kids camping in the backyard while woman brings out tray of food

Backyard Camping Guide: Ideas For A Magical Family Adventure

Lauren Nowacki11-Minute Read
October 19, 2021

Losing yourself in nature has its benefits – from boosting your mood and improving your sleep to burning extra calories and inspiring a sense of awe.

Camping can be a great way to change your scenery and escape the video games and TV for a while. However, COVID-19 has changed the rules in many campgrounds, causing them to delay opening and booking up when they do or only allow trailers outfitted with bathrooms.

Aside from these post-pandemic rules, people may have a hard time finding a place in their schedules to get away or find room in their budget to afford the trip. When you can’t make it to the great outdoors, your own yard can be the perfect solution.

Backyard camping is an easy, economical way to get your children away from screens and introduce them to the joys and benefits of nature. With a little planning, you and your family can forget you’re at home and still reap the benefits of time spent away from your busy lives.

10 Ideas To Make Backyard Camping A Success

Work these ideas into your adventure to really make your backyard camping experience authentic and entertaining.

1. Set Some Ground Rules

First things first, you’ll need to set some ground rules. These should be followed by every camper, including parents. Here are the top three to start:

  • No electronics: The whole point of going camping is to remove yourself from technology, so this one is important. Turn off all phones, tablets, etc. and put them in a hard-to-access place inside the home.
  • Limited access to the home: Treat the home like the public restroom at a campground – you only go in to use the bathroom. If you forgot to grab something, go without it. Treat this as a true trip away from home.
  • 100% participation: This includes participating in the planned activities and helping set up the campsite and taking it down.

Camping is a great educational experience as well as a fun one. Learning how to pitch a tent or build shelter can be invaluable lessons for kids. It also teaches them how to work together, practice patience and problem solve. Participating in the cleanup provides a lesson on caring for the environment and being responsible.

2. Set Up Your Campsite

Backyard camping doesn’t require light packing as a trek in the backcountry might, so you can enhance your space with nonessential things like string lights and colorful lanterns to make it more fun. You could even choose a theme for your camping experience and decorate for it.

Before you get to the fun, aesthetic tasks, make sure you have the essentials taken care of, including the creation of your shelter. Here are a few options:

  • Camping tent: This common camping shelter may be the fastest and easiest to set up since it comes with instructions and all supplies.
  • Covered shelter: Create a shelter by hanging a large tarp, canvas or blanket over a taught rope tied between two trees.
  • Survival shelter: To truly rough it, have campers forage for large sticks and other materials and build a shelter from your collection. This may only work if your environment allows for it.

Whatever option you choose, use this opportunity to talk about what this shelter provides. It isn’t just a place to sleep, it’s also meant to protect you from things like weather, bugs and animals. This will help your kids feel safe and may instill a sense of pride in what they built.

Once the shelter is done, you’ll want to set up your sleeping accommodations before it gets dark. Just because you’re staying outside doesn’t mean you can’t have a comfortable night’s sleep. Depending on the size of your shelter, you can use an air mattress, cot or yoga mat to provide some cushion between you and the ground. This will also help keep you warm throughout the night. And speaking of staying warm: Remember that you’re outside, not in a temperature-controlled home, so you’ll feel those degree drops. Make sure you have a good sleeping bag, warm socks and an extra layer of pajamas in case it gets chilly at night.

3. Build A Fire

A campfire is the heart of a great camping experience. It creates a peaceful place for campers to gather and roast marshmallows over its nostalgic, crackling glow.

Before your adventure begins, stock up on firewood and any other supplies you may need for your campfire, including log tongs, roasting sticks, flame colorant (for fun) and fire starters. You can make your own fire starters by placing dryer lint or sawdust in a small paper or cardboard carton, then pouring paraffin wax over the top.

If you don’t have or don’t want to build a fire pit, there are some alternative options:

  • Portable fire pit
  • Charcoal grill
  • Terracotta pot, with tin foil and charcoal
  • Tabletop fire pit
  • Electric s’more maker

Whatever you decide to do, just make sure you’re following the regulations of your city and/or state.

