Camping can be a lot of fun, but keeping the whole family engaged can be a challenge, especially when you’ve made the healthy choice of leaving the conveniences of home behind. So, what are things to do while camping?
One of the best things about camping is that there are so many different outdoor activities to enjoy. You can go for a hike, catch some fish, roast marshmallows over a campfire, or just relax and take in the fresh air to have a good time.
No matter what your interests are, we’ve got you covered. Our comprehensive What to Do While Camping Guide will help make your next camping trip an unforgettable experience.
- What to Do While Camping with Family
- First, Scope the Scene at the Campground
- Best Things to Do on Land While Camping
- Best Water Activities While Camping
- Evening and Nighttime Things to Do While Camping
- Things to Do While Camping in the Rain
- Wrapping Up Things to Do While Camping
What to Do While Camping with Family
First, Scope the Scene at the Campground
The number one reason you’re taking the family camping is to get them outside and enjoy what nature has to offer, right? So, a good idea before composing your menu of activities for your camping trip is to do a little research on the state parks or campgrounds you’ve chosen as your destination. What natural features and other amenities are available to design your activities around?
- Are there plenty of hiking trails?
- Is there a body of water nearby?
- Is there a Junior Ranger program?
- If you’re car camping, are there paved areas that permit bikes or scooters?
- What unique features make the park you chose stand out?
- Are campfires currently permitted?
Some other variables to consider are:
- Is inclement weather possible (the kind that may trap everyone in the tent)?
- Do you have little ones tagging along that may need extra help or attention during activities?
- How’s everyone’s fitness level?
Once you have your brain wrapped around the park’s offerings and your family’s particular situation, you can begin to plan some fun camping activities.
We’re here to help everyone find that favorite thing to add to their list. Read on to browse an exhaustive list of things that would engage the whole family on a camping trip.
Best Things to Do on Land While Camping
Hiking and nature walks are among the most iconic family camping activities. Grab a backpack, first aid kit, a trail map, plenty of water for everyone, and some snacks, and start exploring nature.
Before doing so; however, there are some things to consider. If you didn’t grab a trail map when you checked in, drop by the ranger station and pick one up. Park maps highlight the trails clearly and indicate the difficulty, length, and terrain of each trail.
Also, consider the amount of time you need to hike the distance. The average-sized adult walks about 3 – 4 miles per hour; however, this pace will vary depending on the terrain and whether you have little ones with you.
While a 2-mile walk on a sidewalk in town would only take 30-45 minutes, a hike up and down hills on a rocky path can increase that time to 1.5 hours.
Finally, take plenty of water. Each person in your group will require about 2 cups per hour of hiking. Running out of snacks on a day hike isn’t such a big deal; but, running out of water, whether in hot or cool weather, can become an emergency very quickly.
Wilderness Scavenger Hunt
Providing opportunities for tech-age families to connect with and appreciate the natural world can be challenging in a good way. A fun and simple solution to this is with a wilderness scavenger hunt.
Before you leave for your trip, utilize the park’s website to research what flora and fauna make their habitat in the area. Create a Scavenger Hunt Checklist from what you find and print copies for everyone.
If everyone has a phone, you can go paperless and share the list with everyone through a notes app or text.
Some ideas for your list could include:
- Types of trees
- Types of Leaves
- Different shapes of sticks (y-shaped, curved, straight, covered in moss, etc.)
- Nuts, berries, and acorns
- Types of wildflowers
- Different types of insects.
- Different types of animals, birds, or fish (if there’s water nearby)
- Types of rocks, stones, boulders, and even fossils
- Land features such as hills, mountains, valleys, caves, cliffs, etc.
- Water features such as rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes, and natural springs
When it’s time to begin the hunt, make it a game. Have prizes prepared for the team who finds the most items on the list (and for the runner-ups). When you’re out on the trails or around the campsite, kids can look for specific fauna and flora found in the park to check off the list.
In adherence to the “Leave No Trace” philosophy, equip the family with cell phones or inexpensive digital cameras for documenting their finds rather than collecting them. Or, for a more authentic experience, challenge them to sketch what they find or collect rubbings in a field journal.
