Fun Things to Do While Camping: Activities for the Whole Family
In the age of vast technology EVERYWHERE, immersing yourself in nature can be just what your family needs to relax, rejuvenate, and come closer together. However, nature immersion can be tough with kiddos that are accustomed to constantly being on the go or being entertained. Having some activities in mind and games available can keep everyone happy while preserving the relaxed nature vibe.
We’ve compiled this extensive list of fun things to do while camping including camping games we love, activity book options, and camping art activities. Short on space? We’ve also added some activities that don’t require any special gear so you can have fun while packing light.
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- Fun Things to Do While Camping: Activities for the Whole Family
- Best Camping Games We Love
- Camping Activity Books
- Campfire Activities
- Honing Outdoor Observational Skills Around Camp
- Fun Activities For Camping: Art!
- Camping Fun Activities That Don’t Require Any Special Gear
- Making Camping Memories that Last a Lifetime
- Fun Things to Do While Camping: Activities for the Whole Family
Best Camping Games We Love
From pop-up field games to classic card decks, there are numerous camping games to choose from. Here are a few of our favorites to increase the fun on your next camping adventure, whether you have plenty of extra room in your car or a tiny pocket available in your pack.
Camping Games for Adults
If you’ve got room in your car and space at your campsite, these classic games for adults (and kids) are a fun way to pass the time with a little friendly competition while enjoying the outdoors.
Call me old-school, but I love shuffleboard! There’s something intensely satisfying about getting your puck exactly where you want it to go (or knocking an opponent off the board). Now you can take this addicting game anywhere with this roll-up version that stores away easily in its own carrying bag. Just unroll it onto a flat stretch of ground or a tabletop and you’re set!
I distinctly remember learning to play checkers from my older brother on a family camping trip. Apparently, the fresh air and lack of TV made him more patient to teach me, even when I knocked over the board. As an adult, my husband taught me to play chess while relaxing around the campfire with this set. This version is magnetic to keep the checkers and chess pieces in place, and it folds up nicely into a carrying bag when not in use.
Cornhole is one of those go-to games that are fun for the whole family (whether you play it by the rules or not), but especially satisfying for the adults in your group. This travel version is smaller than the original with legs that fold away and a convenient carrying bag so you can easily take it anywhere.
Fun Activities for Camping
If you’re camping in a spot with some extra room, check out these options to get the heart pumping (and hopefully tire the kids out for a relaxing night at camp).
A game of frisbee just got a whole lot cooler. This flying disc lights up the night with multiple color options, so you don’t have to stop playing when the sun goes down. The best part? You won’t have to fuss with batteries since it recharges quickly with a hidden micro-USB port.
Camping near an open area or beach? Bring along this compact kite and watch it take flight. It comes ready to fly, simply pop it out of the convenient draw-string pouch, clip on the line, and you’re set! The included hoop winder is easy to use and comfortable for even little hands to hold on to.
For an activity that’s sure to end in hilarity, check out this pop-up badminton set. It’s lightweight and compact, sets up in less than a minute, and is surprisingly stable. Two rackets and birdies are included, and everything breaks down small enough to fit in a rip-stop carrying case. You can easily stash it in the car for your next camping or outdoor adventure.
Games That Pack Small
Don’t have the space for bulky games and extra equipment? Here are some options that are lightweight and pack small enough to fit in your backpacking pack.
Looking to pass some time or relax around the campfire? The Backpack Cribbage set offers you the full-size version of Cribbage on a lightweight, foldable board. The cards and scoring pegs are included, and the included mesh carrying bag makes it easy to store in the car or your pack.
Who doesn’t love a good game of Bocce Ball? This mini version allows you to easily take this fun game along on your next camping or backpacking trip. It’s super lightweight and comes with a carrying case that can be clipped onto your backpack.
This remixed version of the old classic has become a favorite of ours! The compact travel cup holds all the components of the game, and the dice have colorful National Park-inspired images on each side. They even throw in some fun facts and tips for preserving our National Parks. The size makes it easy to throw in your pack or keep in your car whenever you need a fun way to pass some time.
Games That Bring You Closer to Nature
Can’t quite get enough of nature while relaxing in the outdoors? These three compact games will immerse you even further into the natural world while also teaching you something along the way.
This card game has you build and maintain food webs in seven unique biomes. Compete against others to create and protect balanced, healthy biomes while other players attempt to disturb and degrade your ecosystems. Designed by a biology teacher and featuring gorgeous Victorian art on each card, you’re sure to learn a little something while having fun.
