How Do You Camp?
Like so many aspects of parenting, camping with kids is a state of mind. You can decide you are cold, dirty and uncomfortable, or you can embrace the experience and find joy in the time together.
There are many things you can do to make camping fun, and even luxurious! There’s more than one way to camp, and there are resources available to help you find the right camping style for your family and try out new ones. With some preparation and a spirit of adventure, camping can be an affordable vacation option that brings your family closer to nature and to each other.
We spoke with three Atlanta-area families who have enjoyed camping more than ever over the past year. Check out their different approaches, and use their tips and tricks to make a plan to take your family camping!
Need some easy meal ideas? Plan to make these tasty Campfire Recipes on your next camping trip!
The Libby Family: The Comforts of a Camper
Mom Stephanie, dad Kasey, Gus (10), and Leo (8) live in Virginia Highlands.
In Their Own Words
The freedom of camping became so important during this season of “No.” At home, we were constantly telling our kids no – no school, no activities, no playing with friends. We watched our kids grow more independent and adventurous. They learned to make campfires, kayak and jump into lakes from rocky cliffs.
How do you camp? A few months into COVID, we bought a camper to tow behind our small SUV. It comfortably fits the four of us plus our giant dog. We have beds, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and heat and air conditioning.
How do you prep? We keep the camper stocked with gear and supplies. All we really have to do is grab clothes and food and hit the road. We don’t worry about weather with the camper – in fact, if rain is in the forecast, the parks are less crowded.
Where do you camp? We frequent state parks because of amenities like electricity and water hook-ups, but also quick access to adventure. You can hit the trails early before the crowds and enjoy kayaking, mountain biking, fishing and other activities. I also feel secure with rangers and other staff around.
What do you eat? The same meals every trip! It makes planning easier, and eating the same dinners became a comforting ritual. Dinners include hot dogs, nachos or chili – and (obviously) s’mores.
The Cox Family: Happy Glampers
Mom Jennifer, dad Chris, and four kiddos ages 2, 3, 5 and 6, live in Euharlee.
In Their Own Words
Instead of just pictures in a text book, my children have been able to see a shooting star while laying outside our tent. They got to watch and listen to a woodpecker on a nearby tree and learn about the different types of birds and trees that are native to our area.We’ve been on many vacations with our children, but we feel most connected to them when we step outside the hustle and bustle and away from technology and go camping. Glamping just means I now don’t have to wake up with an aching back in the morning and I get my coffee before the littles wake up – hallelujah!
How do you camp? My husband took me on my first camping adventure when I was pregnant with our second child. After a sleepless night in a thin sleeping bag on the ground, I knew there had to be a better way. Glamping offers the sights and sounds of the great outdoors but with a comfy, cozy bed … and did I mention air conditioning?
How do you prep? We’ve found contingency plans are important. On a recent trip, we got three days of torrential downpour. It actually turned into an incredibly special time; we read stories, played board games, had dance parties – things we rarely have “time” for at home. We were thankful we brought along some weather-friendly indoor activities “just in case.”
Where do you camp? There are many options for glamping in Georgia. One we have enjoyed is with Georgia Glamping. They have sites on Lake Lanier and Clarks Hill Lake.
Favorite camping meal? My husband makes delicious chicken and dumplings in our cast iron dutch oven over the open fire. We bring shredded cooked chicken; chopped onion, carrots and celery; chicken broth and seasonings, and combine it with pieces of canned biscuits until cooked through. It’s the perfect camping comfort food.
The Kortemeier Family: Backwoods Fun
Mom Cheryl, dad Karl, Milo (12) and Ollie (7), live in Decatur.
In Their Own Words
It makes us so happy when we make the effort to go camping, and the kids spend their time chasing grasshoppers and fireflies, reading and playing hide and seek rather than playing video games. The joy we experience when connecting with nature is invaluable.
