Camping with kids: Fun hacks to try this summer


It’s been a few years since I camped with my — now almost grown — little ones, but the memories remain: marshmallows and sing-a-longs around the campfire, snuggling together in the tent and midnight trips to the bathroom.

What I came away with was this mantra: prepare, prepare, prepare! 

We surveyed readers and scoured the internet for some fun and easy ways to keep camping trips with kids running as smoothly as possible.

Keep them cosy

The surface on which you’ve pitched your tent may be rocky and uneven. Take some of the lumps and bumps out of your slumber with giant foam floor tiles found at most big box stores. Bigger kids will enjoy putting together the foam “puzzle,” and little ones can crawl around on it safely. Thanks to .

Keep them fed

Another mantra when camping with kids could be, “Keep it simple.” In that vein, here are a couple of easy-peasy recipes that will keep kids happy.

Breakfast burritos can be made ahead and frozen. You can customize them beforehand with what each child prefers: scrambled eggs, cheeses, bacon, sausage, veggies, onion, hashbrowns and more. Wrap them up in a flat wrap and freeze, storing them in foil to stick on the barbecue or in the campfire embers to heat. No prep time and no cleanup!

Keep them entertained

Some of these camping games are so fun and simple I wish I’d thought of them!

Try a game of mosquito bites — all you need to remember to bring is some red dot stickers. At the beginning of the campout, hand each camper a sheet of red dot stickers. Choose a word that kids are likely to say often like “tent” or “camping,” and make that word forbidden to say for an hour. 

If one hears another say the forbidden word, they give that player a mosquito bite — placing a red dot on them. The person with the most “bites” at the end loses. 

Sleeping bag races are like a potato sack race, and a scavenger hunt looking for bird’s nests, leaves, flowers or pine cones can keep everyone entertained for hours! When everyone’s tired sit down for a game of Tic-Tac-Toe with sticks and pine cones or stones.

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Camping kids are happy kids

It started earlier this summer, growing as a steady chant from the back seat of the car — their rapidly growing legs now beginning to pin up against the back of our seats.

They are growing so fast, and they are noticing a lot more now.

“We want a camper! We want a camper!”

I glanced at them in the rearview mirror.

“You guys, a camping trailer takes away from all the fun and benefits of camping. Don’t you want to be outside in the elements?”

“But, all our neighbors have campers.”

My 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter had a point, but I told them that a camper was something we really did not want to pay for right now.

I try to take my kids on several short camping trips every summer, and the last four years, my son Mason and I have camped on the Metolius River.

Not far from where the crystal-clear waters of the Metolius trickle out from under Black Butte from springs under the Cascade Range is a walk-in, tent-only camping site.

The spot is lacking in camping trailers, so my son cannot look on in envy as other campers stay warm and cozy inside.

Also, the only things that surround you are towering ponderosa pines, riverside foliage and the Metolius. There is no hum of a generator, only the endless singsong of thousands of birds.

The problem with walk-in tent sites is evident in their name — you have to walk everything in.

But the spot we found was only about a 50-yard walk from the car to the site along a singletrack trail. Our camping neighbors were far away and barely noticeable, and the Metolius trickled 20 feet away.

Heaven is a weekend on the Metolius with your young son. I’m pretty sure he feels the same.

But there are some things I take along each time to ensure his happiness, and I know some of you other parents will disapprove.

Yes, nacho cheese Doritos, 7UP, hot dogs and s’mores are our camping staples. And every time I mention camping, Mason asks if he can have 7UP and s’mores.

Heck, I guess that’s a lot cheaper than buying a camping trailer to keep your kids happy.

Anyway, Mason was helpful in taking stuff from the car to the campsite and in assembling the tent.

Is there any better feeling on a camping trip than getting the tent assembled properly?

Yes: getting it disassembled properly and stuffed into that impossibly tiny bag on the day you leave.

We spent the first day sitting by the river or riding our bikes along the trails that cut through the ponderosas and grassy meadows. Nearby, towering over the area, stood Black Butte. That would be our destination on the second day

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