Whether you're heading to a local campsite or road-tripping to a new destination, camping is an easy and low-stress vacation idea for the whole family—no flights, no car rentals, and no crowds. The benefits of camping go way beyond the wallet, too. Studies show that outdoor experiences make children more environmentally conscious, help them manage stress, and reduce restlessness and boredom.
"Kids today are spending more time indoors and plugged into a screen, so camping is a great activity because it gets them outdoors, whether they're hiking or telling ghost stories by the fire," says Meri-Margaret Deoudes, spokesperson for the National Wildlife Federation's Be Out There initiative, which encourages kids to get outside.
RELATED: 19 Tips for Camping With Kids
Once you decide on the type of campground you'd like to visit—National Park, State Park, public campground, or private campsite—it's time to start planning what you'll do during your camping downtime. Check out these fun camping activities for kids, all guaranteed to create memories that'll last a lifetime.
Camping Activity Ideas for Kids
1. Build a Campfire
Get kids fired up for an evening around the pit with these tips from Richard Wiese, author of Born to Explore: How to Be a Backyard Adventurer. First, have your child collect small twigs and bark (tinder), short sticks (kindling), and larger logs (fuel). Put the tinder in the designated fire pit and place the kindling, tepee style, over it. Use a match to light the tinder, slowly adding the additional sticks and logs as the fire builds. Stay safe by drawing a zone in the dirt three to five feet around the fire and instructing kids not to pass the line.
2. Go on a Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts can entertain before it gets dark: Compile a list of objects to find—like specific leaves, flowers, and plants—or hide items like marshmallows, bottle caps, marbles, and other little things around your campsite.
3. Study Bugs
Your kids can search for particularly icky bugs underneath rocks. "Observing insects is an excellent way for kids to learn respect for nature; bugs shouldn't just be stomped on, they're an integral part of our ecosystem," says Melissa Chapman, editor of TheStatenIslandFamily.com.
4. Take a Hike
While hiking, sing or talk so you don't surprise any unsuspecting critters; they'll stay out of your way if they know that you're coming. And make it a rule for everyone to use the buddy system, even for short walks to the restroom.
5. Analyze Animal Prints
Help your kids match photos of animals with their footprints with these Sierra Club Animal and Bird Tracks Knowledge Cards. It’s a great way to teach them about wildlife!
6. Make Nature Rubbings
If you packed paper and crayons, make nature rubbings. Pick an interesting leaf, lay it down on a flat surface, put a piece of white paper over it, turn your crayon lengthwise, and rub over the leaf. Or press leaves and flowers into a book as mementos of your camping adventure.
7. Go Zen with Cloud Watching
During the day, search for hidden images in the clouds. From hippopotamuses to floating castles, you never know what your kids might find!
8. Stargaze at Night
Stargazing is a popular camping activity, but identifying constellations isn't easy. Get an updated version of Find the Constellations by H. A. Rey (the author behind Curious George) or visit websites such as, NASA's Space Place, and SeaSky.org.
9. Create Pebble Pets
Hunt for pebbles (or shells) with your child and decorate them with markers to resemble wild creatures. Hide them around the campsite for others to find!
10. Host a Shadow Puppet Show
Using a flashlight as a spotlight, host a shadow puppet show on the tent walls. Make a bunny, a wolf, or a snake, and have your child concoct stories about its escapades.
11. Play Charades
Charades is the perfect camping activity for kids—you don’t need any special supplies, and you can play it anywhere!
12. Get Out Lawn Games
Consider bringing some lawn games from home, like cornhole, lawn darts, or ring toss. You can also take the opportunity to teach kids classic outdoor activities like Ghost in the Graveyard, Capture the Flag, SPUD, and Kick the Can!
13. Tell Campfire Stories
A traditional camping experience isn’t complete without stories by the fire. For older kids, try out some spooky tales, like those from Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories. Younger kids probably prefer less frightening stories, such as the ones in Woo! The Not-So-Scary Ghost or The Not-So-Scary Monster Handbook. You can also encourage kids to make up their own narratives around the fire!
14. Sing Campfire Songs
Does your family love music? Then sing campfire songs around the fire! Here are some ideas (although the possibilities are endless):
“She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”
“We’re Going On a Bear Hunt"
“The Campfire Song Song” (from Spongebob Squarepants)
“The Wheels On The Bus”
“Home on the Range”
15. Ask Fun Questions
Without technology or distractions, camping is a great bonding experience for families. Ask your kids some interesting questions around the fire: If you had to give everyone in the family new names, what would they be? Where would you like to travel in the future? What's a memory that makes you happy? Find more ideas here.
16. Quiz Them with Trivia
Brush up on your kid’s knowledge with some fun-loving trivia questions, like the ones on this list. You can make a list of camping-specific questions about animals, nature, and plants. But you can also cater the questions to your child’s interests, whether it’s Harry Potter, science, or Disney movies.
17. Cook Up Something New
Spice up camp cuisine—and teach kids some cooking skills—with these eats from Catherine McCord, creator of the kiddie foodie site Weelicious.com.
Sunny Start: Cook oatmeal in a pot over the campfire, then stir in walnuts and raisins for a protein-packed breakfast that'll keep you going all day.
Pizza Party: Spread tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla and add toppings such as veggies and shredded chicken. Cover with another tortilla, and wrap in foil. Come dinnertime, place the foil-wrapped quesadillas directly on your campfire's embers or unwrap and heat in a cast-iron pan or directly on a grill. When the cheese melts, cut the tortillas into wedges and serve.
Fruity Fun: Skewer a whole, unpeeled banana and grill over the campfire, like you would a marshmallow. When the banana is soft, split down the middle and sprinkle with chocolate chips or sauce and scoop straight out of the peel with a spoon. Your crew will be begging for s'more bananas!