Camping tips for kids: 11 ways to keep them smiling on your adventure

camping with kids: kids having fun camping
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Time spent outdoors with the family is priceless. An adventurous and successful trip away with the kids can bring the whole tribe closer together and you'll make memories that will stay lodged with you and the little ones for a lifetime.

A backcountry adventure far from the trappings of modern life is a magnificent way to connect with both nature and your children. However, camping can be hard work and, if you're unprepared, camping with kids can be very challenging indeed. So, getting it right, keeping them active and maintaining their interest is key. If they start whinging about being bored and missing home, it'll be harder to reignite that initial excitement.

So even if you're asking yourself why anyone would want to go camping with kids, we've got a few ideas to help you. Here are 11 essential camping tips for kids, to banish the word ‘bored’ and keep them happy campers on your next trip into the great outdoors with your family tent.

Meet the expert

Camping tips for kids: David Mellor
David Mellor

David lives in North Wales, where the mountains of Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park provide the perfect playground for him and his young family. He's passionate about sharing his outdoor skills with others, particularly his children.

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1. Involve kids in setting up camp

  • Keep your kids occupied and involved
  • Tasks like putting up the tent give them a sense of achievement and confidence

Camping tips for kids

Get the kids to help set up camp,  (Image credit: getty)

Yes, kids who are occupied from the start are kids that are happy. They like to feel involved. Even the youngest children can unfurl canvas, while bigger kids will take pleasure from the responsibility that comes from selecting the pitch and staking out the tent. Share the burden and reap the rewards. (And make the most of their enthusiasm, because when they’re a bit older – check out our guide to camping with teenagers – they likely won’t want to lift a finger.)

Redesign chores into missions

  • Reframe tasks that may seem like chores as quests or missions

"Yeah, but Gandalf, carrying the One Ring all the way to Mordor sounds like a right chore," moaned Frodo.

"No Frodo. It's a quest!" the old wizard asserted. Frodo's eyes lit up. Now he had the chance to emulate his Uncle Bilbo.

Okay, so the above may not be an exact extract from Lord of the Rings, but it nicely illustrates the point we're about to make...

Around the home, most kids baulk at the faintest sign or merest mention of chores, but at home most chores don’t involve scouring the woods for kindling so that you can spend the night around an awesome campfire. Drop the word ‘chore’, replace it with ‘mission’ and focus on the collective outcome and spirit of adventure and, soon enough, you’ll have a race on your hands to see who can collect wood quickest.

3. Cook up a storm

  • Children will be more enthused about outdoor cooking than cooking at home
  • Plan meals that will allow them to get involved in the preparation

camping tips for kids: kid eating a camping meal

Active kids need plenty of fuel (Image credit: Getty Images)

Before you set off, plan ahead and consider which meals the kids can get involved in making. Like campground chores, they may show very little appetite for cooking at home but give them access to an outdoor kitchen in the woods and suddenly they’re all budding young chefs eager to chop, stir and pour (under supervision).

Looking for something to cook? Check out our guide to the camping meals you can make in the outdoors.

4. Storytime

  • Kids love being told stories around the campfire
  • It's a great time for a singalong or for telling jokes too

Once that campfire is glowing, a great family activity to keep the kids happy is to sit around and share some stories. Younger kids will always relish being told tales of adventure but, if you plan ahead and take paper and pencils with you, you can also challenge older kids to use their surroundings as inspiration to create their own stories to be shared later that evening.

A campfire singalong is always a hit too, the more actions the better! Also, it's a great time for sharing a joke or two.

Of course, with kids around, campfire safety is paramount. Make sure you've got your plan of action and don't be afraid to call it off if necessary. If you don't know how to light a fire, practise before your trip. The last thing you want is the kids getting bored because you can't get the thing going. Having properly seasoned firewood helps. You can often get these from local stores or from the campground.

5. Bugs everywhere

  • Send your kids off on a bug hunting mission
  • Find identification charts to get them classifying what they find

Camping tips for kids

Bag-hunting is a perfect kid-friendly activity (Image credit: getty)

Not all adults are huge bug fans but there’s no denying that most kids have a rather odd affinity with the little critters. Use this to your advantage by sending them on a campground bug-hunting expedition. Download or create your own laminated identification charts before you leave home and you can recycle this idea as a fun way to spend a couple of hours on every subsequent camping trip. To up the ante, have prizes ready for the coolest or largest bug of the day.

