Camping Ideas For Families: A Beginner’s Guide

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We just got back from our family’s first camping trip! Although my husband and I have both grown up camping, it was our first family camping experience with just our kids and no other adults. We learned a lot, had a great time, and are excited to plan our next camping trip!

Boy with mug in camp chair giving the thumbs-up. We got some great camping ideas for families on our first camping trip!
We got some great camping ideas for families on our first camping trip!

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Camping with kids requires some extra planning and preparation, but it’s so worth it to get out in nature and enjoy quality family time together. Here are our best camping ideas for families to have a memorable, fun, and safe first camping experience.

@dinkumtribe How we started getting used to tent camping with 6 kids. Tips for beginners. #adhdfamilies #adhdfamilylife #momofmanykids #weloveourbigfam #bigfamiliesoftiktok #bigfamilies #familytravelinfluencer #familytravelideas #familytravelblogger #familytraveltips #travelwithkidstips #travelwithkids2022 #travelwithkidschallenge #campingwithkids #beginnerscamping #campingforbeginners #tentcamping #tentcamp #tentcampinglife #campingforbeginners #tentcampingdoneright #oregonfamily #kidscamping ♬ original sound – dinkumtribe

Planning and Preparation for Family Camping

The first thing to consider is where and when you will be camping. Campgrounds tend to fall into two basic types: modern camp facilities and rustic campgrounds.

Most of my childhood camping was at campgrounds with no running water at the site, no electricity, and no flush toilets. This would be considered a rustic campsite, and involves substantially more planning, especially for a family with younger children.

View of our campsite at the Cover Palisades. We learned a lot of great camping ideas for families on this trip!
You can see the restroom and shower facilities in the distance behind our campsite.

Modern camp facilities (such as KOA, national parks, and many state parks) typically have running water, electric hook-up sites (for RVs, but often still available to tent campers), flush toilets, and showers. If you are going camping for the first time, this type of site makes for an ideal first-family camping experience.

How to choose a location

As you are looking into locations, make sure to research a couple of things before making your reservation. If you need some help, these camping apps can make the process easier.

Weather

Camping in bad weather is simply no fun for a first camping trip. Check to see what the weather is like for the time of year you plan to camp.

I remember camping as a kid in the California mountains, and on one camping trip, we had an unexpected snowstorm blow in. After a freezing night bundled up in our tent, my parents were up and out as fast as soon as there was morning light!

Grocery store

I highly recommend camping somewhere that has a grocery store within 30 minutes of your site, particularly when camping with kids. I can guarantee that on your first camping trip, there will be things you forget or don’t realize you need until you are at the campsite.

General tips about choosing when and where to camp

Boys in tent. Camping ideas for families.

If you want to camp in a national park or popular state park, you’ll probably have to make a reservation as far out as a year in advance. National park campgrounds fill up quickly, often selling out within minutes of reservations being released to the public. 

As a family just starting to camp with your kids, I strongly recommend going with someone else who is an experienced camper. You’ll pick up so many great tips and ideas from seeing how another camper handles things. Plus, you can temporarily borrow items that you may have forgotten until you have the chance to go to a store. 

@dinkumtribe More tips for beginners tent camping as a family. #adhdfamilies #adhdfamilylife #theresalotofkidsinhere #momofmanykids #weloveourbigfam #bigfamiliesoftiktok #bigfamilies #largefamilymom #largefamiliesoftiktok #tentcampingdoneright #tentcampinglife #tentcamping #tentcampingwithkids #beginnerscamping #campingforbeginners #campingwithkids #campingtipsandtricks #campingwithfriends #campingwithtoddlers #momhacks2022 ♬ original sound – dinkumtribe

We went on our recent camping trip with friends from church and it was so much fun! Our older kids had friends to hang out with, and there were more adults available to keep an eye on the younger ones. We also picked up some of our best camping hacks from camping with friends!

Saying goodbye to one of our church friends at the end of our camping trip.

Camping Gear: Investing

Camping gear has come a LONG way in the last 20-30 years! We’ve had some old camp gear handed down from family members who were done with camping. As our old stuff wears out, or as we can afford it, we’ve upgraded our gear along the way.

The green tent broke on our recent trip, so we tossed it and got a newer, better model.

