Every parent wants their kids to experience the fun and excitement of camping. But what do you do if you don’t have the time or the camping gear needed for a trip into the great outdoors? Simple – you bring the camping trip to your own backyard!
Creating a backyard camping adventure is also a good idea if you’re unsure if your kids are ready yet for the real deal. Camping overnight in the backyard will give you a sense of what it would be like to take your kids on a full-blown camping trip.
We’ve got all you need to know to plan a memorable family adventure without ever leaving your own backyard.
Pitching the Tent
Pitch your tent in the backyard? Of course! Make it a family affair and let everyone help. Early in the day, before it gets dark, set up the tent on a flat area in your yard. Create a cozy area inside the tent by laying down some thick blankets and sleeping bags. If you want, you can bring out the inflatable air mattresses. Do whatever it takes to make everyone comfortable for the night.
Even the youngest children can take part in the sleeping outdoors fun, including your baby. Curl up with her in the tent or set up a porta-crib if you have one. And if she starts to fuss in the middle of the night you can simply take her back inside to her own bed. No need to pack up everyone and drive for hours to get back home.
No tent? Don’t think the adventure is over just yet. There are some other sleeping arrangements that will work just fine. Really, if the weather is agreeable, putting together a place to sleep is easy.
A good option if you don’t have a tent, is to build one yourself. All you need is a few feet of rope, a large sheet or blanket, and four large rocks or bricks. Tie up the rope between two trees, then hang the sheet over the rope, with an even amount of sheet on each side. Pull the sheet out on each side to fashion a tent out of it. Place the rocks on the four corners to secure the sheet. Then all you need is a tarp for the ground, sleeping bags and blankets, and your tent is ready.
Air Mattresses Under the Stars
If the weather is warm and no rain is in the forecast, sleeping under the stars is fun for everyone. All you need to do is blow up some air mattresses and lay them on a tarp on the grass. Put sleeping bags and pillows on the air mattresses and have extra blankets handy for anyone who gets cold.
Outdoor Lounge Chairs
Your patio lounge chairs will do just fine as well for your camping sleeping arrangements. Just set them close together, either on the patio, out on the grass, or even in the tent. Grab the sleeping bags and blankets, and it’s as cozy as sleeping in bed.
Right on the Ground
If you don’t have any other alternative, just put a tarp or heavy blankets right on the ground. Pile on the sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows. After all, it’s just for one night and the fun your family will have is well worth it.
Building a “Campfire”
No camping adventure is complete without a campfire to cook dinner over and later to sit around under the stars. You have a few options when it comes to building your backyard campfire.
Investing in a fire pit might be a good idea if you’re going to use it more than once or twice. Fire pits are readily available in most outdoor or hardware stores and come in different sizes. And there’s no need to hunt for firewood! You can purchase logs to use in the fire pit. Just remember that before you build a fire, find out about the fire codes where you live. Some neighborhoods may allow fire pits but if there’s been drought in your region there could be fire restrictions you need to be aware of.
Grill and BBQ
If you don’t have a fire pit, or there are restrictions on your using a fire pit, use a grill or BBQ to cook your food. You can even make S’mores on top of your grill. It’s all about creating a camping adventure and not about everything being perfectly identical to a real camping trip. Your kids will just be happy to eat hot dogs and treats outside.
You can create a flameless campfire and still have all the ambiance of sitting around the fire with your kids. There are many DIY projects to be found. For instance, place some larger rocks on the ground in a 2-foot circle. Inside the circle use wood sticks to make a pyramid shape. Wrap one or two sets of LED string lights around the wooden sticks. And you’re done! Just turn on the lights and your little fire will be glowing in the dark just like a real campfire!
Backyard Camping Gear
Take a much as you can outside with you, so you don’t have to spend time later searching for something you forgot. Keep in mind that packing for your backyard trip should be less of an ordeal than packing for a trip to the back country. Here’s a checklist of items you may need:
- Tent, or tenting alternative
- Sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows
- Fire pit, grill, or BBQ
- Cooking utensils
- Plates, bowls, and eating utensils
- Bug repellent
Let your kids bring all the gear they would need to keep themselves busy on a real camping trip. Let them pack their own backpacks with everything they’ll need for the night:
- Warm clothes
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Stuffed toys
A big part of the camping experience is the food! Hot dogs. Roasted marshmallows. S’mores.