Battle your camping companions to create a perfect world for wildlife to flourish. This strategy game has you place magnetic continent tiles on 12-sided 3D planet cores to create your world. The goal is to create the most populated planet by winning animal cards and fulfilling your own “natural habitat” objective.
Learn about the ecology, geology, history, geography, wildlife, and botany of America’s 63 National Parks. This set includes 195 gorgeously illustrated cards, each with 2 questions (one easy and one hard), along with 5 10-second lightning challenge cards. They also included an illustrated map of the 63 national parks.
Camping Games for Families: Classic Card Games
There’s something about being out in nature that makes these classic card games even more fun to play. These three games are easy to learn and provide fun memories for the whole family.
This family favorite is our go-to for everything from restaurants and waiting rooms to camping and long hikes. This set even includes 3 customizable wild cards for you to write in any house rules or camping-specific fun additions to the game.
Another family favorite, Phase 10 has players work through 10 varied phases of card-collecting, competing to be the first to complete all 10 phases. This rummy-type card game adds a twist with added “Wild” and “Skip” cards to make it more challenging.
This card game may not technically be a classic, but it’s based on the classic game of Monopoly (and doesn’t take hours to complete a game). You draw from the deck to collect property cards, wild property cards, house and hotel cards, money cards, and action cards. The first player to collect 3 property sets in different colors wins the game.
Just Add a Deck of Cards: Favorite Card Games
Whether you’re trying to keep the weight of your pack down or you don’t have time to track down extra games, a simple deck of cards can provide seemingly endless game options. Here are a few of our favorite card games to play while camping.
This game is fun anywhere, but playing it in the tent or around a fire amps up the fun and tends to lead to more laughter. We like to play it with our camping sporks from REI since they seem to be safer than metal spoons and add in some rules if little ones are playing with us (such as only the little ones can grab the green spoon or they get a 2-second head start to grab a spoon).
Sometimes called Spit, this game is all about getting rid of your cards the fastest (hence the name). All you need is a deck of cards and a willing opponent. You play this game sitting across from each other, and the goal is to build on the cards in the middle by placing a card that is either one more or one less on top of it. Just keep in mind that your opponent is working off the same cards, so you have to be quick!
Nerts is a little like Speed and a lot like a multi-player version of Solitaire. Every player needs their own deck of cards. Players race to get rid of the cards in their “Nerts” pile by playing them in sequences either in their personal area or the communal area in the center.
If you have younger kiddos, playing some classic children’s card games can help make them feel included while still being fun for the whole family. They also help with number recognition and number sequencing skills. Some of our favorites include Go Fish!, Old Maid, and War (we call it “Top It”).
Need more inspiration and game suggestions? Check out our post on the Best Camping Board Games for Families.
Camping Activity Books
Whether you need something to stave off the “I’m bored!” complaints or you want to enhance the camping experience, an activity book can be just what you’re looking for. Here are a few books we enjoy to help kids build up skills and stay occupied while enjoying the outdoors.
Building Skills Around Camp
Learning outdoor skills is more fun when you’re surrounded by nature! Here are some books to teach survival skills, knot tying, tips, and more with tons of activities to get your kids (and you!) excited about building useful skills.
With this activity book, kids will tackle survival challenges and get creative with fun outdoor projects, all while building important wilderness and observational skills. Along with the 35 fun outdoor activities, there are also tips and checklists for parents so you can be prepared for your next camping or hiking adventure.
This interactive skill-building guide includes numerous activities to get kids exploring and learning new skills. Topics include adventure planning, navigation, essential gear, handling extreme weather and terrain, etc. From how to filter water to identifying animal tracks, there’s a little of everything in this guide along with write-in sections to journal about their experiences.
Knot-tying skills can come in handy for everything from rock climbing and fishing to securing heavy objects to vehicles. This book covers 100 knots using colorful, easy-to-follow instructions. It also includes a high-grade paracord to practice with along with a set of Pro-knot cards and 6 waterproof quick-reference cards that you can take along wherever you go.
Fun Activity Books to Keep Kids Occupied
Having a special camping-specific activity book can be a fun way to pass the time for kids, and also a great way to keep them occupied while setting up camp, making meals, and relaxing. These three options offer camping-themed puzzles, games, journal entries, etc.
