If camping with kids gives you chills (and not the good kind!), take a deep breath. We’ve got your back with tips tailored for first-timers organizing their first camping experience as a family. We’ll explore picking locations, packing lists, camp setup, meal planning, and how to keep the little ones entertained.
Choosing the Right Campground
We cannot stress this enough: take your time when choosing where you’re going to be camping with your family. You’ll have a great experience in a good campsite and live a true nightmare if you choose it wrongly.
Is the Campsite Modern?
It’s much easier, especially if you’re a beginner, to go camping in sites with modern conveniences like flush toilets, hot showers, electricity hookups, and coin-operated laundry facilities. Well-developed sites may also provide playgrounds, sports fields, swimming areas, and recreation halls hosting activities from bingo nights to talent shows.
While public campgrounds in national parks and forests tend to be more rustic, many feature visitor centers with junior ranger programs and ranger-led talks on local wildlife.
Finally, campsites close to the restrooms provide peace of mind when camping with your little ones, and camp stores stocked with firewood, ice, and s’mores ingredients are a nice perk when you forget the graham crackers at home.
If you’re getting started on camping, we recommend you choose a location not too far away from your home. This makes it easier to pack and transport your gear and also provides an easy way out if your kids get homesick.
Don’t be in a rush: as you & your family gain outdoor experience, you can start exploring more distant campsites.
Unless you’re camping in remote locations, every campground has guidelines to ensure that everyone stays safe during their getaway.
Common rules include quiet hours, speed limits, designated cooking facilities, and leash laws for your pets. Ensure that your older children understand the boundaries for hiking, biking, and swimming.
Packing and Preparing for Your Family Camping Trip
Ensuring that your family is fully prepared for the outdoors adventure fosters confidence and comfort on camping trips. Include children in the planning, focus on kid-approved dining, organize gear systematically, and stock first aid essentials and you’re good to go!
Involve the Kids
If you’re a parent and are camping with your kids, there are few things better than involving them, for you and for them. You’ll be able to educate, entertain & teach them new things, all while saving time overall.
There are several activities in which you can involve your children:
Cooking food for the gang? Ask your kids to help you and teach them something about cooking & the different types of food
Getting ready for the camping trip? Give your a master checklist with the basics (flashlight, sun protection, bug spray, and cozy sleeping attire) and ask them to pack their own bag
Bonus: you can also encourage them to personalize their kits with favorite books, travel games and stuffed animals
Bring Kid-Friendly Food
Don’t forget to think of your children when it comes to food and just assume that bringing main dishes is enough:
Bring nibbles for in-transit hunger (yogurt pouches, cheese sticks, apple sauce, granola bars, and crackers)
Transport perishables in a hard-sided cooler with reusable ice packs
Plan filling meals you can prepare at your campsite – here are some ideas:
Oats are great for breakfast
Sandwiches, hummus, veggies, and fruit for lunch
One-pot pasta dishes, tacos, or foil-packet meals like hobo dinners are easy to clean up after dinner
Finally, don’t forget sweet treats like s’mores supplies!
Keep It Organized
Keeping things organized will save you loads of time and headaches. Take a look:
Set up shelves in your garage, attic, or basement to store your camping gear
Bin and label things per category: for example, lighting, activities, safety, kitchen, hygiene, medical, etc.
Use clear plastic totes so you can easily see the contents
Setting up Your Family Campsite
Set Up Camp Together
Once you have chosen your campsite, you need to get going on the dynamics of the trip. It’s important to make sure that everyone is not only having a great time but also feels part of the group, playing their respective part.
We’ve found out from friends that giving each family member a certain responsibility helps promote the morale. Titles like being the tent master, the sleeping bag fluffer, or the rock border creator go a long way. Also, working together means more laughs and less frustration.
Allow younger children to unroll pads and sleeping bags while the older ones help adults in driving tent stakes and poles into the dirt. And always remember: any mistakes are great learning opportunities.
After setting up the tents, you should carve out zones for other camping functions:
A flat & stain-resistant spot can be used as a kitchen; place foldable tables and chairs in a central spot for meals, games, and social time
Set up a hand-washing station near the fiberglass portable toilet. Use solar pathway lights or glow sticks to illuminate after-dark routes to the bathroom; place toys, bikes, hammocks, and sports gear around the periphery of your site
Use folding utility wagons to move firewood from the car and haul other heavy loads around camp
Install storage totes, shelves, or clothing racks in your tent vestibule to corral items
When kids grow restless, redirect them to the designated play zones you’ve created. The more organized and functional the space, the less nagging you’ll endure.
Finally, don’t forget to keep the communal areas tidy to minimize potential injuries. Who wants to hop around on one foot after stepping on discarded Legos!?
Keeping Kids Entertained While Camping
Schedule Free Time
The main lesson is: when camping with your family, let your kids be kids!
