This post has been sponsored by Coleman®. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
From years of experience I’ve compiled the best tips to make your next family camping trip easy, relaxing and stress free. Whether you’re an old pro or a newbie with this How to Go Camping with Kids guide you’ll be creating life long memories and enjoying camping in no time – even with an armload of kids!
Over years and years of making mistakes I’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do when camping with kids. You wouldn’t believe how young my daughter was when we first took her! Save yourself the expense of learning from your own mistakes and learn from mine instead! I’ve compiled all my essential tips for the easiest, most stress-free family camping trip possible. From what gear to bring, including the coolest new camping products (hello, Coleman® Dark Room Tent!) to how to find and reserve a camping spot and how in the world to keep even the most tech-obsessed kids engaged and having fun in the woods. With this guide to enjoying camping – even with an armload of kids – you’ll be creating life-long memories in the great outdoors in no time.
Why Go Camping?
Even though it hasn’t always been easy, we continue to go camping with kids year after year. We took my first-born camping when she was only one week old. Although I would never recommend that, I do think that camping is something all kids, and families, should experience. Why you ask? Because camping has so many benefits!
Camping and all the fresh air and sunlight positively impact mental and physical health in so many ways. Family and group camping also creates opportunities for bonding, team building, and learning new skills while also giving individuals time to delve into whatever it is they’d like to do.
It’s good for your health
After time in nature negative obsessive thinking is reduced which in turn reduces anxiety and depression symptoms. Spending days outside in the sunlight can even out melatonin levels in the brain, which helps people feel generally happier and more energized. And the increase in oxygen from fresh air helps your body to function better and increases serotonin levels, making you happier!
“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, — he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Plus the absence of technology and removal of distractions camping the ultimate opportunity to destress, clear the mind, breath in and just be.
If you have a hard time dealing with the thought of doing nothing then take the time to learn a new skill, play a long-forgotten game, or practice a hobby that you just never seem to have time for. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll bring a stack of magazines and all the cookbooks you’ve been meaning to read ?
It’s the ultimate family bonding exercise
Since almost everything at camp requires teamwork, and especially when camping with kids, it’s great for bonding! Camping is the ideal opportunity to come together, reestablish real connections and create tight family bonds. And they won’t even know it’s happening because they’ll just be making memories and simply enjoying the great outdoors! #MomWin
What’s Camping Like?
There’s many different types of camping. Backyard camping is great for getting comfortable with new gear and gaining camping experience while pack-in-only ‘backcountry’ camping is what people with lots of experience and a thirst for adventure prefer. Me? I’m all about that typical drive-the-car-around-the-circle, find-a-beautiful-spot and set-up kind of camping. And this guide will help you find that sort of ‘front country’ campsite for you and your family. As well as give you tips on what to expect when you get there and help you plan for the most relaxing experience possible when camping with kids.
the campground and campsite
Most campgrounds are very similar. With numbered sites situated around some sort of loop and check-in station, the camp host either waiting to assist you or circling the campground and stopping by sites. There will often be restrooms, but don’t expect more than a cold, outhouse-like building with a primitive vault toilet and possibly some 1-ply toilet paper. There most likely won’t be any water in the restrooms and only non-potable (undrinkable) water available at certain spots around the campground. Each site usually has a picnic table, tent pad (designated spot for a tent) and fire ring to build a campfire in as well as fire wood for sale. Some have grills over the fire rings and food storage ‘bear’ boxes, but not all.
Front country camping is a lot like living in a neighborhood aside from the beautiful landscape. You’ll likely have neighbors surrounding you, kids playing and riding bikes, some noise, the smell of BBQ cooking, and sometimes, a little night life from around the campfire. Quiet hours where visitors are expected to keep things like generators, music and general noise to a minimum will be posted at the campground.
It’s a great idea to go over camp etiquette and good stewardship principles so everyone knows what’s expected of them. But also know that kids will be kids. They will be loud outside of quiet hours. They will pick plants. Don’t let it stress you out. I find that people are generally respectful and if we give our neighbors grace and understanding they return the favor.
Seek campgrounds in less popular areas and look for midweek dates when making reservations if you’d prefer a bit more privacy. Or, choose your camping neighbors and reserve a large group site for your friends and their families too!
How to Find a Campsite?
Gone are the days of driving around looking for an available camping spot. Although all my childhood camping memories involve the excitement and anticipation of driving from campground to campground just wondering where the adventure would end, as an adult it’s much less exciting and much more stressful. Trust me, do yourself a favor and make a campsite reservation.
You can now reserve campsites at national, state, local and private campgrounds up to one year in advance, although most campgrounds do still keep a portion of their sites as ‘first come first serve’ to appeal to those thrill seekers who just love the hunt. With so many campground options it’s dizzying trying to decipher them all but I’ve rounded up some of the best resources for finding, researching and reserving a great campsite.
