Tips for Camping with Kids

April 1, 2018  |  Permalink

There are a lot of things about parenting that feel mundane and tiring. Things like changing diapers, moving toddlers away from power outlets, and breaking up fights seem to have no end. But there’s one thing that never grows old: watching a child experience something for the first time. If you have kids, especially young ones, it’s easy to recall those moments. The first time they tasted birthday cake. The first time they took a step on their own. The first time they discovered a hobby.  It’s exciting to see joy and wonder wash over their sweet faces for the first time.

Taking kids outside is one of those awe-inspiring, joy-inducing adventures that every kid needs. It’s important to their development, broadens their perspective, and grows their minds. One great way to do this is through a family camping trip. You don’t have to be an expert to instill a love of the outdoors in your kids.

Here are a few tips to help you plan a trip that you and the kids will enjoy:

Camping with Kids

1. Set realistic expectations

Isn’t this the reality of parenting?! Nothing ever goes as planned. As long as you know that going into the trip, you’ll do fine. What do we mean by realistic expectations? We mean that your kids may not be able to hike five miles into a campsite. We mean that they won’t want to sit around the fire all weekend and stare into the flames. It means that your level of wilderness survival skills is probably more like the Griswold’s than Rambo. Knowing those things going in will make your trip that much better. With that in mind…


2. Find a campsite that meets your needs

Find a campsite that meets the realistic needs of your group. Some sites you can pull right up into. Some are just inside the tree line and require a little bit of walking. Some are set deep into the woods and require carrying your gear in packs. Some have bathrooms and bathhouses nearby. Some are more…primitive.

Our ideal campgrounds for kids, especially on first-time camping trips, are ones where you can camp close to the car, have a bathhouse nearby, and are not too far from a town. Campgrounds at Pickett CCC Memorial State Park, Henry Horton State Park and Panther Creek State Park all fit those requirements.


3. Find a park with more than just camping

It’s important to know that your kids will want to do things other than roast marshmallows and collect firewood. Make sure to pick a park that has a variety of activities for you and the kids to do away from the campsite. Many of our parks offer boating, swimming pools, waterfalls and hikes that kids will enjoy. For starters, check out Chickasaw State Park, Edgar Evins State Park and Rock Island State Park. These parks have a variety of activities you can do that are not too difficult for the kids.


4. Be prepared with backup plans

Finally, make sure you have a backup plan for everything. For example, weather can have a huge impact on your trip. Wet weather can make it hard to start a fire. You should bring some backup food that doesn’t need to be heated over the fire. It also means you need to make sure your tent is setup in a way that will deflect water. The key point here is to just try and plan backup food, activities, etc. for as many things as you can anticipate.


5. Talk about safety

One of the most important jobs parents have is to teach kids about safety. This is just as true with camping as it is in everyday life. Talk to your kids early and often about safety, making sure to tell them WHY something is dangerous. Some things to consider:

  • Be careful with fire – Kids need to understand that the fire pit can burn them. They also need to understand the importance of keeping dry brush away from the fire pit.  But it’s not just the fire pit that could cause problems. Make sure kids understand that open flames –candles, lighters, lanterns – should never go inside the tent.
  • Don’t run around the campsite – Again, the fire pit is the big issue here.
  • Always wear shoes – From splinters to critters, it’s just a good idea to wear some sort of shoe in camp
  • Don’t eat in the tent – You definitely don’t want ants and other bugs in the tent.
  • Don’t eat that! – as a rule, it’s probably best to tell your kids not to eat the berries they find in the woods. Unless you know for sure that the berry isn’t poisonous, you shouldn’t eat them either!
  • Practice the buddy system – Make sure your kids understand the importance of sticking with a buddy when they’re heading to the woods, or the bathhouse.


6. Make kids feel important

Humans want to feel needed and appreciated. Just because they are kids doesn’t mean they are any less human. Kids will enjoy their experience so much more if you involve them in the process. Let them help you set up the tent. Let them help gather sticks for the fire. Even the smallest little tasks can help fight off boredom.


7. Go to ranger-led events if possible

What’s great about our parks is that you don’t have to do it all yourself. Tennessee State Park staff offer ranger-led events throughout the month. Many of these events are free and are great ways to get away from the campsite and do something different. From birds of prey shows and guided hikes, these activities are geared toward engaging the next generation of outdoor lovers. Take advantage of them!

If you’re reading this blog and just feeling a little overwhelmed with planning a camping trip, that’s okay too. Our staff offer intro to camping and backpacking trips throughout the year. For a small fee, our staff will guide a group through a weekend of camping and backpacking, covering safety, fire starting, cooking, etc. All you have to do is pay and show up!

Check out the full list of events in Tennessee State Parks and see if there's something that interests you.



8. Start planning your trip

With these tips in mind you can have a great camping expeirnece. Are you ready to start planning? Click the button below to see the full list of parks with campsites.


Camping with Kids

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Tennessee State Parks