Pack along butterfly nets, magnifying glasses, and buckets to collect natural treasures. Just be sure to teach them the Principles of Leave No Trace.
Want more ideas? We have you covered:
Encourage your kids to explore the surroundings (but check them first and set some boundaries!). Agree upon an emergency signal like three sharp whistles if they get lost or scared
Challenge older kids to photograph specific plants or animals on a scavenger hunt list
Gaze at the sky and call out shapes you spot in the clouds
Build faerie houses from sticks, feathers, stones, bark, and leaves, but remember to dismantle them before leaving so animals don’t get trapped inside
Sketch or paint pictures of camp scenery; notice shapes, textures, colors, and lighting
Bring Games and Toys
There are few things better than playing classic board games like checkers, chess, or cards to kill downtime in family.
Bring multiple packs or decks of popular games so siblings aren’t left out
Make it easier to carry the games and to play in irregular terrains by attaching the boards to clipboards or smooth plywood. Mini-magnetic versions are a good alternative
Wrap cards in rubber bands by suit or card game to keep the sets contained and safe from being blown away by the wind
Gather around a folding table for the best comfort
Use lanterns or headlamps if visibility dims near dusk
Plan Group Activities
Build family bonding with games and challenges that require teamwork:
Scavenger hunt assignments can range from finding smooth rocks, specific flowers, different animal tracks, various leaf shapes, etc.
Split into teams and transport water buckets uphill using ropes and pulleys (the fastest team wins!)
Stargaze: it teaches them about celestial cycles and natural phenomena and you can ask them to spot constellations like Orion the Hunter or Ursa Major and Minor, as well as seasonal events like meteor showers
Organize talent shows to showcase each household member’s unique skills and quirks (dances, jokes, or songs are classics)
Camping Meals and Snacks
Leave less room for error by prepping the ingredients at home. Chop sturdy veggies like potatoes, carrots, onions, and peppers & pre-cook meats for faster cooking at the campsite. Don’t forget to portion dry goods like pasta, rice, and quinoa into reusable containers.
You can also save prep time onsite by making foil-packet meals in advance:
Combine proteins, vegetables, seasonings, and slices of lemon
Seal the packs and freeze them
Toss the frozen parcels on the fire or grill when your family is ready to eat!
One of the greatest things about cooking when camping (besides the delicious food you can prepare) is that you can also transform it into quality bonding time with your children:
Have the younger ones wash fruits and vegetables while the older can peel and chop under supervision
Let them decorate the table with wildflowers and pinecones
Don’t forget to make meal duties a rotation so everyone contributes (this is also the only way to avoid fights between them)
While adults should handle knife work and fire/stove oversight, children can take the lead on recipes
Make enough for leftovers to minimize daily cooking
Make Everyone’s Favorite Treats
At many campgrounds, gathering firewood, starting the campfire, and making s’mores rank among the top favorite activities! Have kids earn s’mores rewards by completing camp chores like filling water jugs and tidying tents. This can make your next trip more enjoyable and teach your children some valuable skills.
Beyond the traditional graham cracker, chocolate, and toasted marshmallow combo, customize sweet sandwiches with ingredients like peanut butter, sprinkles, caramel, banana slices, or even small pretzels. Folding tables can be handy when preparing these treats, especially if you’re camping in cold weather.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Camping Supplies and Gear Does Our Entire Family Need for an Entire Trip to a National Park?
Let’s try to be very succinct. For shelter, you’ll need a tent, tent tarps, rainfly, picnic table & a camp shower; for your sleep: sleeping bags, sleeping pads & pillows; for the kitchen: camp stove & cookware; as furniture: camp chairs & an hammock; for safety: a first aid kit & a bug spray/repellant; finally, as extras: a flashlight, batteries, sunblock & hygiene items.
As First-Time Family Campers, What Camping Tips Help Ensure Fun While Keeping Kids Camping Entertained?
You should bring indoor toys/games (such as cards, books and activity pads) as well as outdoor toys (balls, bubble wands, jump ropes). Plan special group activities like scavenger hunts and talent shows and explore nature by going on hikes and stargazing.
What Extra Considerations Would You Tell Us Before Any Future Warm Weather Family Camping Trips?
While everything is always dependent on the weather you’ll be facing, there are some rules of thumb that you can follow. (i) Pack summer-specific clothing layers for all family members (lightweight socks, breathable hats, sun-protective jackets, you get the idea); (ii) Sleep in lightweight base layers or cotton long underwear and use lighter sleeping bags that are rated to appropriate temperatures; (iii) Bring extra batteries for fans or electronic devices; (iv) Store water to prevent overheating.
As Novice Campers, Where Can We Find The Best Camping Ideas/Hacks for a More Fun Camp Trip?
The internet is your best friend! Besides our own blog, you can read other blogs or social posts by camping experts, watch YouTube tutorials, browse Pinterest and even join Facebook groups to ask specific questions.