I recommend getting the best gear you can afford. Cheap camping gear still works, but spending a little more almost always results in huge benefits when you’re camping. The better you sleep, the more you’ll enjoy the trip!

@dinkumtribe We used several different kinds of camping mattress on our most recent camping trip. We’ve decided that the blue mattresses worked the best! They’re linked in our Dinkum Tribe Amazon storefront. @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel #campingmattress #tentcamping #bestcampingideas #airmattress ♬ Happy Cute & Playful – Yevhen Lokhmatov

For example, we bought 2 queen inflatable mattresses for our tents for about $20 each. On our recent trip, we discovered that these mattresses had slow leaks– by morning, we were touching the ground! We bought 2 new single twin mattresses from Costco for $40 each and found that they were more comfortable and stayed inflated. 

Tent Camping Gear: Must-Haves

Here’s a list of essential camping gear for families with kids (affiliate links included):

Tent

You’ll need a tent (or two) large enough to fit your family comfortably. Note that the amount of people a tent “sleeps” is literally how many people can lay across the floor of the tent without much space to move. It doesn’t account for gear, or space to maneuver!

We always buy our tent with space for 1 or 2 more people than we need. So for 3 kids to sleep, we buy a 4 or 5-person tent.

If you’re planning to camp in the winter or wet weather, your gear will take up more space too. Our newest family tent has blackout technology that helped us all get more sleep while camping during the summer solstice when the sun was up at 4:30 am!

Sleeping bags

Green sleeping bag.

Make sure everyone has a warm sleeping bag for camping. The sleeping bag should be rated for at least 10 degrees lower than the lowest expected temperature for the place where you are going to be camping.

Trust me when I say that the last thing you want is to wake up in the middle of the night cold! It’s hard to recapture body heat once it’s lost. You’ll be surprised how quickly temperatures drop at night when you’re camping.

Airing out the sleeping bags.

Extra Blankets

Bring some extra blankets for sitting around the fire, or for sleeping on top of the sleeping bag if it’s too hot. They’re also handy for warming up your kids who got too cold playing in the creek!

First aid kit

First aid kit

This is essential for any camping trip. Be sure to pack: bandages, antiseptic wipes, bug spray, sunscreen, pain relievers (child and adult medications), antihistamines (for those who have strong reactions to bug bites), and a thermometer.

Another handy thing to keep on hand is instant cold compresses to use in case of injury – if your cooler ice has melted, you’ll be glad to have this!

Box of Equate brand instant cold compresses.

Camp chairs

Camp chairs are great for sitting around the campfire or at the picnic table. We bought some collapsible camp tables this year too. 

Cooler

You’ll need a cooler (or several) to keep food and drinks cold. One of the best camping ideas for families is to freeze water bottles/ jugs before the trip to use in the coolers to keep things cold longer. Don’t forget the ice! We usually have to buy ice every other day while camping. 

Camp stove

If you plan on cooking meals while camping, you’ll need a camp stove. You’ll want to choose a stove that is big enough to accommodate your family. However, if you plan on hiking with your stove, you’ll want to choose a lightweight one.

@dinkumtribe Great camp stove for cooking at the campsite, or even at home! Highly recommend owning a camp stove for emergency situations like natural disasters as well- its always a good idea to have an alternate cooking option for when there’s no electricity or gas. Linked in our Amazon DinkumTribe storefront. @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel #campstove #campinghacks #campingideas #budgetcamping ♬ original sound – DinkumTribe ADHD family travel

This is the one we used, and we LOVED it! Easy to set up and take down, with handy features like built-in tables and easy lighting.

Some stoves come with other features like a built-in oven or a windscreen. There are many different types of fuel, so be sure to choose one that is compatible with your stove.

Bring enough fuel to last for your entire trip, plus extra. If you have rainy days, you’ll use more fuel making hot drinks and meals to keep people warm if you can’t use the campfire.

Camping lanterns

Combination camp lantern and bug zapper. Camping ideas for families.

Camp lanterns are great for lighting up the inside of your tent at night, or giving light around your campsite.

We got several lamps from Costco that also act as bug-zappers– this saved us from a lot of mosquito bites! The solar powered ones are best for camping.

