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Camping with Children: Tips for Making Your Family Camping Trip Fun and Safe

Pictures taken on several camping trips enjoyed over the years.

Pictures taken on several camping trips enjoyed over the years.

Family camping is an incredible experience

Camping with children adds both thrills and complications to the tenting experience. Seeing nature through our kids' eyes, teaching them about the outdoors, and sharing the excitement of sleeping in a tent are some of the joys we seek from family camping.

What we don't always anticipate is the amount of work and stress involved. Just keeping an eye on younger children while setting up the tent can be a major difficulty!

Parents have the challenge of doing many of the same tasks at the campground that we do at home but under more primitive conditions. There are also a number of chores specific to camping that may feel overwhelming to those with limited camping experience.

Fortunately, some good planning can go a long way in helping to make your family's camping trip enjoyable for everyone.

Setting up camp while kids play

Setting up camp while kids play

Choose Your Campground Wisely

It is important to consider what kind of camping experience you and your family want. Would you prefer to stay in a tent or a cabin? Are you looking for particular amenities? Just about every campground has at least a small playground, but some also offer swimming pools, miniature golf, weekend entertainment, or indoor game rooms. These extra features can make for a fun vacation.

But if your family would prefer a quieter camping trip with an opportunity to explore nature, then look for a less touristy campground that has access to hiking trails, either on-site or nearby. There are some areas that have boating available at the campground or in the vicinity, where you can either rent or bring your own watercraft.

Before making reservations, verify the size of the tent sites and how close they are to neighboring sites to ensure it is a comfortable arrangement for your family. Prior to your trip, practice setting up the tent, lighting the camp stove, and testing any other equipment as needed. Practicing at home is a good way to check that the equipment is working properly and that you feel confident using it. This, in turn, helps to reduce the stress level and increase the fun when you’re at the campground.

Camping with Children - A few items to keep them occupied and engaged

These are some inexpensive camping "extras" that help connect kids to the outdoor experience in a fun way.

Hiking trails near the campground

Hiking trails near the campground

Toys and Other Supplies for Kids on the Camping Trip

In addition to all of the details involved in any camping trip, traveling with children brings its own set of requirements. The kids need toys and activities to help keep them occupied during quiet times at the campsite and in the tent in the event of rain. Bring along a variety of items that are able to withstand exposure to dirt and moisture.

Some toys that can be fun to take on family camping trips are balls, bubbles, toy cars and trucks (construction vehicles are especially fun at tent sites), shovels and pails, books, card games, Mad Libs, activity books and blank notebooks with pens, markers, and crayons, and board games that don't have too many pieces. Some families like to bring along a small "play tent" where the kids can play with their toys. If excessive dirt finds its way into the play tent, it's doesn't create the problems of having that dirt in the sleeping tent.

The children should each have their own sturdy flashlight when camping. This adds to their excitement and enthusiasm, and the flashlights frequently come in handy. Kids may also enjoy having items like a magnifying glass, compass, binoculars, and other tools to explore the great outdoors. Bring along other things that complement your children's interests, such as books about local plants, wildlife, or astronomy. Have plans in mind for places to go or things to do in the event of excessively wet, hot, or cold weather.

Here's my article about family hiking

  • Hiking with Children
    Family hikes provide opportunities to spend quality family time together while enjoying nature and getting exercise. Here are some great ideas about how to make your hike with kids both safe and fun.

My Flashlight of Choice - Let's shed a little light on the subject!

It is important for each kid to have a flashlight on a camping trip. This increases both safety and excitement for them.

This is the brand of flashlight I have, and the camping model (shown here) is extra-sturdy for the outdoors.

What I really like about it is that it is solar-powered with a battery backup. This basically means that it will not leave you without light due to a dead battery right when you need it most. These are reliable, both for camping and home use.

Kayaking on a camping trip

Kayaking on a camping trip

Safety First!

Review safety rules with your kids at the campground

Even more important than bringing all of the toys and supplies you'll need on the camping trip is reviewing rules and safety precautions with your children at the campground. Begin with a walking tour to help everyone get a sense of the area. Show the kids where the bathrooms, playground, campground office, and any other important landmarks are located.

Explain what rules are. Must the kids be with a parent at all times? Are they allowed to go to the playground by themselves? If you are tenting with other families, are your kids permitted to go into another family's tent?

Review typical safety rules from home that apply to life at the campground, particularly never going with a person you don't know and asking permission before going anywhere outside your specified boundaries. If poison ivy, ticks, bodies of water, or other environmental dangers are an issue, educate your kids about these concerns as well.

Have Fun on Your Camping Trip - Great for both home and travel

When we go camping we bring toys and games that are weather resistant, can get dirty, and/or are inexpensive. That way, if they're destroyed or lost on the camping trip, it's not too stressful an ordeal for the kids or me.

These are also the items we tend to bring with us on other traveling adventures!

Relaxing at the tentsite

Relaxing at the tentsite

The More, the Merrier!

Camping with other families can increase the fun and decrease the stress

Because of the amount of work involved in a "simple" family camping trip, it can be much more fun - and easier on the parents - to go with another family or a small group of families.

This provides many more options for activities. One parent might take several kids to the playground while another goes on a walk with others, leaving a couple of parents at the tent site to tackle chores while a baby naps.