4. Plan Your Camp Grub Menu

The amount of food you’ll need to pack will depend on how long you’ll be camping in your backyard. For one night, campers will most likely need dinner, dessert, snacks and breakfast. To have the authentic camping experience, you’ll want to have a campfire or grill to enjoy most of these classic camp dishes. Here are a few ideas:

  • Foil pack meals: Toss vegetables, meat and spices together, wrap them in foil and cook directly in the fire or on the grill. You can also make cinnamon rolls for breakfast by cooking raw dough inside a foil packet.
  • Campfire pies: Put any ingredients between two pieces of bread, place the bread in the square pie maker and hold it over the fire until the ingredients in the middle melt. You can make pizza, grilled cheese and even pies.
  • Hot dogs: Cook hot dogs over the fire using roasting sticks or wooden sticks the kids found and whittled.
  • S’mores: This traditional camping snack can be upgraded with such ingredients as salted caramel sauce, peanut butter cups and cookies.
  • Banana boats: Simply cut down the middle of a banana and fill it with peanut butter or hazelnut spread, chocolate chips and marshmallows. Wrap the bananas in foil and cook them in the fire for just a few minutes.
  • Stuffed waffle cones: Fill waffle cones with your favorite treats, like fruit, marshmallows and chocolate. Wrap them in foil and cook in the fire until it melts together.
  • DIY ice cream: Make your own ice cream by shaking a sealed Ziploc bag full of milk, cream, sugar and vanilla in another sealed bag filled with ice and salt. You can find specific directions for a variety of flavors online.
  • Eggs and pancakes: Crack some eggs into a jar with some chopped vegetables and ham and pack them in the cooler for easy scrambled eggs. Put pancake mix in a jar so all you’ll have to do is add water. This makes packing lighter and breakfast easier to handle in the morning.

5. Plan Some Campfire Activities

There’s more to do over a fire than cook. When the sun goes down, most activities are done around the campfire. This is a great opportunity for the family to come together and really soak in some quality time. Here a few staple activities to enjoy at night:


  • Play music and sing campfire songs.
  • Read poetry or short stories.
  • Make up your own ghost stories.
  • Put on a talent show.
  • Tell your favorite jokes and try to solve some riddles.
  • Cook your favorite treats over an open flame.


Whatever activity you choose to include around the fire, make sure you always remember safety first.

6. Let Nature Entertain You

Part of surrounding yourself with nature is enjoying its ability to calm, heal and even entertain. By learning all of the benefits nature has to offer, your kids will appreciate it even more. Here are some ways you can use nature as a source of enjoyment.

  • Plan a treasure hunt for the wonders of nature, like unique stones, leaves, flowers and feathers.
  • Learn more about birds and other animals native to your area and search for them.
  • Learn more about constellations and search for them as you stargaze.
  • Make bracelets and headpieces from flowers, leaves and vines.
  • Hunt for bugs and learn why some are found under rocks while others are found on leaves.
  • Paint rocks and use them as game pieces or see how high you can stack them.

7. Make Camp Crafts

Another way to pass the time without screens is to appeal to your family’s creative side. If you went to summer camp, these activities may bring up some happy memories.

  • Make friendship bracelets using safety pins, embroidery floss and beads. You can find instructions for making several different bracelets online.
  • Tie dye shirts, socks and other articles of clothing. Simply twist the fabric into different patterns and rubber band sections. Place fabric on cooling racks inside foil pans, then drizzle dye over sections of the fabric with a squirt bottle. Rinse when you’re done dyeing the fabric, then hang to dry.
  • Weave plastic – or boondoggle – keychain lanyards. These summer camp staples are easy to make with little supplies needed. Again, you can find pattern instructions on the internet.
  • Decorate your own flag with fabric markers or sharpies. This can be especially useful if you have separate tents or play one of the classic camp games, capture the flag. This brings us to our next backyard camping idea.

8. Play Classic Camp Games

If you have enough people and a big enough yard, you can play the ultimate camp game: capture the flag. Two teams both have a zone (half the playing field) they must hide their flag in. Then, they must cross over to the opposing team’s zone, find their flag and bring it back to their zone. If they get tagged, they must either return to their zone or get put in the opposing team’s jail. If they’re thrown in jail, they can only be freed when one of their team members saves them.

Many camp games center around teambuilding, which can be ideal for families who want to grow closer. Here are a few popular ones to try with your family:

  • Human knot: Everyone puts their hands in the middle and grabs two different people’s hands, forming a knot. You must untangle the knot without letting go of anyone’s hands.
  • Minefield: Choose two teams. One person on each team starts at one end of the yard and must walk to the other end blindfolded. Along the route are various treasures (stuffed animals) they must pick up and “mines” (pieces of paper or fabric) they must avoid stepping on. The only way to get to the treasures and avoid the mines is by listening to the directions given by other team members.
  • Relay races: Teams must work together to finish a series of tasks before the opposing team.

