Camping is a fantastic opportunity to get closer to nature, escape daily routines, and deeply relax. While some people opt for “glamping,” and bring everything from gourmet foods to solar power panels and Wi-Fi receivers, camping is also a chance to explore a calmer, more natural state of mind, and truly get away from it all.
If you are planning a camping trip, particularly with a family, you may be concerned about having enough to do, especially in poor weather. With all your necessary camping equipment, you may not want to bring along a lot of toys, games, and gadgets to keep you busy. In that case, here are some fun and interesting camping activities that don’t require technology and can best be enjoyed in nature.
Even better, most of these activities don’t require a lot of equipment or extra baggage to bring with you on your trip, so they are easy to do anywhere. Here are some excellent activities for camping.
Hiking is the classic outdoor activity and is particularly easy to incorporate into a camping trip. The advantage of hiking while camping is that you can choose to do longer, more difficult hikes while carrying less equipment because your campsite serves as a “base.” You can also do relaxed, moderate hikes to simply explore the area and take in your surroundings.
Ins and Outs of Hiking
If you are new to hiking or camping, it’s best to choose a simple, clearly defined goal or destination, like the top of a hill or outcropping, to a river or stream, or around a lake, in order to avoid getting lost and limit the scope of your hike. That way you can anticipate how long it will take, and anything you may need to bring with you.
Swimming and Water Activities
If your campsite is near water, and the weather is agreeable, swimming is an excellent choice for what to do while camping. You may also want to bring inflatable rafts, tubes, or other swimming accessories, which are easy to transport because they deflate down to a small size. Swimming is natural, relaxing, and also an excellent exercise for the body, and in the summer it’s the ideal way to cool down. If you are lucky enough to be camping near a pond or lake, make sure you enjoy a swim.
How to Enjoy a Swim
Always be cautious when swimming in an unknown body of water. Use flotation devices if necessary, don’t dive or jump before you are certain of the depth, and closely supervise children.
If you are planning on swimming in a river or doing any diving, check ahead of time for any safety hazards. Rivers can be deceptive for swimmers, and cost lives every year, so treat nature with the respect it deserves and play safely.
Bird and Wildlife Watching
Even if you aren’t normally a bird watcher, it can be incredibly satisfying to sit still in a natural setting and observe how the wildlife around you emerges and behaves. To get even more out of this activity, bring binoculars or a bird book, or research ahead of time what species are common in your area.
How to Bird Watch
Be still and look for birds. When you spot them, note their size, color, and behavior, and try to identify their species. For an extra challenge, try to identify birds by their song, or by lost feathers on the ground.
Nature or Wildlife Photography
As long as you are observing nature, photographing it can be a fascinating camping activity, and result in some powerful images. You don’t need fancy cameras or lenses for this, but cell phone macro lenses are compact, portable, and affordable, and allow you to capture tiny details in a spiderweb or dewdrop. Nature photography is an absorbing and deeply satisfying hobby, and lets you see, capture, and share a camping experience in a whole new way. It’s a great choice if you are wondering what to do when camping.
How to Take Up Nature Photography While Camping
While it’s natural to take pictures of big vistas, sunsets, and breathtaking views, as we all know, those images seldom turn out as impressive as they were in real life. Instead, try to focus on the details closer around you, like the texture of tree bark, the veins on a leaf, or the color of mosses. Nature gives great opportunities for interesting compositions, so try to choose images with something of interest in the foreground, middle ground, and background.
A classic photography technique is the “rule of thirds,” where you visually divide the frame horizontally and vertically by thirds so that each third of the image has visual contrast.
Piling or Balancing Rocks
Piling rocks is both a creative and meditative activity, and it’s fun to think of what other nature lovers might think when they find your creation. With practice and patience, you can make fascinating constructions out of rocks, and many people find the activity to be an exercise in peace and awareness.
How to Balance Rocks
Balancing rocks is an art form that requires more practice than a tutorial. However, it begins with finding the center of gravity of the rock, or the orientation at which it will balance, and then identifying the tiny surface details of ridges and hollows that will act as a tripod on which to stand it. Then the rocks have to be placed on top of each other in a way that they continue to counter-weigh and keep balancing. With time and practice, you can make incredible structures using nothing but rocks.
Drawing Camp Nature
Even if you aren’t an artist, drawing nature is an interesting and calming activity. All you need is paper and a pencil. For beginners, focus on simply drawing an object, like a leaf or a pinecone, and representing it accurately.
How to draw from nature while camping: Most beginners begin by drawing the outline of an object and then going back and filling in the interior details. That’s a fine way to begin, but what will bring any drawing to life is shading. Make sure that in addition to shapes and lines, you fill in shadows and hollows, and the drawing will gain more depth and realism.
For more advanced draughtsman, set yourself a challenge with quick sketches of birds, fish, or other animals; animals in motion are difficult to draw and force you to focus on the gesture and spirit of the motion, which is a great exercise in drawing skill.
Having some activities in mind is a great idea when camping with children, who may easily get bored and need some extra stimuli. While of course children can participate in any of the above activities, here are some ideas for camping activities for kids that are fun as well as educational.
