15 Essential Tips for Camping with Kids

camping with children

Don’t let your kids do this.

Wondering if you should take your kids camping?  Think it might be too tough?  Camping with kids can be challenging but it’s definitely worth it.

You’ll get to bond with them, teach them new things, and share experiences with them that they’ll never forget.

Here are some of my best tips for having a fun and safe trip when camping with kids:

Camp Someplace Close to Home

As Dorothy famously said, “there is no place like home”.  When you camp close to home you’ll be close to your friends, family members, and primary care doctors.  These three groups of people can help make life a lot easier during an emergency.

Even if you never need to call on them, just having them nearby can help increase your peace of mind.  This is especially important if you’re bringing a young child out camping for the first time.

Additionally, camping near your house reduces the amount of time you’ll spend driving to your destination.  I love taking road trips now but I hated them as a child.  A minute in “kid time” feels like an eternity and it’s just hard for most kids to sit still for very long.

Most kids detest road trips and they’re usually very vocal about it.  Camp close to home and you’ll take the worst part of the trip out of the equation.

Let Your Kids Help You Choose a Destination

Getting your kids involved in the decision-making process helps them to mentally take ownership of the trip.  Choose a few good places to go camping close to home and then let your children make the final decision as to where you go.

This will reduce the chances that they’ll complain about the trip as it is the trip that they chose.  Complaining about it would just be admitting they made a bad choice and even kids typically don’t want to admit when they’re wrong.

When you ask them to choose the destination, ask them to tell you why they chose it and encourage them to think through the actual process so that they aren’t just picking a spot at random.

Having your kids help you choose the destination is a great way to help build their confidence and to level-up their decision-making skills.  The more you work on these skills with them, the more confident they’ll get.

Look for Campgrounds with Activities for Kids

Some campgrounds and state parks just aren’t built with children in mind.  These campgrounds lack activities for children to engage in and as a result, they can be boring for your children.

Luckily, there are many state parks and campgrounds that do have activities for kids.  Some state parks have playgrounds, beaches, and swimming pools that they can use.  In fact, lake-front campgrounds may have paddle boats for rent as well as other water-based fun for everyone.

Privately owned campgrounds can often have even more fun activities for kids.  Swimming pools, mini-golf course, amusements, and arcades with ski-ball machines can make the camping experience a little more like going to a fair or a boardwalk.

state park playground

Don’t Take Young Children Wilderness Camping

Wilderness camping is hard work and there are many more dangers to watch out for.  An older child might welcome the challenge and the chance to spend time with nature.  Younger children will not be interested in this and they might not even fully understand it.

For most people, the goal of taking their kids camping is to bond and to teach their kids new skills.  A young child probably isn’t going to even remember what you teach him or her out in the woods and they’ll only recall how uncomfortable they were.

Take your young children to a campground or park for their first few camping experiences and move onto wilderness camping with them when they get older.

Invite Your Kid’s Friends (and Their Parents)

Camping can be a great opportunity to quietly experience nature.  With kids in tow, it rarely is.  Why not roll with the situation and make your camping trip a fun social outing?  Invite your kid’s friends as well as their parents so you’ll both have somebody to hang out with.

Not only this, but you’ll have more adults present to help you watch out for danger and to keep an eye on your kids.  You may even be able to rent a few campsites in a row so you won’t have to worry about having to camp next to strangers.

Get a Big Tent

Small tents make a wonderful addition to a backpack.  These same small tents have no business in a car camping trip.  Get a big tent, preferably with more than one room so you’ll all have plenty of space to stretch out.

Remember the weather may not cooperate with you so you’ll really regret not having a big tent that you can stand up in when you’re all trapped inside of it all day.  A big tent will also offer you the chance to bring amenities like cots airbeds, and even camp furniture.  After all, there is plenty of room in the car so why not bring as many modern amenities as possible?

Bring Lots of Reflective Items

When I was a kid, I was in my own world half of the time, virtually oblivious to things around me.  I definitely wasn’t worried about tripping over a tent’s guy lines.

Fortunately, the adults with me were smart enough to put reflectors on these lines and to make it hard not to notice the areas of the campsite that wasn’t safe.  Now it is our turn as adults to do the same thing for our kids.

Bring reflective tape and lots of lights to that even as your kid runs across the campsite to show you the toad he just picked up, he’ll still be able to notice the rope that is directly in front of him.

Bring a Portable Toilet

A portable toilet is one of the best items you can invest in before your next camping trip.  These toilets are useful for anyone car camping but they’re especially useful for anyone car camping with kids.

Want to wake up at 3:00 am and walk across a campground with your 5-year-old?  Want to get back from the bathrooms only to find that your 8-year-old now has to go too?

Me neither.

Get a portable toilet and you won’t have to deal with issues like this.  Your kids can use the park’s bathrooms during the day and they can use the portable toilet at night.  For that matter, you can use the portable toilet as night too.

Along with your portable toilet, you may want to pack a toilet tent as well.  This is just a tall and narrow tent that you can use to store your portable toilet in.

Put your toilet, your toilet paper, and a portable sink inside of this tent and you have a fully-functional bathroom right at your campsite.  Just be courteous to yourself and your neighbors when using a portable camp toilet.  If the toilet starts to smell, go to the campgrounds bathrooms and empty it out.

portable camping toilet

Over Pack

Be neat and well-organized but pack as much as you can into your vehicle before the trip.  Kids can ruin clothes quickly and stuff gets dirty much faster in the woods.  Pack extra clothing and you won’t have to worry about running to a laundromat halfway through your trip.

Some people disagree with this tip and say that you should have your children re-wear their clothing but what happens when your child runs through a nest of ticks?  Are you really going to just brush those clothes off and have them put them back on?  Bring extra clothing and you won’t have to worry about this.

