The summer season is ending and many families are looking for a solution to make the most of the remaining sunshine. If you can’t leave the house, why don’t you create the vacation of your dreams in your own backyard? With a little planning and imagination, you can bring the campground home and set up a fun backyard camping trip. It’s the perfect opportunity to make lasting memories.
Whether you’re a seasoned camper or new to the world of outdoor travel, backyard camping is a slightly different experience. However, it’s the perfect way to encourage your child’s love of nature and the great outdoors. In this guide, I will share 28 tips and tricks to make the most of your backyard camping adventure. So, let’s start planning your next staycation!
Setup Camp by Pitching Your Tent
What’s a backyard camping experience without sleeping in a tent at night? If you have enough room in your yard, pull out your go-to family camping tent and set it up! Inside, create the perfect place to sleep with your air mattress or cot and a sleeping bag for the full effect. No sleeping pad or cot? Grab your couch cushions or a yoga mat and make the best of it.
Check the weather. If you’re expecting clear, starry skies, consider leaving the rainfly off your tent and enjoy the view. It is a great way to sleep under the stars without worrying about other annoyances, like bugs.
No Tent? Make One Using Tarps or Blankets
Do you remember creating blanket forts in the living room growing up? You didn’t know it then, but your blanket for skills might come in handy now! You can use sheets, quilts, tarps, or picnic blankets to create a ‘blanket fort’ in your backyard. Just be sure to tie down whatever you use securely as, like a sail, they will grab any wind during the night and take off.
Create and Hang Campground Signage
While you know that you are just in the backyard, it doesn’t have to feel that way. The goal is to transform your yard into a local campground. One way that you can do this is to create a name for your campground and make signs announcing it. Hang a ‘Welcome to Camp [Insert Name]’ in the entrance to your yard, inviting the whole family to embrace the experience. You can also hang signs directing people to the different areas around camp, such as the bathroom, campsite, and firepit.
Have Everyone Pack for their Weekend ‘Away’
Treat this getaway like you would any actual camping trip as if the house isn’t going to be right there. Rather than having people run in and out of the house throughout your trip, have each family member pack a suitcase with all their clothing for the duration of your trip. Do they want to bring any specific activities like a book to read? If so, they will need to pack that too. Let them know that, outside of the bathroom, the house will be off-limits.
Not only will this help you to control any mess from dirty ‘campers’ running in and out of the house all day, but it will also help to add some authenticity to your trip.
Pack A Cooler (or Two)
The rule about not going in and out of the house except for the bathroom applies to everything, not just clothing! When it comes to food and drinks, pack a cooler or two just as you would when heading out camping. For larger families, consider keeping one cooler for frozen goods, produce, and other items that you only pull out a couple of times each day for meals. In a second cooler, pack your snacks and drinks. It will keep the meal cold longer as the cooler will lose some of its cold air every time it’s opened!
Do you live in an area where you are permitted to have a backyard fire pit? If so, make sure that it’s fully stocked up with wood. After all, nothing says camp like making smores around the campfire. It is also a fun way to cook your meals, trying out different camp-related cooking hacks.
If you live in a community where the bylaws and regulations (whether from the city, a homeowner’s association, or a neighborhood association) prevent you from building a fire pit in your backyard, there are other options available. Consider a freestanding portable gas or propane fire pit to provide you with the ambiance and feel of a campfire without breaking the rules. The best part of these fire pits? They are easy to transport for plans and involve little to no mess.
If a freestanding fire pit is outside of your budget, you may have to settle for creating the ambiance of a campfire with a few candles. However, you can still do all your cooking outside with a barbeque or camping stove to help keep the experience as close to the real thing as possible.
Add Magical Flames for A Unique Campfire Experience
While some people can stare at the fire for hours without a second thought, others aren’t as entertained by the flickering of flames. However, you can add some interest to your campfire experience using a product called Magical Flames. These little packets are easy to use. You just throw the unopened pouch right into the fire and watch as the contents change the flames to an array of different vibrant colors.
Don’t Forget Your Camp Furniture
Whether you’re sitting around the campfire or simply relaxing and watching the kids play, a comfortable camp chair will be an important consideration. There are many different options on the market, depending on your personal preferences. They include standard camp chairs, padded or oversized camp chairs, lounge chairs, or rocking chairs.