What to Bring Camping?
If you’ve never been camping, you may feel like the initial investment is a bit high but trust me it’s so worth it! If you choose the right gear from the beginning, you will be camping comfortably (and relatively cheaply!) for years. Of course, backpacking, water travel or extreme conditions will require different camping supplies, but these are the basics to get you started in the right direction.
the right gear
With the camping and outdoor adventure section at Target, it’s a one-stop-shop for all your camping gear needs. Plus with Target’s reputation for sourcing heritage-quality, design-minded, affordable goods I know that when shopping at Target I’m always presented with the best of the best. And camping gear is no different!
Target has a whole section dedicated to Coleman products and for good reason! Coleman is the original creator of durable outdoor recreation products that deliver lifetime memories for families that love the outdoors. Only Coleman applies patented innovation and 100+ years of proven quality to create versatile products that create a deep-rooted and life-long, enduring appreciation for the outdoors and family adventuring. And with all Coleman’s new technology, they are making it even easier for you and your family to make memories and enjoy the great outdoors!
The best tent for family camping – dark and dry
The one thing I am MOST excited about is this NEW Coleman® Dark Room Tent. With Dark Room Technology, the compact yet roomy 4-Person Coleman® Dark Room Tent blocks 90% of sunlight and reduces heat inside! Amazing for camping families because kids just will not sleep unless it’s dark, even if they have been running around in nature like wild animals all day long. BUT, thanks to Coleman you can now put the kids to bed early and *fingers crossed* they may even sleep in past sunrise!
The Coleman® Dark Room Tent also keeps you protected from the elements. The Dark Tech reduces temperatures in the tent, letting your group enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep when it’s warm. And if it rains, this tent is guaranteed to keep you dry thanks to the WeatherTec system. It also has a tub-like floor with patented corner welds, protected seams, a door awning and a rainfly to keep even the rainiest Pacific Northwest downpours out.
More than protection from the elements
Inside, you can comfortably fit 1 queen-size airbed, like the Coleman Single High Queen with 120V External Pump. You can also neatly stash small items in mesh storage pockets sewn into the walls, and conveniently bring in electrical power with the E-Port feature. When it’s time to head home, the tent easily packs up until you’re off on your next adventure. Plus, as with all Coleman products, the tent is so durable it can withstand the elements of nature (and your family!) for years and years of family memories.
I mean, Dark Technology is such a cool thing! My entire family was so impressed with it and blown away with how dark it stays inside the tent, even in the brightest sun! Now get $10 when you buy your Coleman Dark Room Tent at Target with rebate savings through Ibotta. But hurry! This offer is only good for a limited time!!
While you’re there, stop by the Coleman aisle and stock up on everything else you’ll need for your family camping trip! With sleeping bags, sleeping pads, headlamps, lanterns, first aid kits, cooking supplies, coolers, sunscreens, bug spray and a whole Coleman Kids line, Target has everything you need for camping with kids. Also get food, drinks, clothing and everything else you need. It’s your one-stop-shop to family adventure!
What to do While Camping?
Camping is the perfect opportunity for children to practice independence, make decisions for themselves and do some things without the help of their parents. To enjoy down time however they choose. But, also to work together to accomplish the necessary tasks. Camping is an activity in itself and the main goal should be to get as much ‘down time’ in as you like. But it’s also good to have some reasonable activities planned to keep kids busy, engaged, and having fun. I love anything low key when camping, even low key activities.
Kids’ Camping Kits
Reduce arguments and the constant search for supplies by giving kids their own individual camping kits.
Give them all the equipment and supplies they’ll need for the trip. And with clear instructions to keep things clean, dry, and available, kids know what’s expected of them. They gain a sense of responsibility and independence. And since the responsibility is shifted off you, you gain a bit more down time. There’s much less ‘where’s the flashlight?,’ ‘I need a spoon,’ ‘there’s no dry towels,’ ‘that’s MY stick’ arguments leaving more time for relaxing, making memories and enjoying the great outdoors!
Kids Camping Kit Supplies
- Large Items: sleeping bag / pillow / folding chair
- Self Care: towel / toothbrush / bug spray / sunscreen / wipes / eco friendly soap
- Eating Utensils: cutlery / cup / canteen / plate / bowl
- Lights: flashlight / headlamp / lantern / reusable glow stick
- Clothing: socks / sweatshirt / raincoat / swimming suits / hat / long underwear / comfortable footwear / old clothing that can get wet, dirty, smoky and take a beating.
