by Kimberly Blaker
Freelance Family Writer
Mom-to-Mom Magazine, July 2016 (among others)
Scroll below clips to read article in full.
Beginner’s Guide to Family Camping Trips—Everything You Need to Know
Camping is the ultimate in outdoor family fun and is loaded with benefits for parents and kids alike. It provides adventure and unlimited opportunities to experience the great outdoors. It’s also a great way for kids to learn about nature, from plants and animals to the weather and skies. Historical landmarks and different regions offer lessons in history. And parents get a break from daily responsibilities of life and some relaxation. Not to mention, it’s an affordable way for families to vacation.
Guide to family camping trips – best ways to camp
Your family can choose from a variety of camping options. If you love the experience of roughin’ it, pitch a tent, and haul the bare necessities. Tents come in many sizes and styles, some with dividers for separate sleeping quarters. When purchasing a tent, remember capacity doesn’t include luggage space. If you plan to keep belongings in your tent, opt for a larger capacity. Most importantly, don’t forget padding or a blow-up mattress to insulate against the cold, hard ground.
If you like the idea of roughin’ it, yet want some of the comforts of home, a pop-up camper is the best of both worlds. The canvas sides and pull out sections of pop-ups are surrounded with screens and give the feeling of sleeping in the fresh outdoors. Pop-ups come in several sizes and often include an ice box or mini refrigerator, heater, air conditioning, portable toilet, shower, kitchen sink, stove, cabinets and storage space, dining table, and other necessities.
Some families prefer going in style. Travel trailers and motor homes offer a luxurious nighttime retreat after a day of outdoor fun. The ease of loading and unloading these shelters is great for moving from campsite to campsite, making cross-country camping less work. Motor homes and travel trailers often have a full-size kitchen, living room complete with sofa and chairs, and separate bedrooms for comfort and privacy.
Don’t overlook the option of a cozy cabin in the woods. Cabin rentals are sometimes found at campgrounds or in national forests at cabin resorts. Cabins range from basic single room shelters containing only beds to completely furnished three or four room units including kitchenettes. When reserving a cabin, ask what is furnished before you go so you’ll arrive prepared while avoiding unnecessary packing. And don’t forget to ask about electricity, lights, and water.
Experienced campers with older children might try a hike-in shelter for a true wilderness experience. Check with state and national parks for shelters that are sometimes set up along extended trails. After a day of hiking, roll out your sleeping bags under one of these small shelters for a dry night’s sleep under the stars.
Guide to family camping trips – costs
The cost of travel can make family vacations a rare treat. But the affordability of camping may allow for frequent getaways. Overnight fees range from a free night’s stay at some state park rustic sites (no showers, toilets, electricity, or water) to $50 or more a night at many of the top KOA and Jellystone Camp Park-Resorts. These top of the line campgrounds are loaded with amenities from built-in swimming pools to live entertainment.
State park campgrounds vary from state to state. Still, these are often the best deal for families interested in experiencing all nature has to offer. Fees for overnight accommodations in state parks typically range from $15 to $35. Many state parks have modern facilities including flush toilets, showers, grassy or gravel sites, playgrounds, park stores for firewood and ice, and more. Furthermore, state parks frequently offer miles of wooded hiking or biking trails, natural wonders, historical sites, and much more that may not be found at private camp resorts.
Camping also helps keep other vacation expenses to a minimum. Many families prefer cooking over the campfire to eating out. Additionally, most outdoor camping activities are free or available at minimal cost.
Guide to family camping trips – activities
Whatever your family’s interests, there is plenty to see and do. Trails offer ample activities such as collecting rocks, leaves, or insects, scouting for wildlife, learning about plants and trees, and practicing survival skills, to hiking excursions, mountain biking, and horse back riding.
Lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams offer fishing, swimming, row boating or canoeing, sun bathing, and more.
Wildlife viewing is often a highlight. Look for animals early in the morning or at dusk on dirt roads and trails, in open fields surrounded by woods, and near water. Be patient, walk slowly and quietly, and don’t forget binoculars.
Other activities include nature programs, nature centers and historical sites, flying kites, rollerblading or bicycling on paved trails, and more.
When ready to relax, light a campfire and enjoy reading or story telling, play cards or board games, watch the sunset, star gaze, and roast marshmallows.