Take a moment to consider the type of camping trip you are hoping to portray. It could range from a basic ‘roughing it’ authentic camping experience to a more elaborate ‘glamping’ with additional perks. There is no wrong answer. Just have fun with it!
In addition to putting out enough camp chairs for everyone involved in your backyard camping experience, you will also need to consider what tables will be required. If you already have a picnic table in your yard, that’s a great option. If not, you will want to include at least one table on your backyard campsite for preparing food and eating.
Get Creative with Camp Cooking
Speaking of meals, this is another way to incorporate an authentic camping experience. A quick online search will leave with you a wide variety of different camping recipes and meal ideas, including those that you can cook over an open fire, as well as more traditional meals for cooking on camp stoves and barbeques.
If you’re newer to camping and this is your family’s way of ‘trying out the world of outdoor travel, there is nothing wrong with keeping it basic, especially if you have children. I have fond memories of camping hotdogs over an open fire at the campsite growing up. On the other hand, if you are a foodie interested in trying new things, this is a great opportunity.
Snacks Are a Must
In addition to your meals, don’t forget about the snacks. What is camping without having something to munch on while you’re hanging out? You can stick with something simple like your family’s favorite chips or a selection of fresh fruit, or you can run with the camping theme here as well. Homemade granola bars and trail mix are fun options to snack on during the day.
A favorite snack over the campfire involves taking waffle cones, filling them with marshmallows and random fillings (chocolate sauce, caramel, pieces of a favorite chocolate bar, sprinkles, raspberry jam, etc.), and then wrapping it in tinfoil. Sit this in the side of your fire pit to give it a chance to melt everything, and you have a delicious s’more themed snack.
Enjoy Some Warm Drinks on Cooler Nights
Are you planning your backyard camping trip during the cooler fall season? The campfire is a great way to warm up, but it doesn’t have to be the only way! Heat some hot chocolate or apple cider over your campfire or on the camp stove for delicious family-friendly drinks that will warm you up from the inside out. Include a thermos or travel mug to keep your drinks warm. If you are a fan of tea or coffee, those are also great options.
Create a Camp-Friendly Cocktail
This one is for the adults! In addition to having fun with the recipes, why not find or create a camp-friendly cocktail to enjoy? If you’re a beer lover, stock up on your favorite brew so that you have cold drinks close at hand throughout the trip. For those that prefer cocktails, consider experimenting with something new and fun. We love to make drinks that contain lemonade for the refreshing summer taste during the warmer months but often switch to apple-themed drinks when the fall weather comes around.
Involve the Family Dog Too
Do you share your heart and home with a furry family member? With three dogs in our house, our ‘pack’ is always involved in our outdoor travel adventures, even if we’re sticking to backyard camping. There are, of course, some perks to camping with a dog in the backyard instead of at a campsite. For us, the biggest advantage is the fact that we can open the tent door and just let our dogs out to pee in the morning in our fenced backyard instead of worrying about leashes. At the end of the day, they just want to be with us too.
Light Up Your Campsite
You likely have lights in your backyard that you could turn on, but a standard backyard spotlight can really take away from the camping feel of your staycation. Instead, consider some camping-appropriate lighting ideas. Some options that we have used over the years camping include propane and battery-powered lanterns, tiki-style torches, and string lights.
Being that you are in the backyard, you can take a little liberty with some of these using old Christmas lights for outdoor string lights, as an example. We love using our Halloween-themed Jack-O-Lantern string lights along the front of our tent for a fun twist during fall camping.
If you want to add a little fun for your kids, why not make your own lanterns using glowsticks and mason jars. They can stick with one color or mix and match different glow sticks for a fun, personal touch.
Keep Those Pesky Bugs Away
One of the biggest complaints that people make about the whole camping experience is the unwanted visitors, like mosquitoes, that can quickly ruin an otherwise great trip. There are a few things that you can do to discourage them from trying to join the party.
