10 Kids Camping Activities

Kids Camping RiverIf you are planning a family camping trip this summer, you are probably wondering how to keep the kids entertained. The kids are going to have a great time, particularly if camping is a new experience for them. They’re going to have a great time helping you setup the tent, gather firewood, cook meals – all the normal camping “stuff” that parents take for granted. It’s a good idea to plan some activities and pack some games, for those times when you are relaxing at your camping spot. Here are ten ideas that you can use, as you plan your family camping adventure.

Junior Ranger Programs

Kids Camping Junior Ranger

Many federal and state parks offer Junior Ranger programs throughout the summer camping season. The activities vary, from park to park, but they are always geared towards the kids and they always encourage parental involvement.

Kids Camping Junior Ranger Program

Interspersed amongst the fun, the Junior Ranger program teaches about geology, ecology, history, safety, plants and wildlife, among other outdoor subjects. The programs focus on a different subject each day and they are usually an hour long.

Some parks offer Junior Ranger programs specifically for tweens and teens, with longer hikes that explore some of the interesting natural features or history of the area. You can find out more about the Junior Ranger program from the National Park Foundation, or Google™ your state’s name and include the term Junior Ranger.

Water Activities

Kids Camping Swimming

Kids Camping StreamThere’s one sure-cure to boredom and grouchy camping kids and that’s to camp near a lake, river or ocean. Kids love to play in the water and it’s pretty fun for the parents, too – especially on those hot summer afternoons.

Young kids might lose interest in a long hike, but if the destination is a mountain stream that they get to play in for a few hours, even if it’s just skipping rocks or cooling off their feet, they will be thrilled. It is much easier to maintain their enthusiasm about hiking, with some kind of reward to look forward to at the destination.

Scavenger Hunts

Kids Camping Scavenger Hunt

Kids Camping Scavenger HuntsAnother way to make a hike interesting for kids is to turn it into a scavenger hunt. Start with the letter “A” and work your way through the alphabet, searching for things along the way that start with the current letter. There’s no need to take anything back to the campsite, just move on to the next letter or maybe snap a picture or two.

This is not only a great way to keep kids interested in hiking, it also encourages them to look around and experience more of their surroundings. I’ve grown so accustomed to doing this with the kids that I find myself going through the alphabet on my own hikes. Of course, maybe I’m still just a kid, at heart!

Sand Toys

Kids Camping Sand Toys

If your family camping adventure includes a sandy beach, there’s no substitute for buckets, scoops and other plastic implements of sandy delight. The buckets are also handy for collecting sea shells and rocks, which is another beachy activity that kids love.


Kids Camping Bubbles

Whatever your family camping plans may be, there are going to be times spent at the campsite and you will want to plan for some kid-friendly activities that can be done in a small area. One great activity that kids love is blowing bubbles and a bottle of bubbles will definitely keep the little ones entertained. Who can blow the biggest bubbles? Who can pop the most bubbles? It might not even take much coaxing to get your older ones to join in on the fun.

Toss Games

Kids Camping Horseshoes

Kids Camping Ring TossWe all know about horseshoes and, in fact, some campgrounds even have horseshoe pits. There are also ring toss and washer toss games that are very easy to setup around the campsite. These are fun for the kids and a lot easier to contain within the camping spot, than throwing balls around.

The best part about games like this is that everyone can participate and yet they’re simple enough that the kids can play on their own if you are preparing meals or packing-up gear for the night.

Memory Games

Kids Camping Memory Game

Memory games, where you mix-up a set of tiles or cards and then take turn turning over two tiles to try and find a match, are fun picnic table activities for young and old, alike. You don’t need a set number of players, in order to play a memory game. This is a real plus, if your kids are camping with a friend, or two.

Ice Cream Party

Kids Camping Ice Cream BallIt’s difficult to bring ice cream on a family camping trip, but products like the Play & Freeze™ ice cream maker let you make your own, right at your campsite. Keeping ice frozen can be a challenge, of course, but you can bring block ice (which melts much slower) and then crush it with a hammer.  If you want to find out more about the Play & Freeze, see my review.

Popcorn and a Movie

Kids Camping Movie Night

Portable DVD players make it easy to have your very own campsite “movie night”, complete with campfire popcorn. This is a great alternative to s’mores, when you don’t want to get the kids pumped-up on sugar, right before bedtime. For more information on popping corn in the backcountry, see Campfire Popcorn.

