Camping is the ultimate in outdoor family fun and is loaded with benefits for parents and kids alike. It provides adventure and unlimited opportunities to experience the great outdoors. It’s also a great way for kids to learn about nature—from plants and animals to the weather and skies.
Throughout the U.S., historical sites and different regions offer lessons in history and geography. Plus parents and kids get a break from the daily responsibilities of life as well as some relaxation. Best of all, it’s an affordable way for families to vacation.
Advice for Beginning Campers
“Go With The Flow,” says KOA’s Barb Starchurski
“To me, camping is mainly about two things,” said Barb Stachurski, marketing manager for the Virginia Beach KOA, “making family memories and getting away from my to-do list.”
Barb notes that camping appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds. “We’re seeing more families of different cultures, as well as more millennials, coming to camp,” she said. “People from every walk of life are realizing that camping is fun, affordable, and there’s just something special about it.
Styles of camping vary from primitive to luxurious, but Barb recommends if you’re camping for the first time with your kids that you choose a location where there are plenty of activities. “You want to be able to pry them away from their phones and games for a while,” she said. “The best way to do that is to offer other activities to capture their attention.”
Barb’s advice for beginning campers is to go with the flow. “Don’t be afraid of rain or a little dirt, or even a few insects,” she advised. “Some of our family’s best camping memories happened in the rain, and we still laugh about them today.”
Choose To Rough It Or Camp in Style
Pros and Cons of Tents vs. Trailers
Your family can choose from a variety of camping options. If you love the experience of roughin’ it, pitch a tent, and haul the bare necessities. Tents come in many sizes and styles, some with dividers for separate sleeping quarters.
When purchasing a tent, remember capacity doesn’t include luggage space. If you plan to keep belongings in your tent, opt for a larger capacity. Most importantly, don’t forget padding or a blow-up mattress to insulate against the cold, hard ground.
If you like the idea of roughing it, yet want some of the comforts of home, a pop-up camper is the best of both worlds. The canvas sides and pullout sections of pop-ups are surrounded with screens and give the feeling of sleeping in the fresh outdoors.
Pop-ups come in several sizes and often include an icebox or mini refrigerator, heater, air conditioning, portable toilet, shower, kitchen sink, stove, cabinets and storage space, dining table, and other necessities.
Some families prefer going in style. Travel trailers and motor homes offer a luxurious nighttime retreat after a day of outdoor fun. Parking these mini-homes on wheels makes it easy to move from campsite to campsite, so visiting several campgrounds is a breeze.
Motorhomes and travel trailers often have a full-size kitchen, living room complete with sofa and chairs, and separate bedrooms for comfort and privacy.
Don’t overlook the option of a cozy cabin in the woods. Cabin rentals are available at campgrounds, state parks, and national forests. Cabins range from basic single room shelters containing only beds to completely furnished three- or four-room units including kitchenettes.
When reserving a cabin, ask what is provided, so you’ll arrive prepared and avoid unnecessary packing. And don’t forget to ask about electricity, lights, and water.
Experienced campers with older children might try a hike-in shelter for a true wilderness experience. Check with state and national parks for shelters that are sometimes set up along extended trails. After a day of hiking, roll out your sleeping bags under one of these small shelters for a dry night’s sleep surrounded by nature.
For the Best Amenities, Choose Camping Resorts
State Parks Are Best for Budget Campers
The cost of travel can make family vacations a rare treat. But the affordability of camping allows for more frequent getaways. Overnight fees range from a free night’s stay at some state park rustic sites (no showers, toilets, electricity, or water) to $50 or more per night at many of the top KOA and Jellystone Camp Park-Resorts. These top-of-the-line campgrounds are loaded with amenities from built-in swimming pools to live entertainment.
