School is just beginning to start up again around the country, but the weather's still great for a weekend camping trip with the whole family. Of course, kids can make camping a bit more complicated, so here are a few tips for making sure everyone in your family enjoys some time outdoors together.
Ditch the Electronics
Your teens (and maybe even your tweens) might have significant problems with the idea of no cell phones, but turn them off when you get in the car—and that goes for the grownups, too. The whole point of camping is getting to enjoy the outdoors without all of the interruptions of modern technology, and trying to carve a middle path just leads to frustration and whining.
Go cold turkey, and go whole hog: no portable DVD players, no laptops, no cell phones (you can keep one handy in case of emergencies, of course, but you should keep it off unless that emergency happens). Get entirely offline in order to enjoy the outdoors and the people you're there with.
Pick a Spot With Lots to Do
As much as camping is about getting away from it all, if you're hoping that relaxing around the campsite will be enough to keep your kids happy and enthusiastic about the next camping adventure, you need to think again. There should be plenty of things to do to keep campers of all ages satisfied: an easy hike to a nice waterfall, some campsite get-togethers in the evening, or other non-digital and ideally non-motorized activities.
A camping spot by a river or lake can provide a full weekend of entertainment without the need to get up and go anywhere else—swimming and playing on the shore offer opportunities parental relaxation and more youthful energy outlets. Kayaking, fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, and other activities also abound when you camp near a natural water source.
Keep Everyone's Capability Level in Mind
If you ask me, there's no reason a toddler can't go on a backpacking trip, but keep in mind how capable everyone in your tribe is when it comes to hiking, roughing it, and carrying gear—or needing to be carried. This is one instance where you'll want to aim for the lowest common denominator, otherwise everyone is liable to end up feeling like camping is more like work than a vacation.
If you decide to go backpacking rather than car camping, choose a site that has some nice camping within a few miles of the trailhead. When you have younger kids but want a longer hike, you can always double-back yourself to move some extra gear to your site, giving you the day-long hiking you're after and providing some extra luxuries for anyone who's a little less into it. Easing them into things will earn you way more points than dragging them along, and the whole family will have a lot more fun.