Camping Adventures for the Whole Family
With the cost of travel on the rise, more families are looking for vacation opportunities in their own backyards. Inexpensive, accessible and fun camping trips can bring your whole family together… and there’s no better place than Utah for parents and kids to pitch their tents. Here, we’ve gathered a few key strategies to guarantee a fail-safe trip.
Pick a spot. When planning your camping trip, consider your whole family’s preferences. Do you want to rough it in the backcountry or have hot showers on hand? Do you plan to go hiking, swimming or kayaking? The campground listings at utah.com/database/campgrounds and stateparks.utah.gov/parks are perfect places to start your search.
Bring a friend. To stave off boredom and keep the fun factor high, encourage your child to invite a good friend to camp with you. Ideally, this friend should be one who’s had sleepovers with your kid before. They’ll keep each other entertained and enjoy sharing memories of the trip after you return home.
Switch off gadgets. Most camping families have a “no electronics” rule—it’s all too easy for kids to get sucked into a video game and ignore the world around them. Prepare your kids for the shutdown ahead of time by inviting them to choose tech-free toys and games to bring along. Jump ropes, pick-up sticks, toy trucks and playing cards are all great alternatives.
Share the load. Camping trips involve plenty of hands-on work, from pitching tents to putting out the campfire. Involve your child in these tasks whenever possible. He’ll enjoy learning new skills as you work alongside him and show him the best way to coil a rope or stake a pole. Children as young as two or three can gather kindling, while older kids can lay a fire, strike a tent or assemble tinfoil packet dinners (see recipe in next column). Even washing dishes can be fun when done in the great outdoors.
See the sights. Even if your family’s energy is low, start your trip off right with a short hike. You’ll build the kids’ enthusiasm, and the inevitably slow pace of a walk with children will give you a chance to catch your breath. Don’t forget to do a little stargazing, too: Utah’s crystal-clear mountain air means you’re almost guaranteed to see meteors, planets and constellations that are invisible within city limits. For daytime or nighttime sightseeing, a sturdy, inexpensive pair of binoculars is a great investment. Turn your child on to the plants and animals he sees with a kid-friendly field guide. We like the Peterson First Guides series.
Eat hearty. There’s something about fresh air and campfire smoke that turns even picky kids into ravenous eaters. Plan on two hot meals a day—probably breakfast and dinner—plus a filling lunch and plenty of snacks. Skip expensive purchased munchies in favor of homemade trail mix, fresh or dried fruit or string cheese. Try one of these recipes for a quick, easy refueling, or check out The Scouts’ Outdoor Cookbook ($20) for more inspiration.
DIY Tinfoil Dinners
- Cater to everyone’s food preferences with these easy-to-make campfire treats.
- heavy-duty aluminum foil
- non-stick cooking spray
- onions and potatoes, sliced
- carrots, zucchini or red bell peppers, cut in thin strips
- frozen corn or peas
- drained canned beans
- thin hamburger patties
- boneless chicken breasts
- seasoning options: soy sauce, Italian seasoning, taco seasoning, barbecue sauce, ranch dressing mix, cream of mushroom soup, lemon or lime slices
Mix and match these options as you like:
For each serving, cut one piece of foil three times as wide as the piece of meat being used. Mist with cooking spray. Place vegetables on foil; sprinkle lightly with desired seasoning. Top with meat and sprinkle with more seasoning. Fold up sides of aluminum foil, holding top edges together; make a 1″ fold and crease; fold over and crease again. Crimp sides of packet and crease; fold over and crease again. Set on embers and bake 20 to 30 minutes, turning gently every five minutes. Open carefully—steam is hot!
Pepitas Snack Mix
Crunchy pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are a perfect snack for trailside or campsite. They’re packed with protein, iron and magnesium to keep everyone energized.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss together pepitas, olive oil and salt. Spread on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Roast for 5 to 10 minutes, until seeds are crispy, fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from oven and immediately toss with chili powder or honey. Let cool, then combine with additional ingredients if desired and store in a zip-top plastic bag.
Family Camping by the Numbers
Whether your child is a newborn, a third-grader or a teenager, these tips will help you plan a trip that’s just right for his or her interests and abilities.
Ages birth–1: Congratulations, new parents! Right now, your child is easier to bring along on a camping trip than she will ever be again… at least until she hits age 15 or so. You don’t need much special gear (though a waterproof bag for diapers, like JamTots’ KangaSac ($15), will be a lifesaver). Leave the playpen at home, strap baby to your back and get going.
Ages 2–5: At this age, nature is a wonderland. Kids will happily explore for hours, until hunger or exhaustion hits: then watch out. Providing a familiar routine for bedtime, bathtime and meals will help stave off any meltdowns.
Look for campgrounds with amenities like showers, picnic tables and flush toilets.
Ages 6–10: Kids in this age range are eager to help plan family activities. Get their input on possible destinations and activities. Invite them to review trail maps with you and select a hike or two. They may even be ready to sleep in (and set up) their own tents.
Ages 11+: Tweenage and teenage kids are ready for an intense adventure. Consider leaving the campground behind and heading on a full-fledged backpacking trip. Sound overwhelming? Hike-in campgrounds provide a great transitional step. Besides toting gear, kids this age can help with learn the right way to build a campfire and cook simple meals on an outdoor stove.