Dishes and silverware

You can get camping-specific dishes and silverware, or just use what you have at home. Bring cookware that is not breakable! In a future post, I’ll share specific tools and camping meals/menus that we use. We also have ideas for no cook camping meals.

Campfire starting equipment

Don’t forget lighter fluid and matches/lighter! Buy your firewood from somewhere near the actual campsite so that you don’t bring in any insects/diseases from another area.

Here’s the printable packing list PDF that I used for our recent camping trip. Please note: this is meant as an example, not a final product. I’ll be making improvements and sharing the new version soon.

Camping Ideas for Families: Packing for Your Trip

Collecting everything to start packing the van.

Once you have all the camping gear you need, it’s time to start packing for your trip. Here are some tips for packing for a camping trip with kids:

1. Use lists

Lists are the best way to help you make sure you don’t forget anything essential. Here’s a list specifically for teens to use in a carry-on sized suitcase, which is what we usually use for camping too.

@dinkumtribe Camping with kids prep lists: 3 handy lists to create. #campinglist #campinghacks #campinglife #campingideas #campingpreparation #campingprep #campingwithkids #beginnerscamping #campingforbeginners #campingforbegginers #campingtrip #adhdfamilies #adhdfamilylife #theresalotofkidsinhere #momofmanykids #howtoprepforcamping #campingpacking #campingpackingproblems #tentcampingwithkids #tentcampinglife #pnwcamping #tentcampingdoneright #pnwcampingwithkids #campingpnw ♬ original sound – dinkumtribe

2. Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time

I recommend creating a menu of camping meals that are easy to make. More on this in the next section.

3. Start packing ahead of time

The larger your family, the sooner you will want to start packing. We spent about a week buying, planning, and packing for our recent week-long camping trip. 

@dinkumtribe Guided packing for our boys (elementary age) for our 5 day camping trip. I tell them how many of each item they need, and the boys collect the items they need. Then I pack them into suitcases or duffel bags. @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel #campingwithkids #packingforatrip #kidspacking #packingtips ♬ original sound – DinkumTribe ADHD family travel

4. Involve the kids

Older children can help plan fun camping activities like treasure hunts and outdoor games to play. Young children can help pack their camping gear and clothes. 

Checking the camping list inventory. Get the kids involved with camping prep.
Checking the camping list inventory

5. Bring comfortable clothes

You’ll want to bring clothes that you can move around in and that will keep you warm at night. I highly recommend bringing clothes that can get dirty, stained, and ripped– camping is messy! I also recommend at least 2 pairs of shoes/sturdy sandals each, in case one pair gets soaked.

6. Pack for the weather

Be sure to check the forecast several times before you leave so you know what to expect. Often the most accurate weather predictions are only one or two days before the trip.

7. Tent camping prep

Practicing camping in the backyard

Set up your tent at least once before the trip so you know how to do it. Practice setting up and taking down your tent in your backyard. We assigned our teens this job, and that made setup at the campsite so much easier!

@dinkumtribe Airing out the new tent in our backyard before the camping trip. Our teens are great at pitching in to help prep for trips! #adhdfamilies #bigfamiliesarethebest #adhdteens #tentcampingwithkids #tentcampinglife #tentcampingprep #campingpreparation #campingprep #tentcampingdoneright #campingforbeginners #campingforbegginers #beginnerscamping #campingpnw #pnwcamping #pnwcampingwithkids #familytravelblog #familytravelinfluencer #weloveourbigfam #tentcampinginbackyard ♬ Send It – Steve Aoki & Will Sparks

It’s always a good idea to bring extra tent stakes in case some of them break, and extra tarps: a tarp can help keep the bottom of your tent dry and free from mud.

Easy Camping Meals

One of the best parts of camping is the food! I am always surprised by how much better food tastes after a day spent in the fresh air. Something about enjoying food surrounded by beautiful scenery just makes it that much better. 

Mom cooking at camp stove in front of van. Keep cooking simple on your camping trip wherever possible.

As Mom, the meal planning and most of the cooking falls to me. One choice I made that was different from my childhood camping experiences was to focus on easy camping meals. I wanted several meals that did not require cooking. I also wanted meals that required a minimum of preparation and ongoing attention, so that I could spend as much time enjoying the trip as possible. 

