12 tips for an epic backyard campout with kids
Make your summer staycation one to remember.
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We may not be able to hit the open road for an epic summer vacation but there is a perfect staycation just waiting in your own backyard. Turning your backyard into a family campsite is a way to experience the great outdoors without having to pack the car, make site reservations, or drive hours to get away from it all. Best of all, you won’t be subject to the droning, “Are we there yet?”
We have 12 ideas for a backyard family campout that are sure to make this summer’s staycation a memorable family fun fest. Who knows, maybe it’ll turn your family into yard camping converts and start a new tradition for years to come.
1. Pack for an adventure
Your journey may only be a few steps outside your back door, but that doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t come prepared. It’ll feel less like a real getaway if they are running inside all night for favorite toys and supplies. Have them pack a backpack with everything they'll need for a real overnight trip. This means pajamas, a change of clothes, walkie talkies, a camera, books, and their favorite stuffy. You can also include a compass, canteens, binoculars, and cool books to study birds, bugs, flowers, or whatever natural wonders they are interested in.
- Get the Audubon Birding Adventures for Kids: Activities and Ideas for Watching, Feeding, and Housing Our Feathered Friends at Amazon for $16.21
- Get the Exploring Nature Activity Book for Kids: 50 Creative Projects to Spark Curiosity in the Outdoors at Amazon for $5.99
- Get the Carson AdventurePak Kids field binoculars, compass, flashlight, and signal whistle with a built-in thermometer at Amazon for $22.99
2. Get pitchin'!
If you’re a camping novice and don’t already have a tent, we recommend purchasing an instant tent, or a pop-up tent. Setup is a breeze, which will leave more time for enjoying your night under the stars and less time wrangling with tent poles. We recommend one like the HuiLingYang instant pop up dome tent, which has a vestibule for dirty shoes and grass-covered toes. It also has good ventilation and translates perfectly as a sun tent for the beach. This one is roomy enough for a family, a changing table, and a dog, and it comes with internal poles, making for a rapid setup.
3. Make a comfy sleep setup
Whether it’s car camping or a backyard campout, my family blows up a big air mattress and tosses on a bunch of sleeping bags for a soft and cozy glamping-style setup. If you want to rough it and don’t want to spring for anything new, a few comforters thrown over yoga mats will keep you well-insulated on colder nights and make for a bed comfy enough to get in some Zs before sunrise arrives.
4. Swing your day away
Nothing says camping like a lazy sunset on a hammock. This one easily slings between two trees for cozy naps and long campout cuddles.
5. Add a camp tub
No camping trip is complete without a swim at the local watering hole. Stock tank pools are portable, Instagramable, and they heat up quickly. Have a cool mid-day dip or give the kids a fun outdoor bath time experience before they climb into their sleeping bags for the night.
6. Fire up a fire pit
Every campout needs a campfire. Without one, what will you toast marshmallows over and tell ghost stories by? To speak candidly, a campfire or fire pit is necessary to the camping experience. To keep the first safely contained, make sure you only put the pit on a stone surface.
7. Play a backyard game
While it might not always be practical to lug lawn games to a campsite hours from home, setting some up alongside your backyard tent is a fun way to enjoy a little friendly, family competition. All ages will enjoy a game of Cornhole, Croquet, Bocce, Badminton or any other games typically reserved for backyard BBQs.
8. Play a card game
If you don't have the space for backyard game, how about a campfire-inspired board game? Toasted or Roasted was practically made for family campouts; the point of the game is to get a campfire started and toast three marshmallows without burning them. We love that it was made out of heavy-duty components with campouts in mind including a coated game board and a waterproof, resealable bag.
9. Stuff for S’mores
S'mores are deliciously synonymous with camping. Since you’ll have a nearby pantry at your disposal, try mixing things up a bit with creative additions like sliced fruit, pretzels, or candy bars. Find some gourmet inspiration in the perfectly and simply titled S'mores by Lisa Adams. It has over 60 new and novel approaches to the classic chocolate bar, marshmallow, and gingerbread trifecta.
- Get S'mores: Gourmet Treats for Every Occasion by Lisa Adams at Amazon.com for $14.99
- Get the Ajmyonsp marshmallow roasting skewer forks with wooden extendable handles at Amazon.com for $16.99
10. Grab the walkie talkies
Sure, maybe the hiking trail is really just a walk down the tree-lined sidewalk, but if you want to give some legitimacy to a backyard campout, you're going to want to pack the walkie talkies. They are perfect for keeping in touch when the family splits up for neighborhood nature walks—or pair up with some neighbors to do campouts on the same night. Kids can keep in touch by talking over the walkie, making for an innovative approach to socially distant sleepovers.
One of the best parts of camping is sitting under the stars. Give your kids an intro to astronomy by setting up a travel telescope to study the skies. If you want to keep things analog, snag a book to help them decode the constellations with. A little bit of mythology and a little bit of science makes for perfect bedtime reading.
- Get the Celestron 70mm portable travel scope with bonus astronomy software package at Amazon.com for $89.33
- Get Star Finder!: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Night Sky at Amazon for $11.39
- Get 50 Things to See with a Telescope: A young stargazer's guide at Amazon for $14.79
- Get find the Constellations at Amazon for $8.79
Get The Stars: A New Way to See Them at Amazon for $11.99
12. Tell some spooky stories
A spooky story by flashlight is a perfect end to a campout. You can either get creative by making up your own tales or by taking turns stringing together terrifying (or tame) tales of the supernatural (or the goofy). Or you can grab a book filled with stories perfect for hooking kids on the ghost-telling tradition. For younger kids, we like Not So Scary Jerry for just enough monster, without the fright. For slightly older kids, who still would rather not get spooked, we like the fun and spooky books from the Creature Campers collection.
- Get Not So Scary Jerry at Amazon for $16.99
- Get the Creature Camper's Secret of Shadow Lake at Amazon for $5.99
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.