We love camping. But last summer my wife had to work a lot of weekends. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but I went camping by myself with five kids.
We did a couple overnight getaways to mountain campgrounds. We drove four hours to Flaming Gorge Dam for a long weekend. In previous years, we did week-long camping trips in Yellowstone, Mesa Verde and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
My kids are now old enough to help manage the responsibilities of camping. I've learned a few ways to get your whole family involved, even at younger ages. So if you're planning to go on a family camping adventure, here are five things you can do to create some amazing memories.
Book A Campsite Early
Finding a campground isn't something done on a whim. We tried to book a campsite a few weeks out just to find no campsites were available.
We didn't want to take the chance of showing up at a campground to find its “first-come, first-served” campsites were already taken.
This year, I went to book a few overnight campsites for our family but discovered many campgrounds were already 75 percent full. Weekends may be closer to 90 percent. WHAT!?!? It's only February!
So now is the time to start thinking about where you want to go and checking out what dates are available. Weekdays may have more availability than weekends.
One of the best places to start is Recreation.gov. Simply enter the city near where you're looking to camp and it will show campgrounds nearby.
You can check on available dates around the dates you are looking for. The site also shows photos of each individual campsite, which gives you a better idea of what to expect.
Let Your Kids Build the Itinerary
Giving your kids some ownership of the trip helps peak their interest in what there is to offer. My nine-year-old daughter planned our Yellowstone National Park itinerary and she still takes pride in the adventures she took us on.
For example, we picked up a travel guide to Yellowstone and she went through it to find the trails she was interested in. She organized them by length, that way she didn't plan two five-mile hikes in the same day.
I recommend reviewing the itinerary with your kids and help them make it as realistic as possible. Take into account distances between sites and breaks for lunch – and in my case, time for photography.
When you hit the road, be sure the itinerary hits the road with you and then do your best to follow it. Review it with your kids at the end of each day so you can make any necessary adjustments for the next day.
Have Your Kids Plan the Menu
Another way to give your kids ownership is to have them plan the menu. Make a list of the days and meal times, then let the kids pick what they want to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don;t forget about desserts.
Work with the kids to help them understand that filet mignon may not be the best breakfast option when camping. You may want to give them a few ideas of meal options (hot dogs, chili, oatmeal, pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, etc.) then have them fill in the slots.
Review the finished menu with your kids to not only make adjustments where needed, but to make sure you have all the necessary cooking utensils. We didn't fully understand the value of a can opener until that little tool stood between us and our chili dinner.
Visit the Library Before You Hit the Road
“Are we there yet?” Those are the words I have to laugh at, especially when we have only been in the car for 20 minutes.
Audiobooks are a great way to take your family on an adventure while stranded in the car for hours on end. But rather than shelling out a lot of money to buy audiobooks, visit your local library and check out a few. Your kids can also grab a book or two.
I've been pleasantly surprised when we get to our destination and the kids want to hang out in the car a little longer to finish up a chapter in the audiobook. Some of our favorites included Eragon, Deathwatch and the Harry Potter series.
Schedule Some Downtime at Camp
It may be fun to Go! Go! Go! while on vacation, but having some downtime at camp is a must have. Here are a few things we do to enjoy some time at camp:
- Roast marshmallows
- Play a board game or card game
- Call a few rounds of BINGO and offer prizes from the dollar store for the winners
- Tell scary stories around the campfire
- Talk about your favorite parts of the trip so far
- Do some art projects (i.e., coloring books)
- Play with your camera – try some night photography with your kids as the models
- Explore the campground – find nearby hikes
These are the strategies that work for my family. What are your top tips for a successful camping trip with kids?