Having other families on the trip gives kids the opportunity to play with friends and allows a little time and space for parents to re-energize before launching into the next fun activity.

All of My Hiking and Backpacking Articles

  • My Hiking and Backpacking Articles
    These are my articles related to hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities. I am an experienced backpacker and thru-hiker, and now enjoy hiking and camping with my children.

A Word About Tents

There are many, many different family tents on the market, and the models change annually.

When choosing a tent, think carefully about what your family truly needs. Remember that the larger a tent is and the more rooms it has, the more difficult and time-consuming it is to set up and take down. Single-room, dome-style tents are the easiest to manage.

Tent descriptions tell you how many people can sleep in the tent. This number is based on the maximum number of sleeping bags that can be arranged in the tent, with the occupants sleeping very snugly together. If you want to have some gear and supplies with you in the tent, then get a tent that can sleep one or two more people than will actually be in the tent. A tent listed as having a 6-person capacity will fit 4 people very comfortably. If only two people are going, a 3-person tent will fit the campers and some of their supplies.

Good tents keep water out (unless it's a total deluge), allow for air circulation with plenty of mesh on the body of the tent, and have a fly that attaches to the outside of the tent body to protect from rain and provide some privacy.

Reading together on a camping trip

Reading together on a camping trip

A Fulfilling Experience

Camping with children can feel like a labor of love. Though it is quite a lot of work, it is also an amazing experience, sometimes bordering on the magical.

Sharing the love of nature with children, exploring the outdoors with them, and spending time together makes family camping a tremendously rewarding activity for parents and children alike.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Valerie Bloom

Pitch your comments here!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on May 14, 2013:

@Ruthi: Oh, I love that you have such fond memories! Thanks for sharing!

Ruthi on May 14, 2013:

I enjoyed your family camping tips! You managed to bring back many fond memories of camping as a family when my son was a kid. Our camping was nearly always around water as we lived in south Florida, so safety was indeed a factor, but oh, there was so much fun to be had and plenty of things to do.

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on May 06, 2013:

@PhilVardy: Fantastic! Thanks for stopping by!

PhilVardy on May 06, 2013:

We spent several weeks camping with my 1 year old son last summer... we hope to do even more this summer (now that he's 2). If I could live in a campground, I would :)

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 24, 2013:

@LacyChenault: There are some great air mattresses designed for camping. You can get ones that use batteries and/or A/C power. Most campgrounds have electricity available at some of their sites, and facilities with running water are common! Good luck!

Lacy from Chenault on April 24, 2013:

I want to do this with my son - but I'm going to need an air mattress for sure! I'm more of a "running water" and electricity kind of person - but I want him to at least have the experience. Great lens!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 23, 2013:

@greenmind: Great! I'm glad you stopped by.

GreenMind Guides from USA on April 23, 2013:

Hey cool lens. I'm taking my son comparing this summer -- this'll help.

stanger66 on April 12, 2013:

We love camping

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 08, 2013:

@victoriuh: On my first camping trip with kids I chose a spot that's not all that far from home (about 1.5 hours). I figured if things got seriously miserable, I could pack up and go home. Fortunately, all went pretty well, but I definitely felt more comfortable knowing I had a good "exit plan." Good luck!

victoriuh on April 08, 2013:

Lots of great ideas here. I would love to take my kids camping for the first time this summer. If I am brave enough!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on April 06, 2013:

@anonymous: Your passion and enthusiasm for family camping is wonderful! Thanks for stopping by.

anonymous on April 06, 2013:

Camping with my family is one of my favorite things to do. I love sitting around the campfire and telling stories. Being away from all of the noise of daily life is great. Thanks for the camping tips. It won't be long before its warm enough to break out the tent!

Useray LM on April 01, 2013:

Camping is always fun and you have done a good job demonstrating that. Well done!

anonymous on April 01, 2013:

Children are fun to be around and they learn so much! They're willing to do the work for you, if you make it fun and rewarding.

MadameJoy on March 30, 2013:

We live in the Rocky Mountains and now that our kids are a little older - 3 & 6 - I am really hoping we get to do a lot more camping this summer!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on March 29, 2013:

@Ontoddy: Fantastic! Have fun!

Ontoddy on March 29, 2013:

We have 3 kids, we are thinking of taking them on a camping holiday this summer.

chocochipchip on March 29, 2013:

I love the feeling of camping but never had the chance to experience it

Hannah Writes on March 28, 2013:

I never camped as a child, and as an adult I did not enjoy it. Enjoyable lens!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 27, 2013:

What a wonderful experience for kids.

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on March 26, 2013:

@Aunt-Mollie: Absolutely!

Aunt-Mollie on March 26, 2013:

Wonderful list for camping. I would add just one thing: Don't forget the toilet paper.

JoshK47 on March 25, 2013:

Excellent advice! Can't say I've ever gone camping with children, but just in case... Thanks so much for sharing!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on March 25, 2013:

@wilsonkht: I'm happy you found this useful! Enjoy your trip!

wilsonkht on March 25, 2013:

Wow nice piece of lens. I am about to organize a camping session for my church. The information here is very helpful for me.

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on March 24, 2013:

@thesoundman: Thanks! I'm glad you stopped by and enjoyed it!

thesoundman on March 24, 2013:

This is a really nicely laid out lens. 49 lenses in a year? wow. I want to go camping with kids! you've inspired me.

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