9. Cool Off With Water Activities

If there’s a heatwave, incorporate water activities into your backyard camping experience. Here are a few ways to cool off with water.

  • Throw a mini pool party in a kiddie pool.
  • Set up the slip ’n’ slide. Set up two and create a slippery relay race.
  • Have a water fight with Super Soakers. Make it more competitive by using colored water to see who tags and gets tagged the most.
  • Compete in a water balloon toss.
  • Play dodgeball with wet sponges instead of balls.
  • Play water limbo with the hose.

10. Watch An Outdoor Film

When it’s time to wind down, hang up a white sheet and turn on the projector for an outdoor movie. Pop some popcorn over the fire and settle in for this great right-before-bed activity. To match your surroundings, choose a nature documentary or movie set in a summer camp. Or, use this time to watch some old family videos. When the movie is over, have some additional fun by shining a flashlight on the blank sheet and making shadow puppets.

5 Tips To Keep Everyone Safe

The most important factor of any successful backyard camping experience is safety. Even though you aren’t in the deep woods and far from home doesn’t mean accidents can’t happen. Follow these tips to ensure everyone stays safe while having fun.

1. Equip Every Tent With A Night Light

Waking up in an unfamiliar structure in your backyard in the middle of the night can be disorienting for children, especially when it’s pitch-black out. Additionally, some kids may be scared of the dark – especially when they’re outside. To remedy this issue, consider employing a few different lighting options:

  • Give each camper their own flashlight.
  • Create lanterns by filling jars with string lights or glowsticks or fill a jug with water and strap a light to it.
  • Light a path to the house with solar-powered landscaping lights or glowsticks in case nature calls in the middle of the night.
  • Wrap glowstick necklaces around tripping hazards, like trees or tent stakes.
  • If the dog is camping with you, have your furry friend wear a glow necklace around their collar.

2. Remind Campers To Look At But Don’t Touch The Nature

Even in your own backyard, you may encounter potential dangers. These can include:

  • Poison ivy or poison oak
  • Biting animals and insects
  • Poisonous berries
  • Thorny plants
  • Toxic plants
  • Allergens
  • Skunks

During the day and at night, campers should follow this general rule: look but don’t touch.

3. Carefully Extinguish The Campfire

Practicing good fire safety is important for your health and the health of the environment. Making sure a fire is fully extinguished is one of the best ways to prevent forest fires and fires in your own backyard. To completely extinguish your campfire, follow these steps:

  • Pour water over the fire to put it out.
  • Stir the embers and ashes in with the soil.
  • Hover your hand over the ashes and fire ring to feel for heat. Everything should feel cool.
  • Add more water for good measure.
  • Survey the area around the fire pit to make sure there are no rogue embers.

4. Ward Off Pesky Bugs

Anywhere you go in nature – even your own backyard – bugs will find you. To help ward off annoying, biting bugs (especially the ones that carry other diseases), follow these precautions:

  • Slather on bug spray, preferably a DEET-free formula. Don’t forget to reapply.
  • Wear insect repellent bracelets.
  • Line your campsite perimeter with citronella torches, candles or lamps.
  • Equip your site with portable zap lanterns.
  • Keep tents zipped up.
  • Wear clothes that cover your skin, especially at night.
  • Use fragrance-free body care and beauty products, like soaps, deodorants, lotions and perfumes.
  • Cover your food while cooking and eating.
  • Use a screen tent for eating and other activities.
  • Make sure all trash is cleaned up after eating before moving on to your next activity.
  • Routinely check for ticks, especially at the end of your adventure.

5. Track Weather Patterns

On the days leading up to your campout, you should be routinely checking the weather and planning ahead. You’ll want to be aware of any potential rain, storms, high winds or extreme temperatures. The good thing about camping in your backyard is you can change easily change the date. If there’s any potentially dangerous weather headed your way, reschedule your adventure for another day and entertain the family with some creative indoor activities for kids instead.

Summary: Enjoy A Night Out In Your Backyard

Backyard camping can be a fun, inexpensive way to enjoy the outdoors without having to venture too far from the comfort of your home. It can also be a good introductory camping experience for young ones and a great opportunity to learn new skills and spend time together as a family. By creating fun and safe activities, you’ll be able to truly enjoy the benefits of nature, even if it’s only for one night.

Check out more homeowner tips to find other ways to get the most enjoyment out of your home.

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Lauren Nowacki

Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.