Ready to plan your first family camping trip? These camping tips from a veteran camper will help make sure you find a fun spot and have fun in the woods!
Camping Tips: How to Plan Your First Camping Trip
Planning your first camping trip is intimidating for the uninitiated. There’s so much equipment, and so many questions. How will you cook dinner? Where will everyone go to the bathroom? Is sleeping on the ground comfortable? The most important part of planning your first camping trip is to remember to have a good time.
A positive attitude makes any camping trip an adventure packed with family bonding, even if it’s not perfect. This guide will get you started on planning and answer some of your questions.
First, you need a destination. The national park system is one of America’s greatest treasures. They have well-maintained campsites with support and resources. Check out this post on visiting Big Bend National Park with kids for some inspiration to pick a destination.
The more activities a park has, the better. Camping is all about slowing down and enjoying nature, but you don’t want anyone bored on their first camping trip. Try local state parks and wilderness parks if there’s not a national park close to you.
With a destination in mind, reserve a campsite. The U.S. National Park system has a directory for finding parks, and there’s one for the state park system. These sites guide you through not only finding a park with campgrounds but also reserving a campsite.
Reservations guarantee there’s a spot for you to pitch your tent when you arrive. If you’re aiming for fun in the woods on a shoestring budget, read this resource on free camping across the country.
Every park has different types of campsites. Some you drive up with a car and set up a tent close by, while others have a cabin or yurt with electricity and plumbing.
Some are for RVs with paved parking and full hookups. You don’t have to be an RV owner to use one for your first camping experience. Check out this post on RV rentals, for an easy way to camp with kids.
Michelle’s Pro-Tip: One of the best camping tips is to make sure to make those reservations months in advance as national park and state campgrounds fill up very quickly, sometimes within minutes of the reservations system opening.
What to Buy for Camping
Getting the right gear is the difference between a fun time in the woods, and an uncomfortable or miserable trip. The right gear doesn’t always mean the most expensive either. Rather, it’s getting the right equipment for your needs. Keep in mind for big-ticket items like you can borrow from friends and family before making a big purchase. Buying a tent needs in-depth research, and it may take a few camping trips before you’re certain of what must-have features you need. There are some items worth buying:
- First aid kit: Include antihistamine creams, anti-nausea medications, and aloe. Since you’ll be away from home, prepare the kit for any injury including bug bites, sunburn, heartburn and nausea.
- Outdoor clothing: Dress in layers you don’t mind getting dirty. Always bring rain gear. Use sturdy shoes for hiking (our favorite multi-purpose shoes are from KEEN), and slip-on shoes for the tent and nighttime. A puffer coat packs small for unexpected cold nights. Wear synthetic and moisture-wicking fibers.
- Toiletries: Even when you’re roughing it, you’ll still need your toothbrush and soap. Some campgrounds have shower facilities, or you can bring a solar shower. Hand sanitizer is great to keep around the campsite.
- Food and cookware: Plan meals before you go, and how you’ll cook. You can cook over an open fire, or bring a camping stove with you. Plan one-pot meals with packaged snacks you don’t need to prepare. We love our dutch oven with feet for cooking right in the campfire and pie irons are a lot of fun too.
- Lights: Phone flashlights won’t cut it. Handheld flashlights are fine, but investing in headlamps and lanterns will make your life easier. The great outdoors are dark, and hands-free lighting makes finding the bathroom at night easier.
Make a list and check it twice to make sure everything makes it into the car or RV before you leave. Check out this complete family camping checklist for more items you may need for camping.
Camping Trip Fun – How to Have a Great Time in the Woods
Once you’ve reserved a campsite and bought the gear you need, set up your tent in your living room or backyard a few times so you’re familiar with the process in a low-stress situation. Time your arrival at the campsite so you’ll set up your tent and get settled while the sun is out. Even if you aced your tent practice runs, you don’t want the added challenge of setting up in the dark on your first night.
The park where you’re camping may have ranger stations, visitors centers, and marked trailheads. Take advantage of those resources for planning camping activities. The park rangers will know the most current information about inclement weather, great views, and water conditions. If there’s a body of water near your campground, inquire about kayak and canoe rentals, and bring your bathing suit for swimming and sunbathing.
There are plenty of activities for fun in the woods once you’re back at your campsite. You can bring corn hole, horseshoes, and lawn bowling to set up at your campsite. Some campgrounds have volleyball and basketball courts, you just have to provide the ball. Make your own frisbee golf course, or recruit neighboring campsites for a game of ultimate frisbee.
Camping is all about slowing down and experiencing nature. Bring a hammock to hang between trees for relaxing and listening to the sounds of the woods. On warm nights you can even sleep in a hammock instead of the tent. Also bring a pair of binoculars with you for observing wildlife or birdwatching. In quiet campgrounds you won’t have to go far to see wildlife.
Depending on the time of year, you might hunt for mushrooms. Use extreme caution and consult with experts, as some mushrooms are deadly and difficult to identify. Bring a star-map. Chances are you’ve never seen night skies like you will while camping.
Don’t worry about boredom while camping, there’s always something new to experience in nature, even if you’re just relaxing in fresh air.
What are you most excited for your first camping trip? Let us know in the comments and stop back to tell us how it went!
This article was written by Ryan Cunningham who runs Beyond The Tent and Survival World. He has always loved the outdoors and getting others to love and appreciate them as well. His favorite place to go camping is the Boundary Waters in Minnesota with his wife and 7 kids. Thank you for your family camping tips, Ryan. The photos are from Michelle’s multi-generational family camping trip to Yellowstone in 2018.
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