6. Scavenger hunt races

  • Scavenger hunts can be a great, fast-paced activity

Searching for bugs might be cool, but it often requires slow, stealth-like movements. Change the pace a little by planting a series of objects in and around your surroundings and then set the kids off (under supervision or within a defined boundary) at warp speed in a race against the clock to identify and locate them all. Their quiet post-race collapse will be your reward for an activity gone well.

7. Creative crafts

  • Gather raw materials from the surroundings to make all manner of campsite crafts

Let nature be your inspiration and allow imaginations to run wild when you engage the kids in some campground craft activities. From leaf pressing and bark art, to creating wondrous campground crowns to adorn the heads of your little camping princes and princesses; you and the kids will be amazing at just what’s possible when your raw materials are scattered naturally all around you.

8. Fish ‘o’ mania

  • If you're camping by a lake or river, fishing is a glorious and fun activity for kids to try

Camping tips for kids

Whether or not you catch a fish, fishing is a fun activity (Image credit: getty)

If you’re fortunate enough to have pitched up by the side of a lake or on the banks of a river, why not indulge the kids in some fishing? You may soon find yourself competing with the kids to land the prize catch for a foil-wrapped campfire cooking bonanza, or you might be complete novices, fashioning your own rods from sticks or paddling in the shallows catching tiddlers with a net. What matters is that you’re doing it together.

9. Take a hike

  • Wearing the kids out a little on a local hike is a good way to get some peace and quiet
  • Task older children with navigational tasks
  • Young kids may enjoy some geocaching

We all know the best way to get some peace as parents is to wear the kids out, so planning a local hike to explore your new surroundings is always a good idea. Hiking with kids can be great fun and there are loads of ways to maximize their enjoyment. 

Older offspring can be tasked with navigating sections of the walk with a map and compass (or an app), while younger kids might try their hand at finding what treasures they can unearth while geocaching.

10. Host a campground Olympics

  • Use the natural resources that surround you to plan and carry out a campground Olympics

Yes, using just the items that you can source in and around your campground, and some imagination, you can host a mini Olympics. Create throwing targets on trees, use sticks to mark long-jumping distances in the dirt, and a stopwatch (on your phone or smartwatch) to see who can make it to the lake and back in the quickest time, while negotiating a range of natural obstacles. Be sure to include a combination of running, jumping and throwing events to determine who truly is the overall and undisputed family champ. Winner gets to pick dinner!

11. Sleep under the stars

  • Pack a constellation chart or download a night sky app
  • Bring binoculars or a small telescope

northern hemisphere night sky

Few sights are a dazzling as the Milky Way streaking across the night sky (Image credit: Getty)

There are few better experiences to share as a family than a night spent literally under the stars. Do your research before you depart and download a constellation chart or download a night sky app. Pick a clear night, just after a new moon if possible, lie back outside your tent and see what you can spot in the northern hemisphere night sky

You might even be lucky enough to spot a distant planet. Pack a pair of binoculars or a mini telescope for added effect. A pair of Kowa YF 8x30 binoculars are great for kids to use. If the night is forecast dry and the conditions are warm enough, you could always sleep outside your tent, or with the flysheet off if your tent has a mesh inner, and show the children how the heavens revolve during the night.

Final thoughts

Camping as a family needn’t be hard work. In fact, with these sorts of activities to keep your kids happy campers, there’s absolutely no reason why, on the way home, they won’t be asking when the next trip will be.

David Mellor

An award-winning outdoor blogger and Ordnance Survey #GetOutside champion, David is most often found hiking, scrambling and skiing in the mountains, paddling on lakes, and wild camping with his wife and two young children. As a full-time English teacher, he weaves his love for the outdoors into his professional life by encouraging young people to explore, and once led a group of 32 teenagers on a month-long trip to Tanzania, an expedition that included climbing Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro.

With contributions from