetary standpoint. Also, it’s a great way to try different types of camping equipment before investing in products for the long term.

If you have friends who camp, then ask to borrow essential items. Take a look at what to buy for your first camping trip and what you can borrow.

Family at campsite with camp chairs
Rent or borrow camping gear (Photo credit: AlexLipa, Depositphotos.com)

4. Buy camping gear you know you can use.

It makes sense to purchase gear that you can also use for other family activities. Examples include an ice chest and camping chairs. You will also need a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and a camping stove. If you’re ready to buy, then check out the impressive selection of kid's camping gear from the amazing Bass Pro Shops.

Backyard camping
Practice camping in your own backyard (Photo credit: VadymPastukh, Depositphotos.com)

5. Practice camping at home.

Plan to practice setting up the tent and trying out the stove at home. This ensures you understand how everything goes together. You can also check that none of the parts are missing.

Backyard camping also gives everyone the perfect way to get the feel for roughing it, but with the conveniences of home nearby. Take note of lessons learned before hitting the road.

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

6. Plan outdoor activities.

Hiking, biking, fishing, and swimming – there are a lot of fun family camping activities to enjoy. A campground’s web page will give you some specific ideas for spending time together playing. They will also provide a calendar of family events, like Junior Ranger programs, if available. Some campgrounds even offer bike trails, a swimming pool, nature trails, or mini golf.

Playing soccer with children during camping trip
Bring outdoor toys for play (Photo credit: monkeybusiness, Depositphotos.com)

7. Pack campsite toys.

Even if your campsite is not equipped with family entertainment, you can still have a ball while enjoying the natural world together.

An inexpensive horseshoe set or ring-toss game keeps the kids busy around the campsite.

You may also want to bring along sports balls (check out this set!) and a flying disk.

Water guns are always a fun way to cool off, too.

Family playing chess outdoors
Bring board games for camping fun (Photo credit: evgenyataman, Depositphotos.com)

8. Bring along board games.

When camping with kids you can never have too many camping games. These are essential for rainy days and downtimes when everyone is relaxing at the campsite.

Travel games make a great option for family togetherness. My kids love to play simple games like Uno and memory matching games. These are easy to pack and can be played on a picnic table or inside the tent.

Family scavenger hunt nature hike
Turn your family hike into a scavenger hunt (Photo credit: monkeybusiness, Depositphotos.com)

9. Embark on a camping scavenger hunt.

Once you've set up camp, your whole family will want to explore mother nature together. Venturing away from your camping area usually means hiking, which can sometimes be challenging with kids. Plan on lots of breaks and bring along plenty of trail snacks and drinks. A short hike is probably best for young kids.

Turn ho-hum hikes into exciting alphabet scavenger hunts. 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.

Take a photo of each object your kids discover. Then you can fill up a family camping scrapbook as a souvenir of your outdoor adventures.

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

10. Pack easy but delicious camping meals.

Preparing delicious campsite meals will make your family camping experience more fun for everyone. Get kids involved in making meals at camp, too.

Simple Camping Food Ideas

Take a peek at The Outdoor Adventure Cookbook. It features all sorts of tasty dishes like Lemon-Blackberry-Ricotta Waffles and Piggy Burgers with Bacon, Peaches and Basil.

Kids with campfire
Teach children fire safety when camping (Photo credit: MNStudio, Depositphotos.com)

11. Stay safe while camping.

Camping provides plentiful opportunities for outdoor activities and quality time together. Of course, your good time in the great outdoors is not without dangers. By following some important tips, however, you can help ensure a safe time for all.

Dehydration is a serious condition that can sneak up on campers exerting themselves doing hard work to set up tent sites and cook over an open flame. It's a good idea to pack water bottles for every family member. Be sure to drink only potable water. Pack iodine tablets to purify water or boil away impurities.

If you'll be cooking over a fire pit, then a fire extinguisher is an absolute must. Keep an eye open for poison ivy and other dangerous plants. A whistle for lost children and to scare away predator animals makes good sense, too.

Be sure to pack a first aid kit. You need bandages, ointments, and medications on hand should someone become ill or get injured.

Read more safety camping tips before your next camping trip!

A whistle can be a lifesaver on your family camping trip
A whistle can be a lifesaver on your family camping trip (Photo credit: agnieszka_g, Depositphotos.com)

12. Slow down and live in the moment.

Camping 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.

Catching their first fish, seeing their first wild animals, learning to skip rocks across the water — these are the things they’ll brag about to their friends and remember for a lifetime.

Dad and kids around a camp fire
Get outdoors with kids during a camping trip (Photo credit: Wollwerth, Depositphotos.com)

Learn more tips for exploring the outdoors with kids.

For more ideas for your next family camping trip, discover the best national parks for kids in the United States.

Want to give RV camping a go? Learn how to rent an RV.

Explore these additional outdoorsy vacation ideas for families.

Expert Tips for Camping with Kids

Save these camping tips!

For future reference, save these tips for camping with kids. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

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

Roy Scribner helps parents experience the great outdoors with their kids at CampingBlogger.net

Comments
  1. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Great! Enjoy camping with your kids!

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Dawn McAlexander says

    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.

  6. Louise Bishop says

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

  7. Melissa Chapman says

    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.

  8. Toni | Boulder Locavore says

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

  9. Lisa Favre says

    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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Amanda Love says

    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.

  13. 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.

  14. valmg @ Mom Knows It All says

    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.

  15. Migdalia - @MsLatina says

    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!

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