Camp Guide     Camps    

Happy campers!



How to make the most of outdoor family camping

Amid their fort-building and cricket-chasing, they’ll scarcely notice the lack of screens and devices.


Jim Sullivan of Saugerties proudly shows off the pickerel he caught while camping with his kids, Cayleigh, 5, and Braeden, 3. “We have a permanent site at a family campground in Gettysburg, Pa., with a camping trailer,” says his wife, Amy. “We’ve been camping since our kids were in the womb, they LOVE it now.”

Camping has become an increasingly popular family activity, and it’s not hard to see why. There’s no better way to experience all of nature’s offerings. A leisurely hike, jumping fish, s’mores around the campfire — it all adds up to hours of stress-free quality time with the ones you love most.

And even the plushest camping accommodations are inexpensive compared to other lodging. The Outdoor Foundation reports that one-fifth of American households with children go camping, and 70 percent of camping trips are made with friends.

So when in-town temps soar this summer, pack up your family and head to the mountains or shore for a breath of fresh air.

Here are tips to ensure your family has a great experience:

Research and reserve

Get recommendations from friends, and access online information about campgrounds, including site maps and fees.

During the summer months, it’s best to reserve your site in advance when possible. National, state, and county parks often provide excellent camping facilities at moderate cost.

Privately-owned campgrounds are more expensive, but may come with amenities such as laundry facilities and pool. Narrow your search by clicking on desired features — showers, flush toilets, hiking trails, beach access, playground, convenience store, etc.

Make a list and check it twice

A printout of must-haves can help you avoid leaving necessities at home. Who wants to drive 20 miles for a box of band-aids? For help getting started, go to camping-tips.com or lovetheoutdoors.com for a comprehensive camping checklist. Then adapt it to your family’s needs.

Get your gear

If you already have the essentials, be sure everything is in good working condition. You don’t want to discover the hole in the tent during a downpour. Equipment can be expensive and there are many options. If you’re new to camping (or trying it for the first time with children) you may want to borrow a tent, cooking apparatus, and other items from a friend or look for rentals in your area.

Make a dry run

Before you hit the road, practice using any unfamiliar piece of equipment. Set up the tent, install the car top carrier, and light the stove. Not only will you avoid fumbling in bad weather, you’ll give the kids a preview of the camping experience. Maybe you’ll even want to try a night or two of camping in the backyard before heading to the campground.

Plan meals

You can chop veggies ahead of time, and use pre-cooked frozen foods as ice blocks in your cooler. If you’re using a camp stove, foods that can be cooked with hot water (pasta, instant oatmeal) are quick and easy. And never underestimate the value of grabbing a meal at the local pizzeria or burger joint if you’re near a town.


Meghan Dillon-Mellon from Poughkeepsie shared this photo of her son, Noah, 5. “We love camping with our son,” she says. “Can’t wait to take our baby, too!”

Check the weather

If you’re camping at elevation or on the coast, remember that evenings and early mornings may be chilly. And depending on your destination, you may need to prepare for rainy or windy conditions.

Review rules

When you arrive at the campsite, scope it out before you set up equipment. Call a quick family meeting and point out site boundaries, bathrooms, trash containers, and water. Remind the kids to respect neighboring sites, clean up after themselves, and refrain from feeding wildlife. Make sure everyone is aware of potential dangers such as creeks, cliffs, and rash-producing plants.

Relax and unwind

After you’ve set up camp, it’s time to let the great outdoors work its magic. Hike and fish. Organize a scavenger hunt. Prop your feet by the campfire. Eat s’mores. Tell ghost stories after the sun goes down. Drink an adult beverage. Play a card game with the kids by the lantern’s glow. Find constellations you can’t see in the city. It’s all good.

Dealing with “tech deficit”

Younger than “tween-age” kids will have no problem occupying themselves with nature’s bounty: mud, sticks, rocks, water. Amid their fort-building and cricket-chasing, they’ll scarcely notice the lack of screens and devices. If you’re at a state park, check out the Junior Rangers Program. Kids will love the ranger-led activities and guided walks, where they can learn about the local flora and fauna. For older kids (as well as parents!), technology has its benefits. Fill your phone with nature-related apps, and there will be no need to lug ten field guides and a journal on your next hike. Another tech bonus: you can easily log your discoveries. Check out gizmodo.com for a review of apps related to animals, plants, rocks, constellations, citizen science, and hiking trails.

Find the perfect campground!

Find camping at a state national park at newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com.

Reservations can be made online and range from $10 to $20+/night.

Privately-owned, amenity-loaded campgrounds can be found at campgrounds.com, and average about $30+/night.

Ashley Talmadge is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Oregon