The magic of camping with children comes to those who forget the destination and focus on the journey. Meander with your children along a trail through a solitary grove of quaking aspen, noticing the birds, bugs, and berries. It will awaken your own senses to the incredible beauty around you, and help your children discover nature. Your youngsters will learn that the woods are alive as they catch their first fish, see a deer, hike through a field of breathtaking wildflowers, or listen to the night sounds of frogs, crickets, owls, and coyotes.
Many of the following tips are provided for families taking youngsters on their first camping experience, although some tips are appropriate for family campers of all skill levels.
To motivate and excite everyone, you will need to plan your excursion together, from pulling out the maps, guides, and brochures, to making campground reservations, determining activities, and checking gear. Part of the fun is simply deciding where to go and the anticipation that builds as the trip draws near.Allow your children to participate at a level they can handle, giving them a sense of accomplishment and being part of the decision-making group. Initially, it may not lessen your load, but as you educate them, eventually they will be able to take on much of the preparation burden, providing them with additional self-respect. Let them help decide where to go, what to eat, and what to do when you arrive at camp. Allowing each member to contribute will help the family function better as a team.
Prepare them before heading out
Backyard camping is a great way to teach your children how to set up their own tents, use camp gear properly, and avoid accidents. Setting up camp behind your house will allow them to become familiar with sleeping in a tent, while sparking an interest in the fun activities camping can offer. Bring plenty of snacks and games for the nighttime activities. Spend time as a family to give them an idea of what to expect for the real outing.
Familiarize them with the outdoors
Youth that have trouble with camping are sometimes intimidated by the unfamiliar surroundings and unprepared for the uniqueness of the experience. Try an after-work hike, a marshmallow roast, or an evening fishing trip in a day-use area of a nearby canyon. Short day excursions are also great opportunities where your children can learn about the dangers of fire, swift water, and steep drop-offs. Teach them which plants to avoid, and what to do if they get lost. Mini adventures after work will help your youngsters develop a feeling for the outdoors and eliminate many fears they might have about their first camping adventure.
Bring extra gear
Always remember that with children, clothing will get wet and dirty. Bring plenty of extra clothing to help them stay warm, dry, and comfortable. Once children become uncomfortable, everyone will know it. Don't forget warmer clothing to ward off the night chill and warm sleeping bags for comfortable rest.
Gear designed for children is also important to consider. Bring gear that specifically meets their needs, including time-release insect repellents. DEET, the most effective insect repellent available, can be a significant concern for parents of younger users. To address this concern, many manufacturers are now offering time-release products that minimize overall exposure yet provide an effective repellent to mosquitoes and other pesky insects. Other natural formulations are available on the market, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Look for sunscreen with a high level of protection from the sun's harmful rays.
Don't forget medicines in appropriate strengths, bandages, hats, and additional protective clothing for inclement weather.
Allow younger children to bring a few select toys, teddy bears or games. Avoid the temptation to bring too many or you can guarantee that parts will be lost and clutter will become a problem. A small daypack for each child may be the answer for some families. Inside the pack, youngsters should include a personal stash of snacks, safety gear, and extra clothing.
The night can be frightening for some little ones, but when empowered with their own personal flashlight, they will have some control of the darkness that surrounds camp. Coleman has also recently released a remote controlled nightlight for late night "nature calls" and visiting critters.
Bring plenty of snacks
Trail mix, jerky, apples, and cookies are certainly part of the experience for many campers. Take food your family likes to eat. Just because you are camping, you don't have to eat bird food. If your children like trail mix and the assorted dried foods that go along with it, great. If not, let them acquire a taste for it as they grow. Your family will be happier if they are fed well.
Bring a camera
Collect the memories as you make them. Photograph the first fish, the family campsite, a water fight, or the day hike destination. Your family will savor these moments when they are grown. Bringing a camera will also help keep the fondest memories fresh when it comes time to plan your next camping excursion.
Keep first trips short
Keep your first campout short. It is always better to bring them home before they are ready to go, leaving them hungry for more. Spending too much time on a first trip may make them a little tired and cranky, ending the vacation on a less than happy moment. By keeping trips short, it is easier to plan, keep everyone's energy up, and leave on a good note. In addition, less food and gear is required, reducing the possibility of leaving something home. Make travel brief. Try to break up the monotony of the travel with frequent stops. Play car games to keep the children entertained. Plan some games in advance so you will not be stymied when they get bored.
Have backup plans. If fishing is slow and attention spans are short, have a backup plan to keep your children interested. Whether you plan a short nature hike or a game of cards, stay a step ahead of your children and prevent boredom for younger family members. In addition, remind them of planned future activities, to build anticipation and excitement. Many youth are more than willing to help prepare upcoming campfire programs or marshmallow roasts. Allow them to be part of the action.
Teach them respect. Respect for Mother Nature may help save a child's life. Skills acquired in the outdoors will last a lifetime. These skills include what to do if you get lost, how to start a fire, catching and cleaning fish, and identifying wildlife. In addition, respect for the outdoors will help preserve the beauty that you enjoy for other generations to follow. When teaching youth about the outdoors, we also learn more about ourselves. Outdoor ethics are easy to teach when they are young, when they look to role models, like yourself, in this unknown beautiful world.
24 great destinations to take children
The destinations listed below were selected for their scenery, available activities, and facilities:
Jordanelle Reservoir and State Park (Hailstone campground)
American Fork Canyon
Tony Grove Lake
Smith and Morehouse Reservoir
Currant Creek Reservoir
Hobble Creek Canyon
Rock Creek and Upper Stillwater Reservoir
Flaming Gorge/Green River
Canyonlands National Park
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Capitol Reef National Park
Yankee Meadow Reservoir (up Parowan Canyon near Vermillion Castle)
Zion National Park