It is fun to camp with another family or two. If there are multiple kids of different ages, they can band together and enjoy a little freedom. Our kids love to roam around and discover creeks and streams, build forts and play games. The independence is really good for them and gives tired parents a chance to catch their breath!
How do you camp? We’ve been camping for years, including our boys. We share a large teepee tent. However, in the next year or so, we’ll probably bring a kid tent and a grownup tent. It takes a good bit of work to pack your gear, set up camp and clean up afterward. But that relaxing time in between makes you feel refreshed in a way that’s hard to find elsewhere.
How do you prep? If you’re backpacking, you have to carry everything. Every ounce makes a difference! However, you also have to think about the “what ifs” and plan accordingly. Embrace the discomfort. There is something about being away from home and outdoors that is challenging but rewarding.
Where do you camp? We like state parks and U.S. Forest Service campgrounds. We prefer campsites that require a short hike in, giving us more room.
What do you eat? We enjoy menu planning for camping, and the kids usually plan and prepare at least one meal. When we are backpacking, we lean toward healthy dehydrated meals, dried fruits and vegetables and a lot of nut mixes. And we love to make Silver Turtles! Wrap sliced vegetables, protein of choice and olive oil/seasoning in two sheets of foil and cook it over campfire coals.
Ranger Evonne’s Top Five Camping Tips
1. Book a campsite 6 months or more in advance. The demand for campsites is high, and having dates on your calendar helps build excitement.
2. Create a simple meal plan and prep food in advance. Think about the resources you will have – water, electricity, a camp stove – and plan meals to maximize time and safety. Before leaving home, chop veggies, precook or freeze meat so it will thaw during your trip, organize meals into individual bags, and pack your cooler with the things you will need last on the bottom.
3. Have a gear plan. An air mattress or cot is essential for comfort; if you don’t get any sleep, camping isn’t fun! A camp stove is a must for most families, because cooking over an open flame isn’t always allowed and can be unsafe. If your site has electricity, an electric kettle is a good piece of gear to have – for morning coffee, instant oatmeal and other easy meals. My favorite gear is an electric cooler for food only, and an ice chest for drinks.
4. Observe good camping etiquette. Don’t walk across other campsites. Remember sound travels outdoors – closing a car door at 11 p.m. is louder than you think. Be speedy in the bath house and clean up after yourself. Camp sustainably – avoid using single-use plastic cutlery, disposable plates, etc.
5. Camping is vacation – plan accordingly! Take advantage of guided hikes and programs. Georgia State Parks has a great Junior Ranger program; pick up a booklet for your kiddos and let them earn a unique pin at every park. And it’s okay to leave your campsite to explore nearby attractions; just zip up your tent and don’t leave valuables in sight.
Evonne Blythers Lapsey has worked with Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, Keeping It Wild, Georgia State Parks and others. She is an expert camper, skilled naturalist and respected environmental educator – and she’s visited every Georgia State Park!
– Sherry V. Crawley
What to Pack
When packing for a camping trip, it’s important to be well prepared. In addition to your clothing, toiletries, food, ice and cooler, here’s a basic checklist of what to pack for a family camping trip.
- Trail maps of the area
- Flashlight with extra batteries and bulbs
- Camp lantern
- Extra food
- Extra clothing, including raingear
- First-aid kit
- Plenty of bug spray; citronella candles
- Tablecloth for picnic table at camp site
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Small tool kit, pocketknife
- Waterproof matches
- Barbecue tools and charcoal
- Adequate supply of clean drinking water or a water purifier
- Insect repellent, including DEET for ticks
- Waterproof and lightweight tent
- Ground insulation for sleeping
- Sleeping bag and sleeping pads
- Large plastic/waterproof tarp
- Small cooking kit, a cup and cooking utensils
- “Mess kit” for each camper; or plate, cup and eating utensils for each
- Stove for cooking
- Outdoor play stuff, from butterfly nets to art supplies/sketch pads
- Board games, cards, puzzles, etc.
- Camping chairs
For more family fun, check out our guide to yurts and glamping and plan campfire meals with these ideas.