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Expert-Backed Tips for Camping with Children

The Kids are in Tents

Parenting is hard. Parenting is a flimsy nylon shelter in the middle of the woods is even harder. To make camping with your kiddo less of a muddy, mosquito-ridden nightmare, we have rounded up five tips from outdoor educators across the Southeast.

Tip #1: Choose the Right Campsite  

In your younger, childless years, roughing it deep in the backcountry was tolerable—fun even. But now that you have created a mini-me, it’s time to reevaluate your campsite selection. 

If this is your youngster’s first foray into the forest, consider picking a tent spot that’s easily accessible by car and close to restrooms, potable water sources, and other amenities. Bonus points if you can find a campground with a jungle gym or swimming pool. 

“Keep it fun,” says Grant Bullard, owner and director of Gwynn Valley Camp in Brevard, N.C. “It is important not to push too hard.” 

Good food makes any camping trip better. Photo courtesy of FBRA

Tip #2: Pack Good Snacks (And Other Essentials)  

Zombies are scary. So are vampires and chupacabras. But nothing strikes fear into the heart of parents quite like a hangry kid. That’s why packing plenty of scrumptious snacks is essential for surviving your family camping escapade. 

Before your trip, stock up on grab-able goodies your kids love, like granola bars, fruit gummies, and trail mixes. “Always bring along good food,” Bullard confirms.

According to the camp director, tasty treats can keep tantrums at bay. But they can also open the door for dialogue. 

“Pass a bag of potato chips around the car after an experience and ask all the right questions,” he suggests. “What was their favorite part of the day? What did they do that they would want to do again? Or not do again? What might they do differently the next time?” 

In addition to food, don’t forget to pack other essentials like sunscreen, insect repellent, and a well-stocked first aid kit for when your son decides to wipe with stinging nettle. 

Plan fun activities to keep boredom at bay. Photo courtesy of Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing

Tip #3: Empower Your Kiddo

If your whippersnapper is a little freaked out by camping, don’t worry—that’s completely normal. 

“If they have never camped before, they might be nervous or curious about what the sleeping setup will look like, how to use their gear, or how to prepare food,” says Nora Randolph, outdoor programs director at French Broad River Academy in Asheville, N.C. “Of course, there will always be some nerves about bugs and critters as well.” 

To assuage these fears, teach them basic skills like how to pitch a tent, start a fire, and follow Leave No Trace principles. You might even camp in the backyard to get their feet wet (both literally and metaphorically). 

“Everything takes practice,” says Randolph. “After the first camping trip, kids know what to expect and get really good at their camping skills. They get excited to plan aspects of the trip and to be responsible for parts of the experience.”  

Photo courtesy of Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing

Tip #4: Plan Kid-Friendly Activities

While your idea of a good time might be relaxing down by the river, that probably won’t keep your tween entertained for very long. 

When camping with kids, it’s essential to think outside of the campfire ring and plan activities that cater to their interests and energy levels. You might set up a scavenger hunt around the campground, where they search for natural treasures like pinecones and rocks. Or you may go paddling on a nearby river. 

Of course, try as you might, there will come a time when your child gets bored and fussy. In these situations, it’s important to “validate their feelings and let them know they’re heard,” says Annika Enders, director of programs at Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing in New Castle, Virginia. 

From there, try to think of what they enjoy doing at home—whether that’s playing card games or drawing—and then “replicate that to the best of your ability,” Enders suggests. 

Camping with kids isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. Photo courtesy of FBRA

Tip #5: Remember Why You’re Out There

Camping with kids requires patience, patience, and—yup, you guessed it—more patience. 

There will be teary-eyed moments when you want nothing more than to pack up and head home. But hang in there. Even if your kiddo won’t stop whining about the mosquitoes or the scorching heat or how they can’t play video games, know that roughing it for a night or two is making them stronger, grittier individuals. 

“There’s no question about the worth of introducing children to the natural world,” Bullard says. “The positives are abundant and priceless. As they overcome a fear or challenge, we are helping them build resilience.” 

Randolph seconds this. “Kids thrive on opportunities to learn new skills, and they also thrive when they have a chance to relax and have fun,” she says. “Spending time outside, especially when they can be immersed in the experience for a couple of days, helps kids connect in a real way to the people and nature around them.” 

Cover photo: Empower your kiddo by teaching them basic camping skills. Photo courtesy of FBRA.

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