If your kids enjoy the Junior Ranger programs at our National Park Lands, they’ll love this activity book! It’s jam-packed with activities and fun facts to teach them about America’s National Parks and their habitats. It contains historical information along with jokes and games all about the wildlife, ecosystems, and history of the national park lands they may encounter while enjoying the outdoors.
If you have a kiddo who enjoys journaling along with fun activities and coloring pages, this is the activity book for them. It includes everything from packing checklists and outdoor education to fun games to play and puzzles to solve. The 20 journaling pages can help them record their thoughts and memorialize their experiences from their camping trip.
This book is a great option for young campers, with activities geared towards 3–8-year-olds. There are coloring pages, mazes, I-Spy puzzles, and even some scissor skills options for them to work on. This book provides a great way for little ones to work on fine-motor skills and age-appropriate problem-solving skills while enjoying the outdoors.
The mixture of fresh air, the setting sun, and the glorious campfire smells have a way of relaxing even the feistiest of kiddos. Sitting around a campfire (or even a camp stove if you can’t have a fire) is a wonderful way to come closer together and make memories that will carry your kiddos into adulthood. Here are some fun ways to enjoy a campfire together.
Reminiscing about Past Adventures
As a child, I absolutely loved nights around the campfire because it meant I got to hear stories from my parents’ pre-kid days that I had never heard before. Funny stories about adventures gone awry or heart-warming stories that made them misty-eyed. Now that I have kids of my own, I find myself doing the same thing on camping trips.
We share so many laughs and smiles reminiscing, and my oldest frequently says “Tell the story about the time you…” as he stares at us with eager eyes. It’s also a great way to get closer to your partner and your adult camping companions as you share stories after the kiddos are asleep.
Need a little help deciding what to share? The Campfire Stories Deck contains a collection of 50 cards with storytelling prompts to get you started. Many of the cards are inspired by adventures in nature (such as “your first time in a tent” or “your first visit to a national park”), and help you get excited about adventures to come.
Telling Silly or Scary Stories
Telling ghost stories around a fire is a rite of passage for many kids. Complete with a quiet, eerie voice and a flashlight under the chin (we like the Coast XPIIR rechargeable flashlight since it lasts for a long time). Just be wary of telling (or letting kids tell) overly scary stories if there are sensitive listeners. Sleeping outdoors after hearing scary stories can lead to some pretty epic nightmares!
If you prefer to go the silly story route, you can help spark some creativity with the Campfire Stories Deck for Kids. This fun 50 card deck includes 25 creature cards and 25 outdoor action cards to help spark their imaginations and come up with some hilarious, fun stories about the outdoors.
Reading Stories or Poetry about Incredible Outdoor Spaces
I love reading around the campfire during downtime. It can be in the morning when everyone’s just waking up, relaxing after an active adventure, or after dinner before the sun goes down. My kids love it when I read aloud something nature-inspired or silly to give them a giggle. Being out in the fresh air while hearing about how others perceive the outdoors can add to the overall experience and appreciation of nature.
Our current favorite book for poems is the National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry, which provides short poems on all things nature. These are great when I want a quick passage to get them thinking, or something related to the area we are visiting.
For longer passages, Campfire Stories: Tales From America’s National Parks is a wonderful collection of stories that focus on six iconic national parks in America. The stories come from indigenous peoples, famous writers, park rangers, local residents, and others. They offer insight and inspiration from some of our nation’s treasured lands and will make you want to visit each park mentioned.
Need More ideas? Check out our post on Campfire Games for Kids for tons of suggestions split up by age. The best part? Most don’t require any gear you don’t already have on hand!
Honing Outdoor Observational Skills Around Camp
There’s so much to discover, even right there at your campsite! Here are some fun activities to help your kiddos hone their observational skills and feel closer to the nature that surrounds them. While they don’t need any special equipment to observe, a quality pair of binoculars (like these Nikon Trailblazer Waterproof Binoculars can come in handy to enhance the experience.
Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing
While I love watching birds and wildlife in our backyard and local parks, there’s something special about spotting these creatures in their more natural habitat. We like to bring along a birdwatching book for our local area or grab the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America whenever we camp or hike in different parts of the country for a more extensive guide.
I love that you can really tailor the experience of watching birds and wildlife to your family’s interests. It could be as simple as pointing out a bird and asking your little one what the bird is doing or counting how many different types of animals you see. For older kids, you could have them identify and draw the bird or animal and jot down their observations. For more tips and information, check out our post on Birding with Kids.