- Extras: fire stick / marshmallow stick (whether it’s whittled at camp or brought from home) / swimming goggles / walkie talkies / camera / pocket knife / magnifying glass / journal / compass
Help with Camp Tasks
When camping with kids, keep them busy and involved in the tasks of camp. Allow children to get their hands dirty. Get them involved with putting up the tent, cooking meals, starting fires, and more. It will not only stop the ‘boredom blues’ it teaches them that they can. A real confidence booster for young children.
Plus, it’s frustrating trying to set up a tent or prepare a meal when the kids are running around, getting into things, asking a million questions, or fighting with each other. Instead, assign some of the tasks to them so they’re too busy to argue and you’ll have more time to relax! Of course, the tasks must be appropriate for their age and ability. For example, young children can gather kindling or fill water bottles nearby, while older kids can prepare food, wash dishes, and set up their own tents.
Explore Science and Nature
Camping allows kids to explore and discover in nature and explore scientific concepts without them even realizing it. They learn simply through play, expanding their minds while developing an appreciation for the great outdoors. The opportunities are endless to facilitate extra exploration beyond genuine unplanned and unstructured outdoor play.
Link Interests to Nature
You can plan thoughtful camping games and activities that are personalized to your child’s unique interests. Whether it’s cooking, astronauts, dinosaurs, fashion and jewelry or poetry and creative writing. It’s pretty easy to come up with some way to nurture their current interests while in nature. Tuck in a notebook for your little paleontologist or animal lover to collect specimens and record data, a constellation chart for your astronaut-in training to study the stars after dark, some leather and beads to make a walking stick. Or some new paints and a notebook for the artist to take advantage of all the natural inspiration.
A good ole fishing pole, fire stick and a pocket knife (for older children only!) go a long way too ?. Or just use the opportunity to explain the science behind everything around you. There are opportunities for learning everywhere! The gunk in the lake, the life cycle of a fish, or the chemical reactions at play in the crackling fire are just a few examples off the top of my head.
Research Hikes and Hot Springs in the Area
Research local activities ahead of time. Only if you think you’ll need more than lounging and magazines. Just kidding! There’s usually so much to do and see near campgrounds. Plan ahead to have the information with you should you decide to venture out. Day hikes, fishing, boating and more can all add to the excitement and adventure of camping with kids.
Many campgrounds also offer on site activities for children like the Junior Ranger’s program from the National Park Service. Click to find kids camp songs, kids camping games and activity ideas, and a kid friendly campground near you.
What to Eat while Camping?
Plan ahead to keep everyone fed easily and deliciously over the campfire with simple tools and recipes. Make sure to plan for lots of fun and easy things to cook. Because basically camping is really just a day long potluck / wood-fired feast.
Low Key & Fun Foods
With loads of ideas for fun Dutch oven, tin foil packet, and stick-cooked meals you should have no trouble finding meals that you think would be fun for your family. Kids love to be involved in cooking their own food – especially when it’s on the end of a stick! Do the prep work at home of cleaning, chopping, marinating and mixing whatever you can. Then give the children as much responsibility for cooking at camp as their age allows for.
Bring easy grab-and-go snacks that can cleanly and easily be eaten by hand for snacking and lunch. Serve cold salads and cut fruit and veggies in cups and have supplies for sandwiches and wraps. Treats like cookies and hand pies are also great for mess-free snacking on the go. And, as long as you know how to make coffee at camp you’ll be all set! Cold brew coffee saves my life in the mornings while I wait for the water to boil. Because quick coffee = happy mom.
Keep Food Secure
Also, remember that you and your family are not the only residents that are hungry. Wildlife is always on the lookout for spilled food, unattended food and coolers, and a handout from you. Please do not feed wildlife. Lock food up and away at night and never keep food in your tent. Come prepared with your own ‘bear box’ in case the campground is not equipped. And check with them for a full list of food storage and disposal regulations.
Camping with kids checklist
- Buy the right gear that will last for years, like the Coleman® Dark Room Tent.
- Make campsite reservations as far in advance as possible (1 year max).
- For less crowds, look for off-the-beaten-path campgrounds and plan weekday vacations. Or reserve a large group site for your friends and their families too.
- Keep trips short at first and build up to longer camp stays. Or try a dry run in your backyard before hitting the campground!
- Give kids responsibility over their own belongings with Kids Camp Kits.
- Teach kids camp etiquette and good stewardship principles.
- Keep kids busy and a part of the team by involving them in camp tasks.
- Plan fun meals that get the kids involved in cooking and are easy to eat on the go.
- Prep meals at home as much as possible.
- Plan some activities but also allow for lots of down time, family bonding and relaxation.
Have you ever been camping with kids? Have any tips for me? Thinking, ooooh there’s a great campground near me! Comment below and share your tips.
Happy adventuring in the great outdoors!
This post created in partnership with Coleman® Thank you for supporting the brands that support me!
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