If you are considering a family camping vacation this summer, you might be wondering how to keep everyone entertained and active, while you are in the middle of the woods. Fear not! There are camping activities to suit the ability and interests of everyone, young and old alike. Here are ten popular camping activities to get you started on planning your next family camping adventure.
Go for a hike
The vast majority of people who visit our nation’s parks and forests never venture very far from the confines of their car. That’s a real shame, because the best views and sights are rarely located along the access roads. Make the most of your family camping experience by researching the dayhikes available around your camping spot and picking one or two that suit your family’s ability.
The National Park Service provides information on hikes available in their parks. Some parks, like Yosemite, are so popular that they have spawned websites, such as Yosemitehikes.com, dedicated to providing information on hikes specific to the particular park. Other sites, like HikingUpward.com, focus on hikes in a particular state, in this case Virginia.
Remember, no matter how much research you do, there’s no substitute for local knowledge so be sure to phone the local ranger district ahead of time, to get their recommendations and to get the latest trail conditions.
Take the bikes out for a ride
Bicycling is a great way to extend your sightseeing range over hiking, although you may be relegated to the road system, or trails specific to bikes and horses. Don’t think that everyone has to have a fancy mountain bike, either. My daughter’s first trail ride was on her Barbie® bike and it worked just fine.
When researching trails for mountain biking, around your family camping spot, many of the same strategies used for researching hiking trails will apply. For information specific to biking trails, though, there are some excellent online resources, like SingleTracks.com, that can assist you in your search.
Make a family camping scrapbook
Scrapbooking is a great way to create a journal of your family adventure. You can have a single scrapbook that the entire family can participate in making, or each child can keep their own scrapbook journal. The best thing about scrapbooking is that the pages accept many different kinds of mementoes, from leaves to park brochures. The photos might have to wait until you get home and can print them out, but keeping a scrapbook might just encourage you to take more pictures.
Look at some stars
There is no better place to gaze at the stars through a telescope, than out in the middle of nowhere, unencumbered by light pollution from civilization. You don’t need an expensive telescope to get started, but you will need some knowledge of the night sky. Astronomy.com is an excellent resource for getting started. Also, National Geographic publishes a very good book on astronomy – you can read my review here.
Catch a fish
Fishing is one of those classic outdoor activities that goes with camping like marshmallows go with graham crackers and chocolate. Fishing can be fun and challenging for the entire family, but it’s important to get everyone involved if they’re going to stay interested. In fact, if this will be the first time fishing for your kids, don’t even plan on any fishing, yourself. Spend your time teaching them to tie knots, bait hooks and cast lines, because the only way they’re going to stay excited about fishing is if they actually get to experience hooking some fish.
There are going to be times on your family camping trip when you just want to relax around the campsite. This might be in the middle of the afternoon, when it’s too hot for hiking or biking, or in the evening, after the sun goes down. Games are a great way to pass the time and it’s a good idea to pack a variety, in case the kids (or the adults) want to do different things.
Uno® is a fun card game that kids can easily understand, yet it’s fun for adults, too. Card games are great for camping trips, because most camping spots include a nice, big picnic table. For more active fun, a horseshoe set is fun for the entire family and low-cost rubber sets with wooden stakes are available at most of the big retail stores. Football, baseball and Frisbees® are also great activities.
Geocaching and Scavenger hunts
Geocaching, using GPS to locate a “cache” that someone has hidden, is a new and popular pastime that can be a lot of fun. If you are camping with young children, you can setup your own little scavenger hunt around the campsite. Plastic Easter Eggs are great for this, just be sure you don’t forget where you stashed them!
Geocaching resources on the Internet include Geocaching.com and NaviCache.com, which provide listings of cache sites and information on how to get started. Just remember, you’ll need to replace the “treasure” you find, so be sure to pack a bag of trinkets to share with the next geocacher.
Hunt for real treasure
Finding gold has never been easy, despite our romanticized historical view of the gold rush in the western U.S. That doesn’t mean that it’s not fun to try, though! A more lucrative way to hunt for treasure is to scout for old trash dumps. Many of our state and federal parks began life as Civilian Conservation Corps projects in the 1930’s and, using old maps and a metal detector, you can sometimes locate the old trash dumps from these CCC camps. One man’s trash is another’s treasure and vintage tin cans, and other objects, can be worth some money.
Kids love campfires and when you throw in marshmallows and chocolate, you’re guaranteed to have a hit on your hands, with the little ones. You can read more about making s’mores here, but remember that melted marshmallows and chocolate create quite a sticky mess, so be sure to pack plenty of wipes.
Practice survival skills
The recent popularity of the TV shows Man vs. Wild and Survivorman has reignited an interest in survival skills and it can be a lot of fun to practice these on camping trips. Learning and practicing survival skills builds confidence in children (and adults!) and teaches them the importance of using available resources, instead of relying on technology, to solve problems.
One of the most basic survival skills to teach your kids is knot tying and one of the best online resources for learning this important skill is AnimatedKnots.com. You can outfit each member of the family with a 3-foot section of quality rope, to practice with. Once everyone has a working knowledge of the five basic knots (square knot, bowline, clove hitch, prusik and a taut-line hitch), it’s fun to make games out of knot tying, such as who can tie a knot the quickest, or who can tie the best-looking knot.