It can be fun to cook outside with your kids, and with a bit of creativity you can make authentic camping meals in the backyard. Eat around the fire pit or your DIY campfire. Or have a picnic on a blanket under the stars.
Pack a cooler just like you would if you were out in the woods, far from your kitchen. Pack it with the foods you plan on eating on your backyard trip, such as hot dogs, burgers, and juice boxes. Add ice cubes or frozen ice packs to keep everything cold. It’s all about the convenience and making the most of your backyard adventure.
Some great camping foods include:
- Hot dogs and burgers with all the fixings
- Cut up vegetables and dip
- S’mores – marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers
The camping trip doesn’t have to be over the next morning. If you’re feeling really adventurous, have breakfast in the yard. Instant oatmeal is easy and fast, ready in just a few minutes. Cold cereal with milk is another easy choice.
Pancakes are always a tasty family breakfast. Stir up the pancake mix in the kitchen and store in a large sealable bag. Pack the griddle pan in with the rest of your backyard camping gear. Whip pancakes up in the morning and serve with maple syrup. Pancakes may be a bit more work, but they’re well worth the effort when you get to eat them outside.
Don’t forget to stock up on snacks…those easy foods your kids can grab when they’re hungry:
- Granola bars
- Homemade trail mix
Make Ahead Foods
It’s okay if it’s easier for you to make food in the kitchen and bring it outside. Prepare some of your family’s favorite meals ahead of time – those that are easy to pack up and take outside to eat. Keep it as simple and easy as you can.
Pop up some popcorn and put it into individual paper bags. Or prepare little bags of trail mix for the kids to snack on whenever they’re hungry. You can even make the hot chocolate inside, adding mini marshmallows when you’re ready to serve. A quick and easy meal to make before backyard camping are sandwiches and wraps along with some fruit and nuts. Pack it all into individual lunch kits, one for everyone in the family.
For more camping food ideas, check out our post about low-cost camping food ideas.
Add some atmosphere to the backyard. Don’t just rely on the outside electrical lights, get creative and set a scene that your kids will never forget.
String fairy lights up in trees and bushes. You can even hang them in the tent to create atmosphere in there. The glow of lights is perfect for night time games and activities. Golden lights are just fine or buy a couple strands of soft colored lights. The more lighting you have the more magical the night will appear to your kids.
On a rainy day make paper lanterns with your kids in preparation for backyard camping. There are lots of craft projects online for you to choose from. On the day of your trip set lanterns up around the yard, along pathways and in among trees, bushes, and other plants. Then set an LED flame light in each lantern. It won’t take many of these homemade lanterns to turn your yard and garden into an enchanted world for you and your family.
Give each of your kids a flashlight to light their way around the yard. There are some cute kid flashlights you can buy that have different colored rings, adding even more atmosphere. If you’re planning on taking nighttime excursions in the dark, you’ll want a couple of extra flashlights.
Another way to add light to your camping trip is with glow sticks. Available everywhere, these glow in the dark sticks are easy and safe for kids to play with. Get the larger sticks as well as smaller glow bracelets to wrap around your kid’s wrists. Glow bubbles are also super fun. Watch them glitter and shine in the dark as they float to the ground.
That Camping Feeling
Let your kids get ready for bed outside instead of going in to brush their teeth and put on their pajamas. This way they get the whole camping experience. Set up an area of the yard with a 5-gallon jug of water, the kind that comes with a tap. The less you go inside your house, the more you’ll feel as though you really are out at your camping site.
Don’t forget about the fun and games. Depending on the ages of your children there are many games and activities you can enjoy. Plan some activities for the entire family as well as some things the kids can do by themselves for entertainment. Coloring books and puzzles can keep them busy while you get the fire pit or grilled started.