Campsite Scavenger Hunt
A scavenger hunt is one of the easiest and most fun things to do while camping so the kids will love it. Make a list of objects that can easily be found in the immediate area around the campsite and set children to finding them. Young children can collect leaves, sticks, stones, pinecones, and the like. You can also make the activity educational, by including the basics of skills like plant and animal identification.
How to Make a Campground Scavenger Hunt for Children
Depending on your child’s age and ability, the list could be simple: leaf, twig, rock, pinecone. Or it can be more specific: maple leaf, birch bark, crow feather. For still older children, you could make it a photo hunt and ask them to take pictures of frogs, birds, specific species of trees, and so on; that way it is more of a challenge, and you can include living organisms on the list.
Safety Precautions for Scavenger Hunts for Children
Instead of making this a competitive activity, it’s a good idea to make it cooperative, and have kids work together (and stay together) while hunting for the needed items. Always have children stay within a designated area.
Geocaching is a fun hobby that is great to enjoy while camping and takes “scavenger hunt” to a new level. In geocaching, people hide items and then share the GPS coordinates of the items for others to find. You can participate by either hunting for geocaches or leaving them for others. It has been called the “world’s largest treasure hunt,” and there are millions of geocaches all over the globe.
Geocaching is a great way to practice navigation skills, explore your surroundings in a new and different way, and make a game out of finding and hiding caches. It can also be done at home or in a city but is a really fun camping activity for the whole family. However, geocaching will require some unique items such as a smartphone or tablet, and you will need an internet connection, which may not be available in some camping locations.
How to Geocache at Your Site
To get started, download the official Geocaching app and create a free account. Search within the app for nearby geocaches, then set out in real life to find the hidden treasure. When you find the cache, you can take an item from the cache and leave your own behind, just to show that you were there, or simply make a comment in the app to celebrate your find. If you want, you can create your own geocaches and hide them yourself, and then log them in the app for other users to find.
Making your own cache can be a fun activity for kids, who can think of it as a kind of time capsule and enjoy gathering up treasures to leave for someone else. Generally speaking, you should find about 20 caches before creating one, so that you have a good idea of what kinds of experiences are fun for others.
Geocaching Safety at the Campground
Caches can be hard to find, and the app will let you identify which ones are easier and which are more difficult. If you are geocaching as a family, choose caches and terrain that are easier to find and navigate, to avoid stressing or disappointing small children. Always obey local laws and respect the property of others, and geocache without harming plants, animals, or the environment.
Never geocache harmful, edible, scented, or heat- and cold-sensitive items. Leaving a geocache obligates you to maintain and protect that physical cache and the relevant information on the app, so creating a cache at a remote location far from home may not be a good idea.
Star Gazing Activity
If you are lucky, your campsite is far enough away from the city that you can do some good star gazing at night. This is a good, calming bedtime activity, and you can teach kids the difference between stars and planets, how to identify constellations, or just look for falling stars.
How to Star Gaze
For young children, ask them what shapes they see in the stars, or make stargazing a counting activity. If the activity goes on for a while, you can point out how the stars have moved.
Storytelling Around a Campfire
Storytelling around a campfire is an activity that goes all the way back to the dawn of man and remains as fascinating as it ever was. It’s also a really great way to build social skills and create special memories that will last for a lifetime.
How to Tell Campfire Stories
If you aren’t terribly inventive, tell stories of events that have happened in your life, or of people you have known. Don’t just describe them physically; describe specific events that happened, and what you thought and felt at the time. Invite children to make up and tell their own stories. Or tell an interactive story, with each participant contributing a few sentences.
Camping Activities for Artists
If you bring a few basic crafting supplies with you, crafting activities can be an awesome option for things to do when camping. Crafts are also a good activity that can be done in a tent if you have gone inside for the night or the weather is bad.
Scrapbooking for Campers
Have kids paste nature items (this is a good activity to combine with scavenger hunting) into a book, and ask them to write about what the object is, what happened that day, or anything else they want to write about. Scrapbooking is a little bit of crafts, a little bit of nature education, and a little bit journaling, and is a good way to keep kids busy and engaged while camping.
Make Art From Camp Objects
Transform the natural world into your crafting supplies by asking kids to gather up objects and make something. A turtle, or a bracelet, or a car. Let them use leaves, rocks, twigs, and whatever else they find to make something new.
Rubbings are a great, easy way to “capture” nature as found while camping, without having to gather up and press items. Rubbings can be incorporated into scavenger hunts or scrapbooking. Simply lay an item flat on a hard surface, place a piece of paper over it, and rub the flat side of a pencil or crayon along the top of the paper to reveal the details of the item below.
Rubbings can easily capture inscriptions, tree bark textures, leaf, and foliage details, and are a beautiful way to document nature without actually taking it. They are also a great inspiration for further art: for example, a crayon rubbing will be water-resistant, so the image can be painted over with watercolors for more exciting finished artwork.
Camping Activities for Musicians
Okay, maybe every family can’t gather around a campfire with a guitar and sing, but singing is actually a very enjoyable activity, and kids love it. Even if you don’t have a great singing voice, relax and enjoy this classic camping tradition.