For our camping menu, I chose family favorites as well as a few camping special meals that we all enjoy, like pancakes and bacon, and s’mores.

Camping Ideas For Families: Keeping Young Children Safe

Kids overlooking Lake Billy Chinook at the Cove Palisades State Park, Oregon.
Overlooking Lake Billy Chinook, the Cove Palisades State Park, Oregon

Part of the fun of camping is the freedom to explore and see new things. As parents, we want our kids to have lots of fun on our camping trip, but we also need to be sure kids are exploring safely. Here are some tips for keeping young children safe while camping.

Supervise them at all times

This is especially important near water or in the woods. Check in with the park ranger or campground website ahead of time to find out what kind of wildlife may be present.

Teach them about camping safety

Girls by campfire. Camping ideas for families.

Be sure to teach them about camping safety before you leave home. This includes not wandering off, and basic fire safety. One of our top camping ideas for families is to practice. We practiced ahead of time with campfires in our backyard so that our kids would already know some basic things.

@dinkumtribe Camping prep: practice fire safety at home before the trip. #campfires #campfirecooking #campfirestory #campingsafe #campingsafety #campingwithkids #campingforbeginners #campingforbegginers #campingtrip #adhdfamilies #adhdfamilylife #theresalotofkidsinhere #momofmanykids #weloveourbigfam #bigfamiliesoftiktok #bigfamilies #campingproblems #campingpreparation #campingprep #tentcampingdoneright #tentcamper #familytravelblogger #familytravelcreator #adhdfamilytravel #familytravelblog #dinkumtribe ♬ original sound – dinkumtribe

We also learned how to be safe from rattlesnakes or cougars that occasionally are present at the campsite we stayed in.

Have a plan

If you get separated, have a plan for how to find each other. We require our older kids to stay together in pairs if they are going somewhere outside of our direct supervision and line of vision.

Bring whistles and headlamps/ glow sticks

A whistle can help you signal for help if you need it. Headlamps or glow sticks are great at night for better visibility where needed. We used headlamps when walking to and from the bathrooms at night.

Glow sticks are one of the more versatile camping ideas for families. They were perfect inside the tents at night for not keeping others awake, but helping our little ones still have some light. Plus they’re just fun!

Arriving at the Campsite

When you arrive at the campsite, check-in with the park rangers or camp fee station first of all. If you have a reservation, find out exactly which site is reserved for you. You may also need to have a camp receipt/parking permit displayed on your vehicle.

Try to get to the site a few hours before sundown, so you have time to set up while it’s still light out!

Ranger station at Crooked River Campground in Oregon.

If you don’t have a specific site reserved, take some time to assess the available sites. When choosing a campsite, look for one that is close to amenities like bathrooms and showers. You’ll also want to make sure there is plenty of space for camping games and activities.

Once you’re at the campsite, set up camp and then explore! We made sure that our sleeping quarters were ready first, then our cooking setup. Once everyone had eaten, the kids were able to explore the campground.

Camping Activities for Kids

Girl giving boy a bandaid. A first aid kit is a must when camping with your kids.
Getting a bandaid from sister.

While camping, there are plenty of activities for kids to enjoy!

  • Exploring: Let them explore the woods/brush and see what they can find.
  • Collecting rocks and sticks: This is a great way to keep them occupied. Our boys especially love finding a “perfect” stick or rock!
  • Playing games: Bring along some board games or camping-themed games. Camping is a great break from technology! 
  • Going on a nature hike: This is a great way to explore the outdoors and get some exercise. A nature scavenger hunt is a fun way to practice observation skills as well.
  • Stargazing: many campgrounds are located in remote areas that allow for incredible views of the night sky! Bring along binoculars or a basic telescope and a book on the night sky to enjoy a little bit of basic stargazing.

Rainy Day Activities

Reading in the tent is a good rainy day option. Camping ideas for families.
Reading in the tent is a good rainy day option.

If you find yourself stuck inside on a rainy day, there are still plenty of activities for the kids.