Most portable DVD players have a 12-Volt charging port, which allows them to be recharged from your car. If your DVD player did not come with a vehicle charging cable, you can get one at any home electronics store.

Ghost Stories

Kids Camping Ghost Stories

There’s nothing wrong with a little ghost story, right? I’ll let you decide whether scaring your kids with ghost tales, right before zipping them into their sleeping bags, is a good idea or not. The nighttime campsite is the perfect setting, though, with the crackling embers of a dying campfire and the evening sounds of the forest and its creatures. Hey, I’m starting to scare myself!

See also…

47 thoughts on “10 Kids Camping Activities

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  4. Bubbles are brillant for camping. We actually camped next toa family who did this one right and we immediately stole the idea. Instead of bringing one big bottle of bubble solution – buy a tray of the party favor bubbles. That way – you have bubbles with built in wands for all of the kids your kids befriend at the campground. This way, if the bottle dumps – you aren’t losing all of the solution in one fell swoop…you can just hand them a fresh bottle and carry on. Then – collect up the empties and take them home to refill from your giant bubble solution bottle! And a tray only costs around $5 for 24 bottles!

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    • Another cool hunt is to write a list of things to spot, I usually tailor the list to where we are going and put in a few challenging ones eg with a garden gnome, park ranger, red letterbox, any thing goes. When your family sees the item they take a photo of themselves with the item. It’s heaps of fun, we do it in groups at our holiday programme which adds a competitive energy to the activity

  7. If you enjoy taking your kids camping with you, I suggest checking out a great website that carries Kids Tents and Camping Games among other stuff that can make the family camping experience even more enjoyable.

    The website is http://www.campingtentshaven.vom
    They have Kids Tents, Camping Tents, Camping Gear, Camping Supplies, Camping Equipment, Outdoor Cooking, Outdoor Fun and Gifts.

  8. My kids just love ghost stories during camping. And I love it too because when they are already scared I can drive them to bad early so that they can rest and be prepared for the next day activity.

  9. I am very disappointed to see a dvd player made this list 🙁 Camping and spending time in the woods is not the time to plug the family into some movie. Try being creative in those moments of boredom…you might be surprised with what come up.

    • calm down kristen its just one little thing it cant hurt the kids the movie and popcorn is just to relax

      • Kristen sounds calm to me and that one little thing is a huge reason to go camping in the first place. First of all the children are getting enough stimulation from the television they don’t need any more and camping is a great opportunity to get away from it. Second of all, yes it can hurt them! By playing a movie while camping you are telling the children “you can’t have fun unless there is a T.V.” or you are telling them that they are in the way and a burden to you, let them help! Too young to help? Play a vocal hide and go seek game they go hide you yell marco they yell polo and you guess where they are by where their voice is coming from.

        • Wow……Different strokes for different folks. Why can’t we respect each others differences of opinions? What may be good or bad for your kids, may be fine for mine. Example, some kids are affected by caffeine before bed, some not. Thanks for ALL the great ideas to choose from. I think I’ll take my DVD player just in case…lol.

          • Caffeine has a pharmacological effect on the central nervous system in a similar (albeit less powerful) way as cocaine.

            Some people may be better at concealing the effects of it, but it certainly affects everyone. I have no problem with kids having caffeine, but claiming no effect is probably counter to the facts.

            I also tend to agree with Kristen, that there is science that shows correlations between attention problems and the amount of TV watching a kid does in their early years. Camping seems like an important step toward limiting that.

            You’ll note I didn’t say “should” or “must” or make any judgement, but I feel like pointing out the science.

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  11. Makes me want to go camping! The water activities is one I always keep in mind. My kids are like little fish. So one of the camping requirements is a swimming area.

    The movie idea is a good one also. Last time we went camping our neighbors setup a large movie screen and had a movie projector. Looked like a lot of fun.

    • Ours too, Shawn. We camp at the beach a lot and even in the middle of January they’ll all be splashing around in the (58 degree) surf.

      We stayed at a KOA over at the beach, for my oldest girl’s birthday, and they had one of those big inflatable movie screens. It was pretty cool – the kids spread out a blanket and had some popcorn.