If you have a mix of younger and older kids, pair them up in teams or join the younger child’s team yourself to level the playing field.
Have your camera ready for some great pics of your kids exploring the great outdoors!
Geocaching is like a scavenger hunt with a treasure map. A registered geocache is a hidden container full of small items that can be located with a GPS-enabled phone with a Geocaching App (in the App Store or Google Play).
Some advice and tips before you settle on this activity:
- Check the park’s/camground’s website to ensure geocaching is permitted.
- Make sure you will have adequate data service where you are going.
- Take some little trinkets (coins, old keychains, bracelets, cabochons, small toys like toy soldiers or toy cars, a small painted stone, etc.) to deposit or trade when you find a geocache. (Note: it is good Geocaching mojo to leave something of equal or greater value than what you take.)
- Respect the cache and surrounding area. Follow the “Leave No Trace” philosophy when you find a cache. Don’t trample the area surrounding it and return it exactly as you found it.
- Take a group pic each time you find one — these make for great memories!
- Place and register your own Geocache for others to find (see the app for details).
Explore, Learn, and Protect with the Junior Ranger Program
The National Parks and Wildlife provide a great opportunity for children to learn about our wilderness treasures. Many National Parks have a Junior Ranger Program that kids from 4-12 can participate in for free.
In every National Park, the children can earn their own ranger badge by completing activities outlined in a published booklet.
Learn more on the National Park Service website.
Cave Exploring (Spelunking)
Before embarking on your trip, check the park’s website to see if any caves are featured on the property.
While some caves can be explored without an official guide, some parks offer guided spelunking tours.
Check with the park before to see if they have any rules or regulations regarding spelunking. It can be dangerous, so make sure everyone knows how to be safe while descending into an unknown cave.
Basic spelunking does not require much equipment – just some flashlights or headlamps, helmets, and sturdy shoes are all that’s needed.
Thanks to the wide-open spaces made available when camping, there are countless ways to get everyone active and have a blast doing it.
Starting some friendly competition with just your family or inviting some of the surrounding campers to join in is a great way to fill up an afternoon.
Decide what you think your family would enjoy playing and add the appropriate gear to your packing list.
- Frisbee (or Frisbee Golf )
- Corn Hole
- Football (regulation size or the NERF variety for younger children)
- Soccer (or Kickball)
- Outdoor Bowling
- Ring Toss
- Capture the Flag
- Hide and Seek
- Wiffleball (because hitting a baseball in a campground could prove disastrous … )
Ride Bikes or Scooters
The majority of campgrounds and parks have paved roads in the common areas that are fun and safe for riding bikes and scooters. Some parks even allow bikes on the trails; although, you’ll want to match your family’s trail riding skills to an appropriate trail difficulty.
While touring a park on foot is fine, going for a family bike or scooter ride is a quick and exhilarating way to scope out the area and become familiar with the park’s layout.
Just beware not to ride through the campsites of your fellow campers.
Play in the Dirt
Okay, not you, necessarily; but, take younger children outdoors for any period of time and they will quickly come to entertain themselves with nature’s building blocks: dirt, rocks, and sticks.
Let them get dirty! Take along some toy cars and trucks and maybe a small pail and shovel. They’ll be a filthy mess when they’re done; but, they hose down well.
Best Water Activities While Camping
The large majority of state and national parks include some type of body of water within their protected areas. Because these features are protected, the rules and regulations regarding how humans interact with them can vary greatly.
Check the park’s website for what water activities are permitted.
If you’ve never fished before, you’re missing out on a quintessential outdoor experience.
You don’t have to be a pro-angler to learn how to catch small perch or bluegill. With a little learning and practice, you’ll become comfortable with baiting a hook and casting a line.
If you’ve never been fishing before, take some time to search up some tutorials on YouTube. Also, visit the park website or call the park headquarters and get answers to the following questions:
- Do I need a license to fish in the area?
- Can I keep the fish I catch or is it catch-and-release only?
- What type of fish makes their habitat in the area?
- What bait or lures are recommended?
- Does the park offer equipment rentals or have a bait shop?
Gear for light fishing is inexpensive and easy to use. If you’re just starting out, grab an equipped tackle box, some fishing rods, and bait and see what’s hiding under the glassy surface of the water.
