How to plan a family camping trip

This kid friendly hike near a campground features a bridge on the way to a fishing pond!

I’m of the opinion that all families should spend more time outdoors together. While this trend of constant digital connectivity is great and all, one of my biggest fears is that people will eventually cease to appreciate the unplugged solitude of nature.

Camping is an easy way to experience the great outdoors as a family. But before you get too excited, know that family camping doesn’t come without its minor challenges (I said minor!).

I’ve heard from numerous parents who are scared to death their kids will get bored (and subsequently really annoying, I would imagine) if they don’t have access to their quiver of digital toys.

Have no fear! It’s been my experience that kids freaking love the woods. Let ’em loose all day, and by the time you’re done roasting marshmallows around the campfire, they’ll want to climb into their comfy sleeping bags and sleep through the night. You hope.

Now we don’t have kids, so all of that is probably easy for me to say. I’d like to hear from the moms and dads out there who have actual camping experience with kids, as opposed to someone who is currently in a Rent-A-Nephew arrangement.

Without further delay, the following suggestions are just a few tips to get you and your family out there.

Choose a location

How rugged do you want to go? There are so many great campsites available, both primitive and developed. Each has its advantages.

Primitive sites are great if you’re looking for true solitude. It will be just you and your family enjoying all that nature has to offer. On the other hand, especially primitive sites generally lack toilets (if you’re lucky, there might be a vault toilet nearby). This could be a problem for some people.

Chances are you’ll be more comfortable in a developed site, where you almost always have access to toilets and (sometimes hot!) running water. The trade off, though, is that you’ll be surrounded by a hundred other people.

Some of you campers out there don’t find this annoying. I get a little irritated with the noise—generators, loud people, lots of cars coming and going. But again, I don’t have kids. Something to think about.

If you search hard enough, you might find a small, primitive feeling developed site with toilets. This would be camping nirvana for a family with kids.

Comfort

Everyone has different comfort levels. I could throw a sleeping pad and sleeping bag on the ground by the fire and snooze just fine. That’s probably not going to fly with mom, dad, and the kids.

So plan ahead. If you’re sleeping in tents, buy sturdy air mattresses. If you’re a RV type of camper, you already know the drill.

The challenge is to not get too out of hand while maximizing your comfort. I’m always baffled when I see families huddled around a television at a campsite. To me, you have officially defeated the purpose of a quality camping trip.

Activities

Plan something, whether it’s hiking, biking, kayaking—anything! The point is to get away from the campsite long enough to see the area.

The beauty of camping is how amazingly cheap entertainment will cost. Last I checked, it was something like $2,000 per head, plus your second born child to enter Disney Land for the day. Not so in the great outdoors. Not even close.

Ideally, you’ll spend most of your time at your campsite early in the morning making breakfast and gearing up for the day ahead, and later on at night around the campfire making dinner and getting ready for bed. If you’re crafty (and I’m not), you could find plenty of fun stuff to do while in camp. I’ll leave that to all you Pinterest types out there.

OK, now you can officially get excited. Start planning!

If you’re a tree hugging, outdoorsy mom or dad, what else do you think we should add to this list of tips?

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10 comments

  1. My family of 6 is a camping family! As much as our kids love their electronics, they LOVE camping even more. Hands down. I do too- it’s peaceful and I have always met great people with stories to tell around the fire ring!

    We don’t go primitive as I want running water for hand washing and hosing them down every 3 days. I also want to be able to take a shower and make my hair look pretty ;o)

    My advice for parents? Relax. Camping is about freedom & exploration and every camground we go to is full of Families and kids running around like wild things- as they should be allowed to do every once & awhile. They will be dirty, smelly and not brush their teeth the entire time they are there and that is what they love about it. They will be so exhausted by 8 Pm AND will put themselves to bed, I promise! Most campground now a days have playgrounds, swimming pools and other kids friendly activities. If you want ‘posh’ camping, go to a KOA park- it’s more pricey, but they are nice places to camp.

    We started with tents and now have a pop-up camper. We keep it stocked as if it were an apartment- it has it’s own supplies/toiletries/bedding/towels/garbage bags/cooking gear/games/art supplies/ medicine,etc., that stays in there so I don’t have to re-pack it every time we go. I bought alot of the stuff at garage sales/ thrift shops so it was not expensive to do it. At the beginning of camping season, I take inventory, throw out the expired stuff and re-stock. I think that if you start camping, even without a camper, you need to have bins with those supplies set aside and replenish as needed. Keep those bins stocked and stored in the garage to minimize the stress of re-packing every time you go. I also will do laundry at the campground before we leave (while husband is breaking down camp)-most have washer/dryers in the office- so as to minimize the work of having to clean up when getting home. It’s nice to come home and not have to wash all of the dirty/musty smelling stuff!

    I will slightly disagree with the TV thing- our camping friends have a pop-up as well, and he will bring a Projector, throw a sheet up on the side of the camper and voila, we have an outdoor theater around the fire every nite- we usually invite other kids in the campground to watch & it ends up being a blast for all involved.

    Every time we visit a new campground, we drive around when the trip is over & stake out sites for our return. We get a campground map and mark off the sites we don’t like and cirlce the sites we do like- that makes it easier to pick a site if you want to go back there another time!

    I was not a camping lady when I first met my husband, but he has made me into one. That is all we can afford to do and I have never had a horrible time while there. Even if it rains, we always have plenty to keep us occupied.

    Try it- go local your first time and take some friends with you! Or better yet, go with friends who already camp so they can break you in!

      1. Yikes- it IS a bit wordy, isn’t it?

        Glad I could chime in!

        Oh, and you need lots of glow sticks/necklaces for the nite-so you can see those little ones coming and going!

  2. I’d say that anyone camping for the first time with kids should plan a short trip so
    a – they can find out if the kid enjoys it
    b – no time at all to get bored.
    Granted, this is from someone who’s never been camping (but did stay at cabins as a kid).

    Another great post Eric!

    1. Could you imagine the horror of being in the midst of a week-long family camping trip and hearing your kids say “I’m bored”? Yikes. Good call on the short trip idea the first time out!

  3. You have so inspired my next blog post! We first took our son camping when he was a year and a half old and he loved it! There are so many fun things to do with kids while camping. You can collect everything from leaves and rocks to pine cones and sticks and then take them home and make things. You can pick through scat with a stick and try to figure out who pooped by whats in it (really good for potty training aged kids – they love the fact that animals poop too). You can let the kid take the lead and explore where he wants to while you follow (don’t forget a good tick check though). They love to help with camp chores like collecting firewood and rolling out sleeping bags. We like to have story time too around the camp fire, taking turns filling in what happens next and when you get home you can draw a storybook about your adventure. Catching bugs in a mason jar (with holes) is really fun too. Letting them go is fun too. Sorry for the long comment but what a great subject. It is so important to get kids away from the distractions of every day life, if only to let them get used to hearing their own internal voice for once.

    1. Lots of good tips, Znara! Thanks! Part of why camping with kids is so cool is because you are allowed to approach the wilderness as a kid would.

    1. Camping with your pooch presents a few minor challenges as well! Totally worth the effort, though. My dog loves to get super dirty and roll in every disgusting smell possible. He then thinks it’s OK to snuggle on the air mattress with us. Ack!

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