State park campgrounds vary from state to state. Still, these are often the best deal for families interested in experiencing all nature has to offer. Fees for overnight accommodations in state parks typically range from $15 to $35. Many state parks have modern facilities including flush toilets, showers, grassy or gravel sites, playgrounds, park stores for firewood and ice, and more. Furthermore, state parks frequently offer miles of wooded hiking or biking trails, natural wonders, historical sites, and much more that may not be found at private camp resorts.
Camping also helps keep other vacation expenses to a minimum. Many families prefer cooking over the campfire to eating out. Additionally, most outdoor camping activities are free or available at minimal cost.
Keeping the Kids Busy on a Camping Trip
Top Tips for Family Fun
Whatever your family’s interests, there is plenty to see and do. Trails offer ample activities such as collecting rocks, leaves, or insects, scouting for wildlife, learning about plants and trees, and practicing survival skills. Other ideas include all-day hiking outings, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Choosing to camp near water adds even more possibilities. Lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams offer fishing, swimming, kayaking or canoeing, sunbathing, and more.
Wildlife viewing is part of the fun. Look for animals early in the morning or at dusk on dirt roads and trails, in open fields surrounded by woods, and near water. Be patient, walk slowly and quietly, and don’t forget binoculars.
Other activities include nature programs, nature centers and historical sites, kite flying, rollerblading or bicycling on paved trails, and more.
When your family is ready to relax, light a campfire and enjoy reading or storytelling, play cards or board games, watch the sunset, stargaze, and roast marshmallows.
Don’t get carried away with packing, or camping will become a chore. Make a list (see sidebar), then weed out items you don’t really need. Portable televisions detract from the outdoor fun, so leave yours at home.
Think it through before taking your pet. Some campgrounds don’t allow pets and even if they do, they don’t allow pets to be left unattended. A pet can hinder many activities including beaches where dogs often aren’t allowed.
Are You Hungry yet?
Top Picks for Easy Camping Meals
There are many ways to cook. You can purchase a gas or liquid-fuel camping stove, or if electricity is available, a crock-pot or electric griddle works well. You can also carry a charcoal or small gas grill or cook over an open fire.
Keep meals simple to minimize packing, preparation, and clean up. Easy choices include: hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, steak, sandwiches, eggs, bacon, sausage, crock pot meals, sweet corn, baked potatoes, canned foods such as baked beans, tuna, chicken, spaghetti, ravioli, and soup, fresh fruit, vegetables and dip, bagels, English muffins, cereal, fruit juice, and hot cocoa.
On the other hand, if you enjoy cooking and good meals are one of the highlights for your family, then make the most of mealtime. With all the options for cooking, you can easily enjoy a gourmet feast.
Think Safety and Plan Ahead
Beware of Wild Animals & Weather
Camping is often a learn-as-you-go experience. But the following can alleviate hassles and keep your family safe.
Protect your food from animals and animals from your food by blocking access. Animals can find their way into nearly anything. Raccoons are known to lift lids right off coolers to snatch hot dogs and other treats. A cooler that latches is usually a safe bet. Any food that isn’t tightly contained should be stored in your vehicle overnight.
Poor weather can strike at any time, and insect infestations can also make for a miserable experience. Make additional shelter such as a screen tent or tarps and rope part of your camping gear.
Arrive at your camp destination ahead of the crowd. Every campsite is unique, and early arrival can assure a site that satisfies your needs.
When selecting a site, look for proximity to restrooms, the playground, electricity, and water. If you have young children, make sure the site isn’t close to a river or lake. The amount of shade you’ll want will depend on the weather forecast. To avoid mud, a grassy or rock site may be preferred. Also, avoid a site backed up to outhouses, which can smell in the heat and wind.
Know what animals are found in the area and teach your children animal safety. Wild animals usually want to avoid humans as much as we want to avoid them. Still, they can pose risks. In the west, mountain lions have been known to attack children and even adults. In bear country, those accustomed to people sometimes get too close, which may result in injury. Even small animals that feel threatened may attack.
Kimberly Blaker is a professional lifestyle and parenting freelance writer. She also does B2C and B2B writing. Find her at www.kimberlyblaker.com