Bring extra flashlights and lanterns as well.  Let’s face it – kids aren’t always the most responsible people on earth.  Sure, you don’t want to teach your kids it is OK to lose things but at the same time, you don’t want to punish them by not allowing them to have a flashlight in a dark campground.  Take along a bunch of cheap flashlights and you won’t have to worry too much about losing them.

Pack extra food and water.

Your kids will be running around all day and you’ll probably be chasing after them.  Even if this doesn’t turn out to be the case, you’ll all still be burning more calories than usual while enjoying the outdoors.  Pack more food and water than you normally eat and drink each day and you won’t have to go to bed hungry each night.

Have Your Kids Help Setup

Get your kids involved with setting up and it will help to keep them occupied when you arrive.  Not only this, but it will teach them camping skills and will give them a sense of ownership over the camp.  Even young children can be asked to hold items down that don’t really need to be held down just so that they feel like they’re a part of the process.

Explain to your kids why you’re setting up the way you’re setting up so that they’ll know how to scout out the best locations for your tent on the next trip.  Also, have your kids help to put reflectors on the tent’s guy lines and they’ll be more likely to remember not to trip over them later on.

Once the tent is set up you can have the kids bring their gear from the car to the tent while you get dinner ready.  Again, this will keep them occupied and will give you a chance to get what you need done without interruption.

Kids Love Campfires – Manage Their Enthusiasm

I have vivid memories of running circles around the campfire with my younger brother as my older brother poured lighter fluid on it.  My mom told us to stop without bothering to put her newspaper down and of course, my dad filmed the whole thing.

We calmed down eventually and I cooked this marshmallow while my brother supervised.

camping with kids
My brother and I by the campfire. (circa 1991)

Luckily nobody was burned and we all had a lot of fun but it doesn’t always end so well for everyone.  Keep close to your kids while they’re by the fire and firmly instill into them how dangerous it can be.

Even a day old fire can pose a serious threat to your children.  According to UVM Medical Center, 80% of pediatric campfire injuries are from day-old campfires.  You should fully extinguish your fires each night anyway but even still, make sure your children stay away from the fire pits at all times.

Be Prepared for Rain

According to SciJinks.gov, a seven-day forecast can only accurately predict the weather about 80% of the time and a five-day forecast can only predict the weather accurately about 90% of the time.  This means that even if the forecast is calling for sunshine all week long, you might still end up getting rained on.

A rainy weekend in a tent can be a terrible and boring experience or it can be a fun time of family bonding.  This is often largely dictated by your packing skills.  When it rains, you’ll have to ask yourself, did I bring a large enough tent? Did we pack wet-weather clothing?  Are there plenty of board games in the car to keep us occupied for the next day or two?

Even a few cups of hot chocolate can make a rainy weekend just that much more bearable.

For a full break-down of how to camp in the rain, take a look at my post titled, “Car Camping in the Rain – What to Bring and What to Do“.

Don’t Tell Scary Stories

I remember watching Jaws for the first time as a child right before a week-long trip to the beach.  After watching this, I didn’t want to go in the water at all.  The movie had completely ruined the beach for me.

Don’t ruin a perfectly good camping trip by making your kids frightened of the woods.  Instead, warn your kids about the real dangers of camping in the woods so that they’ll know what to watch out for and when to come to you for help.

Bears, mountain lions, snakes, alligators, and even ticks and mosquitoes are scary enough without you having to make up stories about evil woodland monsters.  Besides, if your kids become so frightened that they can’t sleep, they’ll probably make sure you can’t sleep either.

Tire Your Kids Out Each Day

The best way to make sure you get a good night’s sleep while camping is to make sure your kids get one too.  Take your kids out on the hiking trails, canoeing and kayaking out on the lake and swimming on the beach and they’ll be so tired they’ll sleep the whole night through.  Not only this, but the exercise and fresh air will make both you and them much healthier.

Going to bed tired on a camping trip is a surefire way to ensure that you have a happy and healthy camping trip.  If you haven’t read it already, check out our post titled, “10 Reasons Why Camping is Good for Families“.

Don’t Change Their Sleeping Routines Too Much

Although you want your kids to be tired each night, you don’t want to let them sleep in too long each morning.  Interrupt your kid’s usual sleeping patterns and you’ll have to go through the process of resetting them when you get home.

Here is some useful information on how much sleep kids need by age range from the National Sleep Foundation:

Age Range Hours of Sleep Needed Each Night
1 – 2 11 – 14 hours including naps
3 – 5 11 – 13 hours including naps
6 – 13 9 – 11 hours

Staying up late by the fire and waking up early isn’t going to provide enough sleep for most children.  Hang out by the fire in the evening and sleep in a little bit if you have to.  This will leave both you and your children feeling refreshed afterward and ready to go back to work and school.

Related Questions

What are some fun things to do while camping with kids? Hopefully, you’ll choose a campground that already has many activities for you to participate but if not, here are a few fun activity ideas you can use on your next camping trip with your kids.

  • Make wilderness crafts.
  • Do scavenger hunts.
  • Marshmallow roasting.
  • Wildlife watching.
  • Wildlife photography.

How do I make my kids like camping?  Unfortunately, you can’t make your kids like anything.  You can, however, plan your trip in a way that makes them more likely to enjoy it.  For example, if your kids love the beach, try to plan a beach camping trip.

If your kids love eating certain foods, make sure you pack those foods.  From this point on, whenever they think of camping they’ll begin to associate it with their favorite foods and activities.

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Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf like to write about hiking, camping, snowshoeing, kayaking, and anything else that gets him outside.

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