My family and I love to camp. My husband and I both grew up in camping families, and when our son was born, we knew we wanted to take him camping early and often to help foster a love for the outdoors and spend fun, quality time together. Our first camping trip as a family was to nearby Lake Fairfax Park in Virginia when James was two months old.
On the left, the writer's first camping trip was an opportunity for her parents to take embarrassing photos. On the right, Jessica camping with her son and dog.
With camping season underway in much of the country, I encourage you to pack up the kids and the tent and head to your local park. Whether you’re a camping newbie or an experienced backcountry adventurer, camping with kids can be a great way to connect with nature and each other.
If you need some inspiration, this week happens to be Great Outdoors America Week, and Saturday, June 28 is the Great American Backyard Campout, an annual event coordinated by the National Wildlife Federation to encourage families to spend time together outdoors. Or plan your trip in July, and take advantage of the Park and Recreation Month activities your local park has to offer. If you do, don’t forget to take a picture of your outdoor activity and post it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #JulyOUTisIN.
To help you get started, here are 5 tips for camping with kids:
Keep it Simple
If this is your first camping trip, or if you are an experienced camper but your kids are not, it’s important not to be too ambitious. Your goal should be to interest your family in the next trip, so keep it simple. Select a campground where you can park nearby, with access to water and a restroom, rather than somewhere too remote.
Keep it Local
A local park is a great place for your family’s first camping trip. Chances are it’s close to home – in case things don’t work out as planned – and that you know where to go for emergency rations, should your plans for a gourmet campfire meal backfire. You probably already know your way around the park, too, like where to find a restroom, a playground, or a great swimming hole. You may even want to check in with your local park as you are planning your camping trip. Many offer equipment rentals, geocaching (a fun electronic scavenger hunt you can do with the family) or even cabins, if you don’t want to go the tent route just yet.
Bring What You Need
Take some time to plan your meals and a few activities, and make a list of what you’ll need to bring for the amount of time you plan to be out there. REI offers a comprehensive family camping checklist, but you likely won’t need everything on this list. My family has a few plastic tubs where we store our camping essentials – like cookware and a first aid kit – so we can grab and go.
If you’re not going to be hiking with your gear, it’s ok to pack a few extras, too – like the kids’ favorite snack and a favorite bedtime story or stuffed animal that will help with bedtime in the tent. But don’t overdo it – camping is really about simplifying and getting away from it all.
Camping is a great chance for the whole family to kick back and relax
There are, of course, chores to be done around the campsite, so enlist the whole family’s help by assigning roles. Very young children can collect kindling for the campfire, or fill pots with water for cooking. Older kids can wash dishes, help set up the tent, or plan and lead a family hike or scavenger hunt.
Go with the Flow
Chances are, things will not work out exactly as planned. There may be a surprise rain shower, an unpleasant bee sting, or a sleepless child. With a little planning you can minimize the impacts of these challenges, but it’s hard to predict every possibility. It’s important to relax and go with the flow – your kids will get dirty, your gear may get wet, but in the meantime, you’ll create family memories and stories you’ll share for years to come.
Have any tips, questions, or stories to share about camping with kids? We’d love to hear about your camping successes – and blunders! Share them in the comments or on Twitter @NRPA_News.
Jessica Culverhouse is the Senior Manager of Fundraising at the National Recreation and Park Association. She is a former teacher and environmental educator, mom and volunteer Master Naturalist.