Online travel site Tripbase is putting together a project on “Best Kept Travel Secrets” and has asked me to contribute something from a family camping perspective. This sounds like it’s going to be a really great resource, as I’m just one of over a hundred sources contributing to the effort. I’ll be sure to give everyone a heads-up when they publish the series.
Many parents we have met feel a bit overwhelmed at the thought of spending a weekend in the backcountry with their kids. Camping with kids is a great way for families to spend time together and have fun in a different kind of setting, which helps keep the experience interesting for everyone. Here are three of my secrets to camping with kids.
Choose a Family Campground
There is nothing more fun for kids than…other kids! We go camping primarily in state and county parks, which are popular destinations for families on a budget, who are looking to get away for the weekend. Once we setup our campsite, a quick stroll or bike ride through the campground always turns-up other families with similarly aged kids, which is usually all it takes for new friendships to blossom.
This is particularly true of holidays, when many families plan camping trips in order to take advantage of a three-day weekend. Packing a few extra drinks and snacks can keep the playtime going, just be sure to check with the other parents, first. Whether the kids are playing at our campsite, or their friend’s site, we exchange information with the parents and keep an eye on our kids to ensure that they’re not breaking any of our camping rules:
- Stay out of other campsites
- No loud playing
- Stay within eyesight of adult supervision
Keep to Familiar Bedtime Rituals
Let’s face it, there are a lot of unfamiliar new sights and sounds in a campsite at night, which can make bedtime a challenge when camping with kids. The best way to deal with bedtime is to make things as normal as possible.
If you usually read a book to your kids before bedtime, this is still something that you can easily do when camping. Likewise, if your children have special pillows or blankets that they are used to, there is no reason that these familiar objects can’t be a part of their camping experience.
One area that might deviate heavily from the norm, when camping, is snacks and this can have a big impact on getting the kids to settle in for the night. Campfire s’mores are a big tradition in our family, but we have learned that we need to limit these sugary snacks, and have them early enough in the evening to not impact bedtime.
Encourage Children to Participate in Campsite Activities
Our early family camping experiences were probably indicative of how many parents handle the camping experience. We would park the car, and the kids would run off and play while we found a spot for the tent, setup the tent and arranged the rest of the campsite. We quickly learned the benefits of involving the kids in all of these activities, though, which has proven to be an enriching experience for all of us.
Involving kids in traditional adult activities, like building a fire or setting up the tent, is a rewarding experience that teaches responsibility and valuable outdoor skills. Kids are happy to participate if we just give them the chance, and it helps them feel much more involved with the family camping experience.
Your Kids Deserve an Outdoor Experience
Family camping with kids is a great way to experience the outdoors together and it’s the best way for your kids to develop an appreciation for nature. You can reduce your anxiety about spending a weekend in the backcountry by selecting a family-oriented campground, following typical bedtime practices that the kids are familiar with, and encouraging kids to participate in camping activities. Follow these three family camping “secrets” and your next family camping adventure is sure to be a success!
Love the blog! Really good tips too! We are a very family/kid oriented campground and really try to get the whole family involved in daily activities; which we feel creates a better camping experience. Really like the bedtime tips too. People might sometimes overlook that, but it really does help! Thank you for sharing! 🙂
Its great to read your advise. We live in Australia and have gone camping with our kids since they were babies. They are now 12,10,8 and 6 and we have also done the same as you and stuck to a strict bed time, which makes life that much easier because there not as tired the next day. You talk about making s’mores what are they? here in Aus we cook marshmallows around the fire using a stick to put the marshmallow on and then cook over the fire until its cooked to your liking. My kids love this and its a tradition every trip, but as you say you need to have them early due to the sugar content.
Martin – s’mores are a roasted marshmallow, sandwiched between two graham crackers (not sure that term will mean anything to you – maybe its what you call a wheatmeal biscuit?) with a piece of chocolate bar. Here’s a post about them: http://tinyurl.com/kwm8j5
Camping is a great family bonding experience. Enjoy the outdoors together and its a great mini vacation! Family campgrounds are the perfect spot to head to. My kids love telling ghost stories around the campfire, making s’mores and creating shadow puppets in the tent with the flashlight. For more fun family camping tips check out http://www.family-travel-scoop.com/camping-with-kids-tips.html
I have been involved in taking kids into to outdoors for more years then I car to count, mostly through the Scouting program. I can testify that everything on this page is true and in some ways brings back fond and not so fond memories. What I do know even if I am camping alone with no kids I want to be areas where there are kids. There laughter, playfulness, eagerness, etc just makes it all the better…
Good point, Scott – in fact, we recently ditched the kids with grandparents and did some camping on our own and found ourselves laughing a lot at other kids in the campground.