Here are some great, singable family camping songs:
- Hey Jude, or Let it Be by the Beatles
- Day-O by Harry Belafonte
- Take Me Home Country Roads or Rocky Mountain High by John Denver
- Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head by BJ Thomas
- Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
- I Walk the Line by Johnny Cash
- American Pie by Don McLean
- Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day
- Stand By Me by Ben E King
- Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland
- The Rainbow Connection by The Muppets
Flashlight tag (also known as “German Spotlight”) is a fun game to play in the great outdoors after dark. This exciting game combines tag with hide-and-seek, so it’s both fun and easy to learn and requires nothing more than a flashlight.
How to Play
One player is “it,” and has a flashlight. They stand in a designated spot and count out loud to a certain number while other players hide. “It” then goes seeking other players, and has to both find them and see them well enough to call out their name. When that happens, the flashlight is passed to the caught player, who then becomes “it” and has to find others.
Rule Variation for Team Play
When playing with younger children, it is best played as a team sport, with a team of flashlight-carrying “finders” and a team of “hiders.” In this variation, as hidden players are found, they each return to the designated spot, and the game isn’t over until everyone is found.
Rule Variation for Increased Safety
In this team play variation, found players return to the designated origin spot, but other players who haven’t yet been found can “tag” them back into play. This requires one or more “finders” to stay at the original spot and guard it to prevent tagging. This variation naturally keeps players all the players closer to the original spot and helps to prevent adventurous players from wandering off too far.
Skipping rocks is surprisingly absorbing, and small children can be tasked with finding suitable rocks for skipping. It’s a fun activity at a pond or lake, and a great alternative if the weather or water is too cold for swimming.
How to Skip Rocks
Rocks suitable for skipping need to be round, flat, and fit comfortably into the palm of the hand. Look for rocks that are reminiscent of the shape of a cookie. Hold the rock sideways between the index and middle finger of your dominant hand, with your fingers toward the back edge of the rock. Use your thumb toward the front surface of the rock to direct and balance it.
Face the water at an angle, with your opposite shoulder slightly forward and your dominant arm backward, like a baseball pitcher. Keeping your hand low at your waist, and the rock horizontal in your hand (so the flat side of the stone is parallel to the flat surface of the water), throw the rock forward, snapping your wrist at the end to impart spin. The faster the rock is spinning when it is thrown, the further it will skip across the surface of the water before sinking, Try to see how many skips you can get before the rock drops into the water.
Rock Skipping Safety
Of course, never try to skip rocks in areas where other people are swimming, boating, or fishing, to avoid accidentally hurting them. This is an age-old pastime in the great outdoors.
Go on a family hike and let the kids lead the way or choose the path. Or let the children make a game out of mapping the course as you go along, and then leading everyone back to the campsite. Take time to let them sketch views or landmarks, identify or mark trees and milestones along the path, or learn how to navigate by the sun or tree moss. This is a great way to help kids learn and practice skills that may help them from getting lost while camping or hiking. Just make sure that everyone is dressed properly before heading out into the woods.
Campers Making S’mores
Can you really even have a great outdoor camping trip without S’mores? S’mores are a snack and an activity in one and are a wonderful way to celebrate being around a campfire and enjoying nature. S’more is a verbal contraction of the phrase “some more,” as in: “These are delicious and I want some more,” and are such a popular treat that August 20th is National S’mores Day. Don’t let a camping trip go by without making these incredible treats.
How To Make S’mores
For the classic recipe, you will need:
- Graham crackers
- Milk chocolate bars
- Large marshmallows
- A campfire
- Sticks or skewers to roast marshmallows
Once everything is ready, here is how to make a s’more:
- First, take a whole graham cracker and break it into two squares
- Then take a chocolate bar and break it into a square the size of your graham cracker square
- Place the chocolate square on top of your graham cracker square
- Toast your marshmallow over the fire until it is golden brown and soft
- Take the toasted marshmallow, still on the stick, and lay it on top of your chocolate that is on top of the graham cracker.
- Take the other half of the graham cracker and place it on top of the marshmallow, making a sandwich
- Using the graham cracker sandwich for grip, squeeze and hold the marshmallow in place and pull the stick out of it
- Let it sit for a moment while the warm marshmallow softens the chocolate, and the heat dissipates a bit so it’s cool enough to eat.
Of course, everyone has different preferences regarding how “toasty” their marshmallow should be, but a marshmallow that is too light won’t soften the chocolate. The darker the marshmallow, the more it imparts a smoky flavor to the S’more. And don’t be afraid to experiment with different chocolate and cookie combinations.
Camping is a wonderful opportunity to get off the grid and back to nature, to truly “unplug” and relax. It’s also a great way to reconnect with the beauty of the world around us and gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of our environment. And it’s a fantastic way for couples, friends, and families to forge closer bonds, make incredible memories, and share unique experiences.
These are just a few of the hundreds of fun, relaxing, educational, and enriching options for what to do when camping in the great outdoors. Every community, every campground, and every family has their own camping traditions and activities. Make a camping trip part of your vacation plans, and enjoy everything that the natural world has to offer.