Parks that feature lakes and rivers will often provide a rental service for canoes, kayaks, or paddleboats. Renting these types of vessels can give families a way to see part of the park from a unique viewpoint and get some good exercise.
There is a good chance that you will need to schedule your rental in advance and be aware of and stick to, the park’s hours of operation.
If you want to skip the rental process but don’t savor the idea of storing a bulky canoe or kayak at home, sturdy inflatable options are available that are easy to pack. Make sure you take along a small air compressor, too!
Pack up some towels, lather on the sunscreen, don your trunks and fill up the ice chest with snacks and frosty cold ones. Then, stake out a piece of shoreline on a hot day!
While swimming is an activity that very well takes care of itself, here are some suggestions that can enhance the experience, especially if you’ll be out there all day:
- Bring along some lounge floats or pool noodles.
- Arm up with some water guns.
- Set up a lightweight shade canopy.
- Take an all-terrain wagon or ice chest with wheels.
- Grab some super-lite foldable chairs.
Fishing or boating on the surface of the water provides only half of the magic a natural body of water has to offer. A whole other world awaits below the waves.
Snorkeling is a great way to observe first-hand the underwater flora and fauna hiding below the surface. Calmly floating on the surface face down without the hassle of coming up for air is a truly tranquil, fascinating experience. The underwater world becomes a fully-immersive, “4-D Theatre” that can keep kids (and you) occupied all afternoon.
And what’s better than spotting some lost treasure (old sunglasses, watches, coins, even bills!) peaking through the silt at the bottom of a shallow area. Even adults can get caught up in some treasure hunting!
Skip Some Rocks
There’s nothing quite like finding the perfect skipping rock: round, flat, and flawlessly smooth.
Then, taking aim and letting it fly, sending it skipping one, two, three, four, … how many times can you get it to skip?
Skipping rocks will inevitably lead to other uses for the ample supply of river stones around. If you’re near the shallow, slow-flowing portion of a river or stream, building small dams or channels out of river rocks or sand can become a STEM learning opportunity in disguise.
Channel the water into narrow channels creating mini-rapids that you can send leaf-and-twig boats surfing through, sailing off on their own mini water safari!
Evening and Nighttime Things to Do While Camping
The sun is setting, you’re about to prepare the evening meal. You’re tired (the good kind of tired) but the kids are still full of energy! What can you do to keep them occupied (without a screen in front of their face)?
Before campground quiet hours go into effect (usually 10 pm), kids will love some of the following activities:
Flashlight Tag or Hide-and-Seek
No secrets here. Just place some boundaries so little ones don’t stray too far.
If you want to save those flashlight batteries, buy a cheap package of glowsticks before heading out. These add a fun color-pop to the game and make it less likely a flashlight (or kid!) will go missing.
Build a Campfire
Get your kids in on this one. Learning how to start and maintain a fire is a definitive outdoor skill. Show them the difference between tender, kindling, and logs. Teach them to use a Ferro rod, or …
… if you’re new to the craft yourself, start simple with some matches or camping lighter, and fire starters.
Check the park’s policy regarding collecting firewood. In some parks, you must purchase the wood from the park store in an effort to protect the local ecosystem.
Roast Some Good Food Over the Fire
S’mores, hotdogs, sausages, corn on the cob … there are so many things that taste better roasted over an open flame.
Instead of cooking dinner, have everyone roast their own sausage links with corn on the cob and roasting sticks or chili dogs with a pot of chili simmering over on the side of the fire.
Depending on what kind of firewood is available at the park, you may want to take along some good smoking wood that will improve the taste of your food, such as a bag of mesquite wood chunks.
Chase dinner down with some s’mores, and then it’s time to …
Tell Ghost Stories
This obviously needs to be tapered to your audience; so, feel free to spin whatever genre of yarn suits your taste. If you have a flair for the creative, compose your own tale or have your kids make up their own.
Better yet, when everyone’s gathered in a circle around the fire, have one person with a flashlight begin the tale with one or two sentences and, then pass the light to the next, allowing them to add on to the story. As the flashlight gets passed around, the story is guaranteed to get weirder, and, sometimes, flat-out hilarious.