Searching for bugs is a favorite pastime for many kids (and adults too, I still love bug-watching!). Whether it’s watching a butterfly or bee busily pollinating flowers, following a line of ants as they march along the path, or flipping over a rock in search of beetles and centipedes, bugs are fascinating creatures!
While you don’t need any extra resources, if you have a budding entomologist who is super interested in insects, DK has a wonderful and extensive guide called The Big Book of Bugs that is an excellent resource. Also, we love using the Carson Microbrite Pocket Microscope to get a better look at tiny insects and other amazing, small finds in nature.
If you’re lucky enough to camp in an area with low light pollution on a clear night, you’ll likely see more stars than you ever thought possible! Binoculars (like the ones mentioned above) can bring those stars and constellations even closer. We always take along the Guide to the Stars Map Wheel to help us pick out the constellations (this version works anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere). Just be sure to bring along a filter for your flashlight (or red-tinted cellophane) so you won’t ruin your night vision with the light.
Fun Activities For Camping: Art!
You don’t need a cupboard of art supplies to enjoy making art around camp! A few key items along with some creativity can produce some fun projects you’ll want to photograph and display after your camping adventure has ended.
Keeping a nature journal (either a camping-specific one or a general one) can be a fun way for kids (and adults!) to document their observations in nature. It also makes for a great keepsake to look back on and remember the adventures they’ve had. All you need is a notebook (or loose paper and a clipboard) and something to write or draw with. My older kiddo prefers erasable colored pencils or the Backpack Watercolor Kit from Outside Inside since it’s compact enough to easily fit in his daypack.
If you’re new to nature journaling, check out this post on Nature Journaling with Kids.
We created this printable list filled with fun camping-themed nature journaling prompts that you can take along with you to give your kids (or yourself) some inspiration for journaling around camp.
Leaf and Bark Rubbings
This activity is a simple way to make a unique keepsake of your camping adventure while sticking to the Leave No Trace Principle of leaving nature in nature. All you need is blank paper (I usually just grab some paper off the printer, but specific drawing paper works even better) and unwrapped crayons.
Find some cool leaves, place them under your paper, and rub the side of the crayon over it to pick up the leaf design. For bark rubbings, put your paper against a tree and rub a crayon over it to pick up the unique patterns in the bark. You can then add labels for the tree species they came from along with the date and location of your camp, and you have a piece of art to remind you of your trip!
Coloring Books and Crayons/Colored Pencils
Coloring books have been around since the 1800s and have been keeping kids and adults occupied and entertained since. While any old coloring book will do the trick, a nature-themed option (such as the National Parks Coloring Book) can offer a special treat while camping. One tip I’ve learned along the way is to bring along your child’s preferred coloring utensil to entice them to color. For my older son (who is a bit of a perfectionist), we bring along erasable colored pencils, while our youngest prefers to use crayons.
Land Art (Using Natural Materials)
This form of art involves using what you find in your environment to make temporary art. This could include rock mosaics, stick or leaf people, drawings in the dirt or sand, dirt or sandcastles, etc. The challenge is to use ONLY natural materials for your art. In other words, use a vine or long blades of grass to tie things together, or decorate your sand/dirt house with rocks, shells, or leaves.
Sidewalk chalk provides endless artistic possibilities, whether you’re hanging at home or around the campsite. You can have kids decorate any asphalt or concrete they find at the campsite. Don’t have these surfaces available? Have them draw pictures on the trees or rocks around your camp to decorate your home away from home. Their creations will get washed away with the next rain, so the next inhabitant of your campsite will have a fresh slate. Just be sure to take photos as a keepsake!
Camping Fun Activities That Don’t Require Any Special Gear
With your car or backpack jam-packed, you don’t always have room for extras. Here are some easy activity ideas that won’t require any special gear (except maybe a camera to document the fun!).
Photo Scavenger Hunt
Looking for an activity that keeps the kids occupied while sticking to the Leave No Trace Principles? Try a photo scavenger hunt! All you need is an old digital or disposable camera or simply hand over your phone so they can take photos of what catches their eye around the campsite.
Need some guidance on what to photograph? We’ve created this printable Camping Photo Scavenger Hunt with items they can find and photograph around camp. All they need is the scavenger hunt sheet and a camera (and maybe a pencil to mark off the ones they’ve completed), and they’re set!