When setting up your lighting, consider using citronella-based fuel for any tiki torches. Alternatively, you can set up citronella candles around your backyard campsite strategically. Focus on the areas where you are going to spend most of your time. Products like the Thermacell Patio Shield are designed to offer the same type of protection without having to concern yourself with the risk of flames.
Of course, you can always rely on a good-quality bug spray when necessary. Take some time to read through the ingredients of any spray that you do plan on using with your children and pets. DEET, a common ingredient in many bug sprays, is highly toxic to dogs and should be avoided entirely in their presence.
Do Some Camp-Themed Crafting
One of the perks of backyard camping is the fact that you can enjoy crafting time with your kids without having to worry about the mess. There are so many different fun projects that you can tackle together, whether you’re purchasing a camp-themed crafting kit or coming up with your own crafts.
Here are a few fun ideas you can try:
- Make steppingstones with items that they find around the yard. Take a disposable tin pie tin or shallow plastic container and fill it with concrete. Using leaves, plants, and small rocks, the kids can then create fun patterns and designs. After it cures, the stone will pop out, ready for use.
- If you have access to solar paper, you can create ‘sun prints’. Lay plants or other objects you find around the yard on paper and let the sun work its magic.
- Rock painting has been gaining popularity as of late and is a fun crafting option outdoors. Choose your favorite rocks and decorate them by adding mandalas, motivational messages or turning them into adorable rock pets.
Cloudy Day? Why Not Cloud Gaze
There is something to be said for the relaxing activity of cloud gazing. Layout a blanket in the middle of your yard with a few pillows for comfort, bring over your favorite snacks and discover what shapes and figures are waiting in the clouds. This is a fun time for families to bond, discussing what they see, sharing and comparing your findings. You may be surprised by how creative kids can be when encouraged to let their imagination loose.
Take everything that was just mentioned with the cloud gazing and try it out at night. Reference a constellation map to help you identify the different constellations and planets or create your own constellations. If you make your own, make sure to mark them down so that you can look for them again together in the future. It could make a fun annual event, finding the constellations from the previous year and adding a new one or two each time.
Learn About Your Local Wildlife
It is a great opportunity to teach your children about the local wildlife in your area. Take some time to learn about the different animals and birds that are common in your area. Check what they look like, what they eat, and the benefits they provide to the ecosystem. Depending on the age of your children, you can also look at the ways that they may be threatened by development or how they are coping with the arrival of humans in their natural habitat. After this, take some time to head out on a nearby trail or do some bird watching. How many of the birds and animals that you just learned about can you spot?
Plan Nature Scavenger Hunts
A fun outdoor activity that we often play with our nieces and nephews at the campground is a nature-themed scavenger hunt. It is a great choice for backyard camping as it can be easily adapted to any neighborhood or area. Take a brown paper bag for each child and write a list of items on the bag that they will be searching for. It could include rocks of a certain color, a specific type of plant, or anything else that they may be able to find within a designated area.
If you are looking for another option for larger groups of all ages, why not consider a photo scavenger hunt? Divide the family into teams with an adult in each one. Hand out a list of local attractions, types of trees, or other sights that they may see in the vicinity. The goal is to take a picture of each item on the list with your group members in the picture. You can award points for finding each of the items as well as for creativity in their photos.
Don’t forget to include a prize! The prizes don’t have to be anything big, it’s all about the fun of the game. Easy and low-cost prize ideas include chocolate bars, glow bracelets (for later in the night), small toys, or a makeshift trophy.
Catch Bugs, Insects, or Fireflies
IT is another fun and traditional activity that can also be a great learning opportunity for your children. Head out either during the day or after the sun has gone down and try to catch some bugs or insects such as ants, caterpillars, butterflies, or fireflies. Your children can observe these creatures close up while you share some fun facts (don’t worry, the internet is full of them if this is a critter that you’re not overly familiar with).
Play Outdoor Lawn Games
There are many classic games that you can enjoy outdoors at your backyard campsites, such as bean bag toss, ladder ball, or ring toss. These can be purchased as kits or created using household items. Either way, they are fun games that the whole family can enjoy.
For a game of ring toss, take a box and enough empty bottles to fill it. Paint the bottles different colors or write numbers on the lids of the bottles to indicate the point value of each bottle. Rings can be made from lengths of a thicker rope, like jute, cut long enough to fit over the bottles you are using, and taped or glued together to form a ring.
