Tips for your first family camping adventure.
Camping can be challenging, but it also offers incredible opportunities for kids to learn life lessons. Plus, it’s a low-cost way to visit noteworthy destinations across the country—and the world.
“Parents will be pleasantly surprised at how cheap it is to have a great time camping and give their kids a memorable experience,” says Jessica James, manager at Black Rock Mountain State Park in Northeast Georgia and mom to two outdoor-loving daughters. “The earlier you expose kids to [the outdoors] the better.”
For those new to camping with kids, it’s important to set your first outdoor adventure up for success. Planning is key, says Amanda Desnoyers, a Dunwoody mom who camps regularly with her husband and five kids. “The more prepared you are, the easier it will be.”
Read on for more tips from these family camping pros to make sure your first campout isn’t your last.
Plan a backyard “run-through” before the big trip. Practice putting up the tent and making a fire to build confidence and familiarity. Kids can even spend the night in the sleeping bag and tent. “If you go to a park and you’ve never done those things, it can be stressful,” James says. “A lot of these things can lead to arguments within the family if everyone is anxious. Doing a run-through in the backyard is a great idea.”
Check the weather and do your homework when selecting a campsite. Look for destinations with a playground or programs for kids, such as crafts or nature walks with rangers and naturalists. Every Georgia State Park offers a Junior Ranger Program, giving kids the opportunity to earn up to 59 badges for different site-specific activities.
If you’re camping with three or four families, it doesn’t hurt to ask if the park ranger can organize a program, from painting pet rocks to a scavenger hunt, just for your group. “If you make sure the kids have things to do, they aren’t inclined to want to use their technology,” James says.
Have a designated spot at home for camping gear and keep a master list of what you need to bring, Desnoyers says. In addition to necessary items such as insect repellent and a first aid kit, consider bringing a clothesline to hang up wet items, a broom to sweep the tent, tablecloths, skewers for marshmallows and lots of wet wipes. Instead of each child having his or her own suitcase, pack small bags of clothing for each day with clothing for all the kids.
“You can keep them in the car and each night bring the next day’s clothing into the tent, distributing the clean clothing for the next day, and packing up the dirty clothes into that bag,” Desnoyers say. “This minimizes the clothing spread all over the tent.”
Pack toiletries in bags that are easy to tote to the bathrooms and don’t forget shower shoes. James also suggests bringing a wagon for little ones to load up for trips to the shower stations. A few games or favorite toys may also be good, but make sure to leave time for unstructured play. “You’d be surprised how kids will entertain themselves, even if they don’t have a playground,” James says. “There are trees to climb and cool leaves and things to look at.”
Plan meals ahead and precook as much food as possible. “People will be extra hungry, and it’s hard to sit and wait for something to cook over the fire, unless it’s fast,” Desnoyers says. Plan on purchasing a bag of ice each day to keep the cooler cold and bring lots of ready to-go snacks for hikes and other activities.
MAKE IT SPECIAL
Add some extra fun to your campsite with string lights and lanterns (don’t forget extension cords to run electricity to the tent if needed). Another way to turn up the merriment is camping with friends. “Share meal prep and bring supplies, and the kids will have a blast together,” Desnoyers says. “Book ahead of time to get adjoining campsites.”
Contributing home editor and design columnist at Simply Buckhead. Travel & Business Writer. Mother of Two.