Connect with nature and each other on a fun family camping trip.

By Erinne Magee
June 23, 2020
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Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

Families looking for an alternative way to fill their usual summer vacation plans are turning to the outdoors and booking campground stays. That said, while being one with the woods has a dreamy appeal to some, those planning a camping trip for the first time, especially with kids, may feel daunted by the task. Since vacation is supposed to be relaxing, we’ve asked camping experts to share their best tips for a safe, successful, and stress-free experience.

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1. Be honest about how outdoorsy you are.

While there’s a certain charm to pitching a tent, you don’t have to go completely out of your comfort zone in order to get close to Mother Nature. “If it’s your first time camping, take out the stress and opt for glamping instead,” says Janet Glaser, public relations manager at Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozarks. “Get back to the basics and reconnect with nature and each other in the most stunning setting possible.”

While glamping hasn’t caught on everywhere just yet, many campgrounds do have RV hookups and cabin rentals on the property. If you choose traditional camping, do a practice run and pitch a tent at home, or at the very least, arrive well before dusk, so you aren’t setting it up in the dark.

2. Choose a campground with amenities.

Once you’ve decided where you’ll sleep, take some time to research campground amenities to ensure everyone has something to look forward to. “While you can partake in activities like hiking and exploring nature at most campgrounds, it’s also important to choose a campground with child-friendly activities, like a playground or pool, to give kids a chance to expend some energy,” says Deb Lennon, owner of Sandy Pines Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine.

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3. Let the kids help with planning.

No matter the age, there’s a way to include input from your kiddos. Whether this is collaborating on snack lists, crafting a s’mores bar, gathering gear, or actually researching the trip itself, the excitement becomes greater with all hands on deck. For a visual guide the whole family can enjoy while planning their campout, "Sleeping Bags to S’mores" offers practical camping advice with age-appropriate illustrations. If your child is into graphic novels, they’ll love this book.

Also, when packing, remember theme nights are a staple in the camping community. Check out a calendar of events, so you can participate in luaus, costume parades, and more.

4. Consider the nearby town.

Travel may look different now, but that doesn't mean you can’t soak in some local culture. Whether this is a staycation in your own state or something more regional, pick a town you’ve been wanting to explore (or at the very least, has an ice cream shop).

“Location is important to consider when camping with children,” says Lennon. “You’ll want to have a backup plan of activities for potential rainy days, so choosing a location that has options like a movie theater, library, restaurants, and museums nearby is helpful for days when the weather isn’t optimal.”

5. Plan some fun, family-friendly activities.

One thing that makes camping special is being able to sit back and relax, without worrying about what’s next on the agenda. Of course, this isn’t as simple with kids in tow. Finding a way that everyone can enjoy the same activity in their own way will help keep the peace.

“Unfortunately, things that are fun for mom and dad don’t always resonate with the kids,” says Whitney Scott, spokesperson for Terramor Outdoor Resort near Acadia National Park. “If your children aren’t jazzed about the three-mile hike you have planned, consider new ways to engage them. Make hikes more exciting for kids by using apps to help them identify bugs, trees, and flowers, and take photos of the different species you see along the way.”

Most of all, spending time outside as a family is a great way to unwind and bask in the gratitude of still being able to spend time away from home. Sometimes, just soaking in the sights and sounds of nature makes everything feel right again.