For beanbag toss, you can create a ‘board’ using wood or cardboard, cutting holes large enough for the beanbags to go through and labeling them with their point value. Another easy and low-cost solution is to lay out hula hoops in the yard, assigning a point value to each hoop.
Dig Out Your Favorite Board Games or Card Games
If you have a family favorite board game or card game, why not gather around the camp table, and enjoy it outdoors? Games like these have long been part of the traditional camping experience. Even backcountry campers, hiking into their campsite with only the gear on their back, will often throw a pack of cards in their pack before heading out. You may also want to pick up some new games just before your backyard camping adventure to add some excitement and interest.
Create Your Own Slip ‘N Slide
If you are planning your camping staycation on a day where the temperatures are supposed to be high, you may be on the search for fun ways to cool off. While a swim in the pool or playing in the sprinkler is the obvious choice, you may want to get creative and try something new.
Using a garden hose and a piece of plastic sheeting or a tarp, you can create a fun slip ‘n slide for the whole family to enjoy. Lay your plastic out on the ground and fold it in half lengthwise. It will create a long but narrow path while also giving you extra durability by doubling up the plastic. Anchor the sides and corners of the plastic to the ground using tent pegs. If you have a location in your yard that is slightly angled, it’s perfect for this!
Place the hose at the top of the slip ‘n slide and turn it on, allowing the water to run down the plastic. If you want to add extra slipperiness to help with the sliding process, add baby soap to the surface of the plastic.
Play A Game of Flashlight Tag
A well-known game to make the most of the nighttime outdoors, flashlight tag is a great way to finish a day of backyard camping. A combination of tag and hide-and-seek, the person who is ‘it’ holds a flashlight and tries to find the others around the yard using a flashlight. All other players are trying to avoid being caught by using the cover of darkness to remain hidden. If the flashlight beam reveals you, you have been ‘tagged’. If you have a fenced-in yard, the boundaries are simple. However, if you don’t, you may want to string up some rope to mark off a play area.
Gather Around for an Outdoor Movie
If you have access to a projector, you can create your own outdoor movie theatre. You don’t need to invest in an expensive projector screen. String up a white bed sheet or use a solid surface you already have access to, such as a garage or house wall. Kick back in your comfortable camp chairs or create seating right on the ground using blankets and pillows. Choose a great family-friendly movie or, if you’re a sport-loving family, screen the game together without missing out on your outdoor experience. Don’t forget the popcorn!
Tell Stories Around the Campfire
One of the best ways to hang out and spend time together around the campfire is through the tradition of telling campfire stories. If your family is all older, these could be spooky ghost stories. However, if you have younger children, you may want to tone down your story choices to avoid unnecessary nightmares later that night. For those that don’t know campfire stories off the top of their head, you can pick up a book to read or find stories online before heading out.
Enjoy Some Campfire Tunes
If your family is talented musically, this is your time to shine! When you gather around the campfire at night, join in together to share some of your favorite campfire songs. You can sing acapella, sing along with the radio, or even accompany yourselves with instruments if there is something with the skills to do so. After all, nothing screams campfire experience quite like singing around the fire to the tune of a guitar.
There are now rules as to what would classify as a ‘campfire tune’, so follow your heart. Choose songs that your family knows and loves, being sure to include ones familiar to the youngest campers among you. If you do need a little help from a background track, look up karaoke tracks online and play them on your phone or using a Bluetooth speaker.
Don’t worry about how you sound. The fun of singing around the campfire doesn’t hinge on whether you are singing in tune or whether you’re perfectly on time with one another. The most important thing is to have fun.
What Is Your Go-To Backyard Camping Tip?
Do you and your family consider backyard camping a fun, family-friendly staycation? If you enjoy spending time outdoors together, this can be a fun way to enjoy a low-cost vacation without having to worry about the logistics of heading to another location. Who knew that you could have so much fun in your own backyard? The ideas that I’ve included here should be more than enough to help you get started with planning your adventure.
We would love to hear your go-to backyard camping advice for other couples and families. What tips, tricks, and activities have helped you create a fun experience for the whole family?