    • Well, you can see how much I enjoyed my own wndeidg (LOL). Andreas we love the clip thanx. And I love all my dear friends involved who enjoyed it with us.

    • Never thought about a portable DVD but only makes since for the children. I always wanted them to experience the great outdoors and find activites to be rewarding. But reading and watching how you used it. Does make me think twice about it fo the next trip. Thanks.

  12. Roy, I like many of your posts but I find it interesting that your camping blog has kids bringing a lot of inside toys outdoors. ONe of the reasons to bring kids outdoors is to have them experience that uncomfortable feeling of it being so different. I don’t mean scared, just for them to see that their is other things outside of themselves and the world they know. How about a bicycle? or a pad of paper to build on their observation skills?

    Heidi Ahrens http://outdoorbaby.net

    • It’s a good point, Heidi, and I always encourage nurturing the outdoor “experience” in children, through activities that are fun and hopefully exciting – but certainly different, than what they experience at home.

      Some of my strongest childhood memories of camping were the simple things – camp toast, the kerosene smell from the stove, banana slugs, etc. I can’t say what my children’s memories will be, but I bet it will involve campfires, skipping rocks across the water and seeing animals in the wild. With my two younger ones, though, it might also be s’mores 🙂 which is funny, because we never did s’mores when I was growing up!

  13. Great activities. Excellent link to your article on popping corn too. We take Jiffy Pop on every trip, its great. We always make it over the open fire. One of our guys created a handle system for use in shaking it over the fire, in order to protect yourself from the handle that quickly heats up. Definitely easier over a camping stove though. The kids love watching it rise up as the corn pops too!

    • Marc – we’ve had pretty good luck with the Jiffy Pop. We usually get it mail order by the case, but I think we’re getting down to our last one.

    • My mom vehemently denies this, but I’m sure I can remember her putting a piece of baloney in a garbage can, one year in Yosemite when I was about 8 years old, because she “wanted to see a bear.” We didn’t see a bear, but in the morning that trash can didn’t really look like a trash can anymore.

  14. Lots of fun ideas here! I like the alphabet idea for scavenger hunts. I’ve always done them with types of items to be found: something soft, something green, something older than you, something an animal can use for a home, something prickly etc. I agree that it gets everyone to look a little more closely at their surroundings.

    • Melynda – that sounds fun, too! I bet the kids pick some funny items for ‘something an animal can use for a home’ 🙂

  15. A couple of other very good activities are horseback riding and canoeing/rafting. Some campgrounds have guide led trail rides and if you’re near a river. We usually take canoes with us, but if you don’t have one, id you’re near water, you can generally find a place that rents canoes or kayaks, or take along an inflatable raft when you go to the lake.

    • Scott – we have a lake up in the Sierras that we like to go to and there’s a place in a nearby town that rents canoes. The kids were still a little young last year, but we’re definitely doing that soon.

  16. A DVD player will never make it onto my campsite list! I do recommend music though. Kids can learn campfire songs and they’re a great entertainment around the fire or picnic table. If you aren’t a good singer, hopefully your kids are not old enough to know any better yet. My kids learned songs from cassette tapes (showing my age here) and CDs, which we could listen to on the way to camp, as well as at home. And if you don’t want to sing, rhythm instruments are good too. Just be sure to follow any campsite rules on playing music.

    • Hah! Yes, I knew that one would raise a few eyebrows. Our 9-year old is just now getting into the music thing, so we might be dealing with that soon. I usually hate it when someone is playing music in a campground, but one time a guy was playing his guitar and that was okay.

      • I don’t think I’ve ever played recorded music aloud at a campsite – most of them don’t likely allow it anyway. But I have played a guitar or another wooden, or quieter instrument. I would sing campfire songs – not the kind of things you hear on the radio. I’d sing songs other campers could come by and join in with if they wanted, but would not be inconvenienced by.

  17. Thanks for the great post, Roy! We’re hoping to take our first camping trip with the kids this summer & can’t wait to enjoy letting them explore & discover why it’s such a great outdoor activity.

  18. Excellent post, nice work. We totally agree. Kids need a little push to get out side but once they do make sure they have something to do. There are tones of out door activities that cost nothing and can keep them engaged in hours.

    Here is a link to a couple of other good activities to do outside.
    Keep up the great posts.