Playing outdoor games is always a hit no matter where you are. Bean bag toss is easy and safe for the little kids to play. Older kids might want to try their hand at horseshoes and bocce ball. Croquet is another favorite and croquet sets are available in most toy stores or online. Even Pin the Tale on the Donkey, a party classic, will have everyone laughing and having fun. You can change up the donkey to a more camping suitable animal, such as Pin the Tale on the Moose.
Campfire stories are always fun. Come prepared with tales that are age appropriate. Your older kids might love a good ghost story to send shivers down their spine as they sit in the dark around the campfire!
A popular story-telling game is to have someone start with the first line of the story, with the next person adding on with their own line to the story. Even younger children can add a few words to keep the game going.
Singing camp songs is a camping tradition we all remember. Start off the singing and soon even the most reluctant child will join in. Kids love action songs where they can add motions to the tune. “Baby Bumblebee” is a great song that every preschooler knows the actions to.
Songs sung in a round are also a lot of fun. Separate into groups of two or more. These songs have the same melody and words, with each group starting at a different time. Everyone knows “Bottle O’Pop” and even if they don’t, it’s an easy song to teach your kids.
Take a daylight hike and explore roads you’re never walked down before. Bring along a compass and map so your kids can navigate the hike. And if you have binoculars take them along to see how many different birds you can identity. You’ll be surprised how many birds are in your neighborhood when you take a moment to pay attention. Let kids collect leaves and stones along the way as souvenirs.
Daytime walks are fun but waiting until the sun goes down is particularly fun for the entire family. The sights and sounds in your neighborhood are different at night. And the peacefulness of a summer evening are family times that you’ll always remember.
When it gets dark, grab the flashlights and kids and go for a mini hike in the moonlight. See if you can spot any night birds that live in your region, such as owls and night hawks. Plan a route through your neighborhood and when you’re back at camp, warm up the hot chocolate.
Using the tent and flashlights, let your imagination make a show of shadow puppets. If you don’t have a tent, tie a sheet up from tree branches to do the shadow show. There are some easy shadow puppets everyone can do, such as a rabbit. Or practice some complex ones that you can show off to your kids, like a fox.
A day or two before your backyard camping, plan the details of a scavenger hunt. It can be as simple as pictures on pieces of paper for younger kids to find a hidden prize. Or it can be more complex for older kids, such as searching the neighborhood for hidden clues among familiar landmarks that lead to them to treasure. Treasure can be anything from small trinkets to candy.
Gazing at the Stars
When the sun has gone down, and if it’s not cloudy, star gazing should be on your list of things to do. Buy your kids a book about stars so they can identify the Big Dipper and the North Star. Stargazing can be a nice way to lay back with your kids and spend some quiet time together.
You’ll want to have some backyard rules for the kids. It may be tempting for your kids to finish eating and then think they can go back inside your home to watch TV or play a video game. This should be a time for connecting with your kids. Make it a rule that you’re having family time and they can only go inside to use the bathroom.
Go even further and declare your camping night as an electronic free night – no phones or hand-held games. Anything they bring with them into the backyard should be no-tech, such as board games and other toys.
Another rule for everyone to follow is that no one leaves the backyard without adult permission first. Children can get forgetful when they’re having fun and might be tempted to include your entire neighborhood as their playground.
Just because you’re camping in your backyard doesn’t mean you can forget about safety. There are some safety guidelines that you should follow to make your outdoor adventure a careful one:
- If you live in an area where there are ticks, wear long sleeved pants, shirts and closed shoes. You’re going to be outside all day and night, so be sure to check your kids before heading to sleep for any ticks that might have latched on to them.
- Mosquitoes can be a real nuisance at night with their relentless bites. Use bug repellent to keep the bugs under control.
- If you’re going to have a fire pit with an open flame, always have a bucket of water close by.
After reading this, you’re all ready for your backyard camping adventure. Let your kids invite their friends for even more fun. If your neighborhood finds out about your camping ventures, it might be hard not to invite them as well.
When you see how fun and easy it is, you’ll soon be planning not one night of camping, but an entire weekend. Once you’ve got everything set up, make it a two day event. Dinner, breakfast, games, and family time…all in your own yard for a memorable backyard camping adventure.