What a great site. I love the tips you give about Camping With Kids. I find all of them to be true. One thing I noticed with our daughter who was three at the time was that limitting her marshmellows help to prevent a know down drag out Meltdown. The kind that comes after a long busy day of activities differnt from home and she’s overly tierd. Enough sugar to send her over the edge.
Ruth – that sounds very familiar 🙂
Another secret when camping with kids is to get them involved, and our recommendation is with the cooking.
Kids love to cook and what better way to keep them occupied. At http://www.family-travel-made-easy.com/kids-camping-recipes.html you can find a few fun recipes to get you and your kids started. Check them out before you go and ensure you stock up on all the yummy ingredients.
You can even add your families favorite camping recipe to the list too.
Completely agree. Family campgrounds are becoming more and more designed for children with a wide range of activities. Bedtime routines so important for just about everyone involved. One advantage camping has is that many kids think sleeping in a sleeping bag is just cool so they’ll be more willing to go to bed.
No doubt, Eric – getting them into the tent is no problem, but sometimes getting them to settle down is a bit of an issue 🙂
Keeping some things “reserved” for camping has proved rewarding for me and my five-year-old (so far, we haven’t been able to drag Mom along on any trips, but we still try). Some things we both cherish on our trips: He gets to help build the fire and stay up a bit later (albeit with a similar bedtime routine to the one at home!). I think that the biggest reward for him is that he gets nearly 100% “Dad Time” without distractions such as work, phone calls, or the computer.
Ollie – my 5-year old son loves getting to help build the fire. I think it’s a great skill to teach young kids. It gives them confidence and helps build a respect for fire. Dad time is the best!
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As always – great camping advice for families.
Thank you, Nancy!
I agree. On our 6-week to Alaska and back with 5 kids (older kids: 9, 10, 12, 12, & 15), where I was the only camper, we did fall into good routines where the kids could easily help setup camp, get a fire going, etc. My kids are readers and we had a library box of 100 books and they all read most of the books. We also had an activity bin with crafts and writing stuff that was important. They did make friends along the way and we began to see some of those families again as we all moved towards a common goal. I believe in feeding kids every couple hours when traveling. We had a cooler that had stuff to make snack cups with things like crackers, cheese, fruit, veggies, chocolate, etc. When someone began to moan about being hungry the people in the far back seat hauled out the cooler and cups and made snack for everyone. I think camping helped my children become more self-sufficient and many of those habits carried over to the home environment.
Wow, Jenn, that sounds like an epic adventure! Our kids are only good for about 2 hours in the car, at a time, before they have to run around and stretch. It sure helps to have snacks, though 🙂
The free play kids get to experience in this environment is fantastic–the benefits are real and life-lasting.
Having some fun games for around the campfire as well as some easy nature activities in your “bag of tricks” will also make it memorable for you as a parent.
Engaging with your kids in this simplified, wonderful camping environment helps you get into their worlds…and they LOVE that. I can’t wait to take my youngest out for his first trip this spring!
(Check out some of the easy nature activities/games at: http://www.sanbornwesterncamps.com/library/documents/101%20Nature%20Activities.pdf )
Great resource, Ariella – thanks!
These are great tips for any family vacation, not just camping trips! Like most things in life, we learned the bedtime ritual the hard way. Meeting other families is one of the great things about camping in State Parks or National Forests with developed campgrounds. You can pick up some great recipes and new traditions this way too!
Great recipes – I didn’t think about that. It’s true, though, everyone seems to have some kind of “special” camping recipe for something. Ours is corn salsa 🙂
Yes, a family campground is a must, where some playground noise is expected. Kids need to roam about. We also try to stick to the same bed-time as at home, but it is hard to enforce when the other kids are still up!
That’s true, Beata – particularly that first night, it’s usually difficult to get the kids to settle down.
This is a great addition to the Tripbase collection & helpful for those of us staring down their first family camping adventure. I’m glad you shared your insider tips!
Thanks, Debi and good luck on your first family camping trip this summer!
Good, basic tips. I especially agree with the bedtime routines/rituals.
I have also been invited to contribute to the Tripbase travel secrets collection. I’m still thinking, and writing.
Alison, I’m looking forward to your article!