One of our family's favorite memories is a camping trip we took to the mountains of southern Utah. We camped at a place called Navajo Lake and our tent site was just on the edge of the campground with a dense forest of pines right next to us.
Our oldest son and daughter (both in middle school) had gone up into the woods while we were getting a campfire built, and within a few minutes, they came back at a dead run.
Our daughter said, "Mom and Dad, we saw a really deformed horse up on the hillside. It was gross."
As we learned more about their experience, we thought it was strange, and then as we walked quietly up into the woods, we saw a young moose -- the deformed horse in person. Later, the moose and its mom came wandering through the campground, and we all had a good laugh about the poor deformed horse.
Camping trips can be really fun for families, particularly if family activities are planned ahead of time. Some of our favorite family memories have involved camping and family activities.
So, after consulting the camping fun experts in the Parker family, we recommend these activities for family camping trips.
- Games. Playing games together on a camping outing is a popular choice for many families. We have a few favorite board games like Apples to Apples and Balderdash that pack easily and that are great for gathering around the picnic table. Card games are another good choice because they are small and can fit into a backpack or just slipped into a camping bin. One of our favorites is UNO, which has many variations and options for play.
- Active Games. If you want your family to get out in the meadow or clearing and have a more active experience, playing some camping games that get the family moving is a great idea. Our kids particularly have enjoyed flag football, ultimate frisbee and Capture the Flag. A favorite of the younger children around the campfire is Duck Duck Goose. In this game, the family members sit in a circle. One child or parent goes around and gently taps each person on the head saying "duck," until she decides to make one the goose. The person tapped as goose needs to chase the person around the circle. If the person gets back to the open spot without being caught, the "goose" becomes "it".
- Hiking. Admittedly, our favorite family camping activity is a good hike. A couple of years ago as our son was working on his Hiking merit badge for Boy Scouts, I took the boys on a 3 day, 2 night camping and hiking excursion where we hiked about 20 miles over three days. A hike in the mountains can be invigorating, and it does tend to tire out the kids so they will sleep all night in their sleeping bag.
A variation on the hiking theme is a nature scavenger hunt. Children love a scavenger hunt, and using nature items (and maybe digital cameras) as the things to find can be lots of fun. Keath Low, ADD/ADHD Expert, offers these instructions:
Make a list of different items to search for on your scavenger hunt. Your child will enjoy helping you create the list. Some ideas may include looking for a spider web (with bonus points if a spider is on it), four different colored leaves, five different kinds of trees, litter (be sure to pick up any litter and talk with your child about the importance of keeping our environment healthy), a rock, a bird in a tree, a bird flying in the air, berries on a tree or on the ground, etc. Your child can use a pencil to cross off items as he finds them.
- Orienteering. A little map and compass trek can also be a fun family activity. If you remember maps and compass skills from your scouting days, you can make an easy compass course and see how well the kids can follow directions. The US Orienteering Site offers some easy tips and good ideas for creating an orienteering course.
- Geocaching. Orienteering on steroids, geocaching has become a very popular family camping activity. Geocaching is an adventure game for GPS users. People from around the world create caches (or hiding places) and then place cache coordinates on the Internet. Other GPS users visit the caches and sign a guest book, or take an item and leave an item. Check for caches on the Internet near the area where you will be camping and see if there is a cache nearby. The use your GPS unit and head off exploring with the family.
- Storytelling. Many dads have a great time telling stories on camping trips, particularly after the sun goes down and a fire is blazing in the campfire ring. Ghost stories are popular; a good mystery is always in order. One variation our family has enjoyed is a chain story, where one person starts the story, makes up a plot and a few paragraphs and then passes the story on to the next person. He or she continues until they pass on to another, and the story continues on until someone decides to end it and start another. Some of our best stories went around the family four or five times before they reached their end.
- Cooking together. Making cooking an experience in which the whole family can share not only is fun, but it helps share the cooking burden while camping. We love cooking on a campout with a Dutch oven, and there are lots of recipes that can be prepared by many hands. And when everyone is involved in cooking, the meal is just that much tastier.
- Campfire building. Working together to build a roaring campfire can be a lot of fun if it is handled safely. Make sure you have dry fuel and keep your fires in designated locations in the campground. And remember to watch the kids around the fire anytime it is burning.
- Skits. One memorable camping trip was interrupted by car trouble, and the best part of that trip was the impromptu skits we did at the park where we were stranded. A little bit of humor, some corny acting, and clever repartee can build some great memories. The Ultimate Camp Resource has dozens of skit ideas that would be perfect for a family camping experience.
Camping trips can be memorable times for any family. Some simple activities, implemented with a little planning ahead, can make the camping trip an even greater experience for the entire family.