Our family loves spooky stories and doesn’t mind a little trip down Macabre Lane. For those who love a good chill surging up their spine while basking in the flickering light of a campfire, try “Scary Stories” by Alvin Schwartz or, for a milder experience, try “Campfire Stories for Kids” by Johnny Nelson.
Explore the Night Sky
It’s never too early to start teaching children about astronomy. The dark sky of a remote location can make for an incredible stargazing experience.
Lay a blanket on the ground or grab your sleeping bag and have everyone lay with their heads to the center.
Keep your eyes peeled for shooting stars, find the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, or the North Star. If your astronomy’s a little rusty, download a stargazing app like Night Sky to add an interactive, educational element to the experience.
Rock the Family Sing-a-Long
An oldie but a goodie, the family sing-a-long is a time-honored campfire tradition. The experience is at its best if someone in the family can pick a 5-string; but, having some of your fav jams downloaded on your phone and a small Bluetooth speaker will do the trick.
As the night comes to a close, have everyone pitch in with sprucing up the campsite. Teach the kids how to keep supplies and food organized and how to dispose of trash appropriately to protect the environment and ward off hungry mischievous raccoons.
Getting them involved in the not-so-fun activities provides them an appreciation for what it takes to execute a family camping trip.
Things to Do While Camping in the Rain
Inclement weather can and will strike, even on the best-planned camping trips. When Mother Nature gets grumpy, your family doesn’t need to be. It’s tempting to break out the electronics and let everyone sink into their own digital world; but, this trip is about family time, right?
Coming together to play games is a fantastic way to pass the time when rainy days come your way. There are an endless array of camping games to choose from. To name a few …
Chess and Checkers
Chess and checkers are perfect for camping trips because they can be played in a relatively small area. They can also be played by people of all ages.
Playing chess or checkers is a great way to work your mind, and if you play often enough, it can make you smarter. These games require strategic thinking and problem-solving skills to play well.
Travel-Sized Board Games
Dominoes are a fantastic family game. They don’t take up a lot of space, and you can play them with as few as two players.
If you’re looking for a game that will keep your competitive juices flowing, dominoes just might be the game for your family. There’s nothing quite like trying to block your opponent from getting the last domino on the table. 🙂
Research has shown that reading together as a family has numerous benefits. One study found that parents who read regularly with their children were more likely to have children who scored higher on reading tests than those whose parents did not read with them regularly.
Another study found that when families read a good book together, they spent more time talking to each other. This increased communication helped to build stronger relationships within the family.
Reading aloud also helps children learn how to read. The process of decoding text and following along with a story helps children develop phonemic awareness and word recognition skills.
Drawing or Coloring
Drawing and coloring are great ways for families to bond and spend quality time together. You don’t need a lot of supplies, and you can use your imagination to create whatever you want!
Drawing helps children develop their spatial awareness. It teaches them about shapes by encouraging them to draw objects from different angles, which in turn helps with artistic skills later on in life.
Coloring also has its benefits; studies have shown that it improves memory retention as well as motor skills development in young children. This is because the act of coloring helps to keep the brain active and engaged.
Looking at Old Family Pics or Videos
It’s not that we think personal electronics are evil. We just encourage family’s to use them in a way that brings everyone together. Take some time to revisit past good times together by reminiscing over the pictures on your phone that are often forgotten.
Family Movie Night
One of the best things about camping is that you can enjoy the great outdoors while still watching your favorite movies. All you need is a larger screen such as a tablet or laptop.
Be sure to download any movies before leaving home, as reception can get very spotty in remote areas. Gather everyone around for a family movie night under the stars!
Wrapping Up Things to Do While Camping
When you go camping, there are so many fun things to do; the hardest part is narrowing it down!
The best way to have a great time is by PLANNING AHEAD and creating a schedule for each day. Keep things simple and use the schedule as a gentle guide to each day; not a time-keeping tyrant that makes everyone feel rushed and time-strapped.
We hope that this list of ideas has made things easier for you to plan a safe and fun camping trip. These activities will keep your group engaged in an exciting adventure while making sure everyone is safe and having fun at the same time!
Now, get out there!