Camping with Kids

Camping with kids may seem like a tough challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. Spending time with your children away from screens and other distractions is really fun. Passing on a family tradition and strengthening relationships are a couple of reasons why people camp.

Below are a few suggestions to make your family outing fun and enjoyable, and keep your sanity at the same time!
Two little boys wearing backpacks sit and rest
The right expectations will make for a great trip.

NPS Photo / David Restivo

Set Reasonable Expectations (or Expect the Unexpected)
Face it—your first, second, or even tenth camping trip with the kids may not go as planned. Things happen: Muddy hands and faces, s'mores matted in hair, a leaky tent, or a late night trip to the bathroom. It can really test your patience. Going into a trip knowing that there will be bumps, helps when dealing with them as they arise. They also make great memories and stories later in life. (Pro tip: Refer to any trial or tribulation as an adventure. As in, “Racing down the mountain during that hailstorm sure was an adventure!”)
A little girl stands next to a tent
Remember to pack clothes you can layer.

NPS Photo / David Snyder

Pack the Right Stuff
Let your child have a say in the packing process. They’ll appreciate getting to have input, and it’s a great opportunity to teach them what to bring along...and what to leave at home. You might ask your child, "It's going to be hot during the day and cold at night, so what clothes do you need to bring?" "We're going on a hike, what do you need to bring?" Let them choose an item or two that is special for them to bring along. If your kids are older, create a list for them to pack, otherwise you might end up with no clothes but an amazing assortment of legos, water guns, and loud things. Remember to pack clothes so you can layer. Shedding items when it’s hot, or adding when it’s cold, will help keep your child comfortable.
A child sets up a tent
Let your little one help out.

NPS Photo

Get the Kids Involved
It can be frustrating trying to set up a tent or prepare a meal when the kids are running around getting into things or, let’s face it, are fighting with each other. Plan and assign them tasks appropriate for their age and ability; little ones can gather kindling or fill water bottles, and older kids can prepare food, wash dishes, or set up their own tents. Pro tip: A little encouragement goes a long way!
A woman and a youth roast marshmallows over a campfire
A camping tradition -- roasting marshmallows.

NPS Photo / Neal Herbert

Cook Fun Things
Kids love to be involved cooking their own food that can be cooked at the end of a stick. Introduce your kids to the camping tradition of roasting marshmallows and cooking hot dogs over a fire. Please see our Cooking in Camp page for more tips, tricks and recipes for meals.
A woman hikes with two little children
Enjoy the stroll with your kids.

NPS Photo / David Restivo

Hit the Trail
When taking a hike, remember that little legs are shorter than yours, and not as fast. (And if your kid’s legs are longer than yours, they might still have a little trouble keeping up!) There will be a lot of stop and go. Choose family-friendly hikes on nature trails. Break up hikes with opportunities to look at things on the trail (binoculars are fun!), drink some water out of that new water bottle, or pull out a snack you let them carry in their day pack. If you have a backpack kid carrier, wear it. The walking motion provides an opportunity for your little one to catch a nap while you hike.
A little girl looks through binoculars
Kids and binoculars -- a great way to explore nature.

NPS Photo / David Snyder

Use the Right Tools
Some parks have activity packs you can sign out. These packs are loaded with fun-filled items geared toward exploring nature. Check with the visitor center to see if your park has them.
A mother and child sit in a camp chair reading a Jr. Ranger booklet
Schedule some down-time with your child.

NPS Photo / David Snyder

Find Balance
Camping in a national park allows you to do and see many things. A full day of camping and recreating can make even adults tired. Schedule activities that are fun for everyone, yet allow for some down-time off of your feet. Visit the Plan Your Visit section of (or the park you are visiting) for available activities. Also consider a camping activity or Jr. Ranger books.

Last updated: January 17, 2020