Guide to family camping trips – What to take
Purchase a couple large plastic totes with lids to carry and store your camping supplies. These
are some of the basics you’ll want to take.
- Plastic cups (labeled to save on washing)
- Paper plates and Styrofoam bowls
- Paper towels, food storage bags, and tinfoil
- A cooking source such as a one or two-burner stove
- An aluminum pot and skillet
- Cooking utensils and can opener
- Coffee pot
- Ice chest, food, and drinks
- Drinking water and large water container
- Dish soap and dishcloths
- Insect repellent and sunscreen
- Folding chairs
- Radio, flashlight, and batteries
- Lantern and matches
- Firewood (unless available near your campground)
- Knife and hatchet
- Rope and twine
- First-aid kit
- Sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows
- Air mattress or padding
- Personal hygiene items and toilet paper
- Towels and washcloths
- Bikes, rollerblades, balls, fishing and other sports equipment
- Camera and binoculars
- Clothing for all types of weather, rain gear, and walking shoes or hiking boots
Guide to family camping trips – What not to take
Don’t get carried away with packing, or camping will become a chore. Make a list, then weed out items you don’t really need. Portable televisions detract from the outdoor fun, so leave yours at home.
Think it through before taking your pet. Some campgrounds don’t allow pets and even if they do, they don’t allow pets to be left unattended. A pet can hinder many activities including beaches where dogs often aren’t allowed.
Guide to family camping trips – Easy camp foods
There are many ways to cook. You can purchase a gas or liquid-fuel camping stove, or if electricity is available, a crock-pot or electric griddle works well. You can also carry a charcoal or small gas grill or cook over an open fire.
Keep meals simple to minimize packing, preparation, and clean up. Easy choices include: hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, steak, sandwiches, eggs, bacon, sausage, crock pot meals, sweet corn, baked potatoes, canned foods such as baked beans, tuna, chicken, spaghetti, ravioli, and soup, fresh fruit, vegetables and dip, bagels, English muffins, cereal, fruit juice, and hot cocoa.
On the other hand, if you enjoy cooking and good meals are one of the highlights for your family, then make the most of mealtime. With all the options for cooking, you can easily enjoy a gourmet feast.
Guide to family camping trips – best tips
Camping is often a learn-as-you-go experience. But the following can alleviate hassles and keep your family safe.
Protect your food from animals and animals from your food by blocking access. Animals can find their way into nearly anything. Raccoons are known to lift lids right off coolers to snatch hot dogs and other treats. A cooler that latches is usually a safe bet. Any food that isn’t tightly contained should be stored in your vehicle overnight.
Poor weather can strike at any time and insect infestations can also make for a miserable experience. Make additional shelter such as a screen tent or tarps and rope part of your camping gear.
Arrive at your camp destination ahead of the crowd. Every campsite is unique, and early arrival can assure a site that satisfies your needs.
When selecting a site look for proximity to restrooms, the playground, electricity, and water. If you have young children, make sure the site isn’t close to a river or lake. The amount of shade you’ll want will depend on the weather forecast. To avoid mud, a grassy or rock site may be preferred. Also, avoid a site backed up to outhouses, which can smell in the heat and wind.
Know what animals are found in the area and teach your children animal safety. Wild animals usually want to avoid humans as much as we want to avoid them. Still, they can pose risks. In the west, mountain lions have been known to snag children and even small women. In bear country, those accustom to people sometimes get too close and result in injury. Even small animals that feel threatened may attack.
Guide to family camping trips – campgrounds
Try one of these sources to find the perfect campground for your family trip.
- Contact the travel or visitor’s bureau in the state you plan to visit.
- If you’re an AAA member, pick up one of their regional Camp Books at your local branch office.
- Visit the website for Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts at http://www.campjellystone.com/, or call (800) 558-2954.
- Call for your KOA Directory at (406) 248-7444, or go to http://www.koa.com/ to make your online reservation.
- Visit http://usparks.about.com/blstparklistings.htm for the contact information on state park services in all 50 states.
- Visit the National Park Service at http://www.nps.gov/findapark/index.htm
- For a comprehensive directory of private, state, and national campgrounds, pick up Woodall’s North American Campground Directory found at most camping supply stores, or order online at http://www.woodalls.com/
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance family and lifestyle writer.