Building Forts and Fairy Houses
Sure, you may have a tent or roof over your head, but there’s something special and rewarding about building a fort from natural materials while camping. It brings out the survivalist in each of us, and amps up the camping experience! You can offer guidance or let the kids problem-solve on their own. They may even create a fort worthy of spending the night (or at least some fun hours during the day).
A smaller alternative (especially if there aren’t many fort-worthy materials lying around) is to create fairy or gnome houses. For kiddos who love magical pretend play, explain to them that some fairies and gnomes need shelter for the night and it’s up to them to create houses for them to sleep in.
The only requirement is that all materials must be found in nature. There’s no wrong way to do this, it’s simply creating a small structure (usually near a tree, log, or bush) out of natural materials and decorating it with leaves, flowers, stones, etc. My imaginative kiddos love coming up with stories to go along with each fairy and house as they create them. You can then jot down their stories to go along with a photo of their creation as a keepsake.
This is a great activity whether you just have just one kiddo or many while camping. They choose some “treasure” to hide, either by burying it in a shallow hole or hiding it somewhere around camp. Mine usually choose a feather or other special item they have found around our campsite. They then create a treasure map leading to the camp treasure or provide verbal or written instructions for retrieving the treasure. An adult (or another kiddo) then goes on a treasure hunt to see if they can find the hidden loot.
Just Add Water
Kids tend to be water magnets. It can be as big as an ocean or as small as the puddle created from washing the camp dishes. Adding water can keep kiddos occupied for hours! Swimming, looking for critters, making mud pies, the possibilities are endless. Just be sure you have a plan for the inevitable mess that comes with water play (like extra towels or clothes). I recommend bringing a swimsuit or rain suit (depending on the temperature) while camping so you don’t go through their extra clothes too quickly.
Camp Play Kitchen
While we cook meals at camp, my kids usually come up with their own recipes for critter or fairy food. For example, they may collect 4 flowers, 6 leaves, a handful of grass, and 5 acorns for “fairy stew” to feed the local fairy tribe. Another favorite is creating “dandelion mud chocolate cookies” and leaving them on a log for the gnomes to devour. We have even written recipes for them on index cards to use while we camp. This is a great attention-grabber to keep little ones occupied while setting up your campsite!
Classic Camping Games for Kids
Classic kid games are made extra special when played in a camp setting! Here are some of our favorite classic games with a camping twist to make them even more fun:
Make it a challenge by only allowing things found in nature (so no tents or water bottles allowed!). We’ve also played the rainbow version while camping, where the kids have to find something in each color of the rainbow (like a red berry, orange sign, etc.).
Hide and Seek
This is especially fun if you have a spacious camping spot or a nearby forested area (just be sure to make clear boundaries so they don’t wander too far for the perfect hiding spot). We usually have the “no tents allowed” rule so they won’t track dirt or mud onto sleeping bags and pillows.
For a fun twist, teach your kids to play “Echo Seek”, which is a variation of hide and seek with a “batty” twist. The seeker is the “bat”, and the hiders are the tasty insects. After they are hidden, the “bat” peeps loudly, and all the hiding insects have to make quiet (but audible) peeps back creating the effect of echolocation. The last insect found becomes the new bat.
Use either sidewalk chalk if you have asphalt nearby or draw a hopscotch board in the dirt and your set! Pick your favorite variation of the game, or have the kids make up their own rules as they go.
Fire Stick Thief
This may not be a classic game, but it’s fun if you have 4 or more players! You first designate a jail for thieves that are caught. Then collect 15-20 sticks (or more). One person sits blindfolded in the center of the playing area and everyone else leans the sticks up against them, bonfire style. They then take turns sneaking up and stealing a single stick from the “fire” person. If the “fire” person detects movement, they point in the direction of the thief. If the thief is caught (pointed directly at), they must go to jail. The winner is the person who managed to steal the most sticks.
Making Camping Memories that Last a Lifetime
The memories we keep with us don’t usually include a screen or much technology. They are the experiences we have spending quality time with the people we love. What better way to spend quality time together than enjoying some fresh air and a campfire while camping? Whether you choose to play a game, tell silly stories around camp, create nature art, or play classic kid games with a nature twist, we hope this list of fun things to do while camping will help enhance your experience. Our kids are only young for a short while, let’s give them some memories they will retell to their own kids around future campfires!
Fun Things to Do While Camping: Activities for the Whole Family
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