  • Playing card games: Uno, Phase 10, Go Fish, War… google a few card game rules and print them before you leave. Rainy day camping is the perfect time to play games as a family!
  • Reading books: Bring along some camping-related books for the kids to read. Reading a book on a warm afternoon while camping is one of my favorite restful activities. On a rainy day, it can be an absolute lifesaver! Check out our list of favorite kids books here.
  • Drawing and coloring: Basic supplies, or some new ones from the local dollar store, are a great backup plan if the weather keeps you inside your tents.
  • Making crafts: There are many camping-themed crafts that kids will love. 

Camping Ideas for Families – only the Beginning!

There are so many great camping ideas for families that I couldn’t fit them all into one post. Check out our YouTube and TikTok channels for even more tips and product recommendations! I also plan to write more posts about camping food ideas, so be on the lookout for those.

Putting it all away when you get home is another way to involve the kids. Camping ideas for families.
Putting it all away when you get home is another way to involve the kids.

Camping with kids is a fun and memorable experience. Both Brian and I have fun memories from camping as kids and teens that we cherish even now. I hope these family camping tips will help you plan a great first-time family camping adventure!

© Copyright Jennifer D. Warren 2022. First posted: July 4, 2022; Updated: July 6, 2023.

Camping ideas for families - a beginner's guide
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About the author

I’m Jenn Warren, Co-Founder and Content Creator for Dinkum Tribe. I'm a Third Culture Kid (TCK) from Jamaica and California, married to my college sweetheart. I've been a missionary kid, pastor’s kid and (former) pastor’s wife. My husband and I traveled as pastors for 12 years throughout the United States and Canada before becoming travel content creators.

I love living in Oregon and exploring new places with my family. We’ve road tripped over 30,000 miles across the United States and Western Canada with our six children since their infancy. Prior to our marriage, I also lived in Spain for a summer and spent another summer in Mexico.

I’ve homeschooled our six children for over 10 years, and served on the board of a homeschool co-op for 4 years. Several members of our family are neurodivergent (gifted, ADHD, cPTSD), and I’ve spent 5+ years learning how to accommodate neurodivergent needs as well as supporting the resultant mental health challenges (anxiety, depression).

I’ve also served as a support group leader and co-director of Pure Life Alliance, a nonprofit organization that supports families struggling with sexual addiction.

I write about family travel and road trips, millennial marriage, general parenting, homeschooling, parenting neurodivergent children, grief, and abuse recovery.

Comments

  1. I always loved camping as a kid, but now I haven’t done it in years. It looks like a great family activity and you had some great tips to make this activity even easier. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I go camping all the time, but I can see how it would be much more complicated with kids! I hope to one day share the joys of camping with my own kids. I love how you give great tips like staying near a grocery store and of course all of those great activities!

    1. The nearby grocery store saw a lot of us on our first camping trip, LOL! Personal experience is where that tip came from. 🙂

  3. This is such a great post! I’m sure even if you’re used to camping, like you and your husband, camping with kids is a whole different ballgame. Going camping as a family looks like so much fun, though. I’m sure it’s worth the extra effort for all the fun memories made!

    1. It was most definitely worth it, and once we GOT there, it wasn’t that much harder than being at home.

  4. I love camping! I don’t have kids but know a lot of families that go on camping trips! This is such a good guide especially for people who are planning for their first camping trips 🙂 lots of good tips and recommendations! Especially the part where it mentioned rainy day activities for camping!

    1. We always have to prepare for rain here in Oregon. 🙂 We’re excited to go camping even more now that we handled the basics.

  5. So very helpful. I wish you had done this last year.. We have gone camping once, and will most likely go again. I did have help from someone who had already done this, but I can attest that the grocery store within 30 minutes is a life saver!

    1. Oh my goodness, yes! We probably hit the store at least 3 times over the course of our first camping trip together – you just can’t remember and plan for everything. Thanks for reading!

  6. Engaging in outdoor cooking, whether grilling marshmallows or preparing a full meal, adds a delicious dimension to the camping experience.

  7. As a dad always looking for new ways to bond with my family, I loved the creative camping ideas in this article! Setting up an outdoor movie theater sounds like such a fun way to spend the evening. Letting the kids pick fun themes and activities gets them engaged. The tips on choosing a family-friendly campground are really helpful for finding the right fit. This article got me excited to plan our next memorable family camping trip filled with these great ideas!

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