The first time I went camping with my kids, I thought it would be a weekend of rest. Little did I know, kids can get bored very quickly when they’re outdoors. But it’s usually just because they don’t know what to do in this new environment.
I love nature, so I didn’t want to be the type of dad that just pops in Frozen for the 50th time and turns camping into a home away from home. I wanted my kids to develop the same curiosity and interest in animals, plants, and natural parks that my parents taught me.
How can you make sure your next trip is fun for your kids and relaxing for you?
Find activities that keep kids busy while camping. It takes a bit of planning and prep on your part, but it’s worth it. To make it easier for you, here is an extensive list of engaging activities for toddlers, teens, and every age in between.
8 Screen-Free Camping Activities
Keeping kids from getting bored on campouts doesn’t mean you have to take along handheld video games. With screen-free activities, children can have a blast and spend time outside. Try a few of these fun activities for kids while camping:
1. Swimming: Many campgrounds and state parks have lakes where swimming is allowed. The whole family can have fun splashing around. Inflatable pool toys take it up a notch.
2. Nature notebook: The outdoors are full of exciting, interesting, and beautiful things. Give kids a journal they can fill, from collecting leaves to checking off a list of animals and plants.
3. Creature search: Camping is a fantastic time to show your little ones the wilder side of nature. Lead an expedition into the woods and point out frogs, lizards, birds, and bugs. My kids loved this, especially as toddlers. And I didn’t have to go more than 100 yards from our campsite to point out and ramble on about butterflies, chipmunks, and other curious creatures.
4. Painting: Outside spaces are perfect for letting kids have fun with washable paint. Have them gather rocks, pinecones, or leaves around camp, and see what colorful creations they come up with.
5. Scavenger hunt: Make a list of easy-to-find items from nature (e.g., yellow leaf, dandelion, flat rock, etc.) or hide some colorful items from home around the campsite. Give kids a special treat when they complete the list.
6. Bocce: Teams take turns rolling colored balls to get as close as possible to the center ball. This awesome family competition is easy to customize for extra fun, like when mom and dad are forced to throw backward.
7. Watermelon seed spitting contest: When you’re camping, you don’t have to worry about the mess of watermelon seeds. Use a bucket or plastic cup, letting young kids get closer to score a point.
8. Modeling clay competition: Kids of different ages can have fun with modeling clay (e.g., Play-Doh). Turn it into a game by whispering things children should sculpt or writing them on cards.
4 DIY Games
You can buy a bunch of games before you go camping OR you can make them yourself! With a little creativity and a few supplies, you can use what you find in nature to make your own version of popular outdoor games:
1. DIY Bean bag toss: Small bean bags are kid-friendly and fun for all ages. This activity is great for keeping kids busy while you’re cooking. Kids can dig shallow holes as targets for bean bags.
2. DIY Kickball: Picnic areas and fields are perfect for a quick game. Set up bases using plastic bottles with some sand or dirt inside.
3. DIY Ping Pong: Use popsicle sticks and paper plates to “build” your rackets. Blow up a couple balloons and you’ve just created a game of balloon ping-pong that little kids will love.
4. DIY Frisbee Golf: Frisbee golf is one of my favorite activities when camping with kids of different ages because everyone can participate — young kids, tweens, teens, and adults. Making your own frisbee golf set is fairly easy. Just bring a different color frisbee for each person and use 4-5 buckets/bins from around camp. To create the golf “holes,” write a number on a square piece of colored paper and tape it around one of the buckets. When camping, arrange your “course.” You can place the buckets around trees and other obstacles for extra fun or keep things simple by setting them up in an open field.
Even More Fun Activities for Kids While Camping
The best activities for keeping kids from getting bored on campouts depend on their ages. Little kids require more supervision and help, while teens may be ready to explore alone. I’ve split this huge list of fun activities for kids while camping into different age groups.
Toddlers are filled with curiosity and excitement for the world around them. When it’s safe, choose hands-on activities, letting toddlers pick up rocks or feel the texture of leaves, beetles, lizards, and flowers.
Campsite jobs: Take toddlers with you as you set up camp. Have them “help” with tent stakes or toss in small branches and newspapers as you build a campfire.
Bedtime books: Help toddlers fall asleep by reading their favorite bedtime books from home. If possible, have everyone lay down in their sleeping bags together.
Storytime: No camping trip is complete without a bedtime story. Kids and grandkids will treasure memories of your stories when they grow up.
Toys: Take a duffle bag with your toddler’s favorite outdoor toys. This prevents little kids from feeling left out if older children want to play other games.
For Young Kids
Younger kids have an insatiable curiosity and tons of energy for walking, biking, and playing. Children are usually happy to follow you on hikes and bike rides at this age. If there are exciting places to visit, such as caves, rock formations, or rivers, go exploring as a family.
Rain walk: Prepare for rainy days with rubber boots and raincoats. See what the forest is like in the rain. Afterward, make everyone a hot cup of cocoa.
Fishing: Get kids excited about fishing from a young age. Closed spincast reels have a push-button for easier casting. I would only use open-faced reels with kids that already have some experience, probably around 7 or 8 years old.
Card games: Who can forget games such as go fish and old maid? Play some old favorites and maybe take a new game to learn together.
Crayons and paper: Have kids draw pictures of what they see outdoors with crayons. Take along a lot of colors. You can also have them trace the outline of leaves.
Hidden presents: One option for keeping kids from getting bored on campouts that my family still loves is our yearly vacation “present hunt.” I buy some (cheap) gifts, wrap them, and hide them at our campsite. Young children enjoy the thrill of discovering hidden presents.
As kids get older, they can get involved in everything nature offers. Keep kids busy while camping by having them help you set up your family tent, make breakfast, or build a campfire. Tailor the activities you choose to the interests of your children. If your family loves music, tweens can sing while you play your guitar or harmonica.
Hiking: Tweens can handle longer hikes without problems. Grab some trail mix and see the sights. Take along a pair of good binoculars for spotting animals such as deer or birds.
Biking: As long as you have a bike rack or storage space in your vehicle, taking your kids’ bikes is a fantastic idea. Many state parts have gorgeous bike trails for family outings.
Board games: With the extra free time when camping, every night can be game night. Parcheesi, checkers, drawing games, and other favorites help the whole family relax and laugh together.
Squirt guns: These toys are a blast for kids, literally. That said, you have to be careful if your children get upset at each other easily (mine did). In that case, instead of water fights, have squirt gun races with paper plates suspended on strings between trees.
The challenge when camping with teens is letting them do their own thing without isolating themselves from the rest of the family. Leaving most electronic devices at home is a good start. Choose activities that are physically challenging or creative. Here are a few ways to make camping fun for teens:
Obstacle course: Design an obstacle course and have teens race to get the best time. This can include crawling under picnic tables, jumping over buckets, doing pull-ups on tree branches, etc.
Charades: Using cards with objects, people, places or animals, have teens act out a scene and get other family members to guess what it is.
Sketchbook/journal: Depending on your teen’s interests, give them a beautiful sketchbook or journal for the trip. Encourage them to draw what they see or describe what they feel with natural backdrops.
Photography: Unless you have a digital camera, this would technically mean breaking your no-screen rule. Many teens have a great time snapping pictures of the things they see when hiking. It encourages their creativity and sense of individuality.
Pass the story: This hilarious game involves one person starting a story and then tossing a ball to the next person, who has to continue telling the story. The crazier you get, the more exciting the game is.
Planning some fun activities ahead of time can have many benefits for your kids, including making the family feel closer together, teaching children to appreciate nature, and encouraging their curiosity and creativity. You can keep kids busy while camping and teach them the value of nature at the same time.