How to Have an Unforgettable Backyard Campout with Kids

4 Min. Read
child smiling in tent while camping

7 Ways to Turn a Backyard Campout into a Fun At-home Adventure

With hectic day-to-day schedules, sometimes slipping away for a weekend camping trip just isn’t in the cards for busy families. Enter the backyard campout! Here are a few tips to make an at-home adventure memorable.

1) Pitch a Tent

Your comfortable bed might be just a few feet away, but for the full experience you need to go all in. No matter if your backyard is a few acres or the width of your tent’s footprint, site selection matters. You’re looking for a flat spot of course, but also one that affords the best view. It might be on your deck, in your driveway, or if you don’t have a yard, your living room, but when you’re lying on your sleeping pad with the vestibule zipped up, you might be surprised how much it feels like regular camping.

2) Turn Off Your Phone

There are plenty of reasons to bring your phone, but here’s a good reason not to—lessen your screen time. Many of us are spending way more time on our devices right now, scrolling through anxiety-inducing headlines, zoning out to random Tik Tok videos and binge-watching bizarre shows like Tiger King. This is your chance to ditch the screens, use your imagination, and set a healthy example for your kids. When you unplug and go outdoors you not only give your brain a break, but the benefits are substantial, including being 100% present with your kids. That alone is worth more than all the likes in the world.

kids doing scavenger hunt

3) Nature Scavenger Hunt

Make a card for each kid (or download a printable one here) with an image checklist of your most common backyard flora and fauna. Then send your kids off on a scavenger hunt. A leaf, a worm, a squirrel or a bird, once they start searching there’s no telling what they’ll find. We often think of nature as a place we visit, and forget that even in the most urban locations, nature is where we live. It’s truly awesome to open their eyes to nature in their backyard.

4) Tell a Story

Once you remove phones and TV, a funny thing happens—conversations. You never know, you may learn something new. Have you ever tried telling a story all together? The first person shares a few sentences or an idea, and then passes it around where each person contributes and takes the story in a new direction. A designated object to pass to each speaker, like a staff, or a crown of leaves helps convey gravitas to the storyteller. You never know what’s going to come out, and if you’re lucky, you might create a real humdinger.

Dutch oven pizza camping

5) Cook Pizza

This is the perfect opportunity to make dinner outside. Try making pizza and show your kids that when camping, anything is possible. Make the dough with quick activating yeast, and give your youngest the special task of warming the dough in a plastic bag on their belly. Roll it out or toss it on the back of your hands extra thin like the pizza parlor man. To cook it, we recommend using a Dutch oven (this recipe works great), but if you don’t have one, you can try a pizza stone over extremely hot coals or experiment with other campfire methods like a cast iron pan and foil. Let your kids choose the toppings and give your specialty pizza a menu-style name like the Quarantine Pie. Make a few of them, because no kid (or adult!) can resist pizza in the great outdoors.

6) Turn Off Your Lights and Look for the Stars

When the sun sets and the moon rises, turn off all the lights inside and outside your house and rely only on your head lamps and lanterns. Create that camping ambiance. Without the lights, your backyard grows unfamiliar. Seeing the shadows, the moonlight, and maybe a few stars, is what it’s all about. Try lying on the ground and staring up at the night sky. What do you see? How many constellations can you find? Do your kids believe in aliens? No matter what you find, it’s a nice reminder that the great mysteries of the universe are right there above you.

boy roasting marshmallow over fire

7) Roast S’mores

A campfire is the perfect antidote for our overly-digitized lives. The daily distractions and worries fade away as you watch the flames dance upon the wood. Grab a bag of marshmallows, scavenge a few roasting sticks to sharpen, and go all out making delicious s’mores. The Hershey bar never fails to make a kid giddy, and the quest for a golden brown marshmallow is always good for a few laughs. If a campfire isn’t an option, s’mores in the oven also make a special treat. Either way, by the end of the night you’ll be ready for your sleeping bags, and you can rest easy knowing that now your kids will be stoked to go again when the campgrounds are open again.

Portrait of Tim Gibbins

Tim Gibbins

Tim Gibbins lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. His articles have appeared in Outside magazine, The Oregonian, Montana Outdoors, and he has worked as a naturalist in Denali National Park.

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