Camping can be inexpensive and a great way for families to unplug, be outside and experience everything nature has to offer all while creating lifelong memories.
Avid outdoorsman and Idaho Outdoors freelance writer Mark Krepps has three boys and has some great advice for parents who want to take their kids camping.
Choosing a campsite
First, figure out what kind of camping you want to do? Are you driving an RV or sleeping in a camp trailer, a tent, or out in the open under the stars?
"Use the Internet or purchase a ... travel guide, specially designed for campers and hikers," Krepps suggests if you are looking for a place to camp.
Camping guides are great resources and can help you narrow down the perfect campsite for your family. You can get directions, see amenities that are offered like showers and restrooms, electrical hookups or drinking water and you can find out what kind of activities you can do. The guides will also tell you if a campsite requires a reservation or fee.
As any parent can relate, packing for a trip is a process and sometimes can take days to prepare. Krepps suggests parents create a checklist.
"Start making your list a week prior to your trip, jot down as much as you can, then put it away and come back to it as things pop into your mind, " he says. "As soon as you think of something write it down or it'll be forgotten."
Here are some items Krepps suggests you add to your checklist:
• Flashlights, extra batteries, a small tool kit, gloves, rope (Krepps says rope makes a good make-shift laundry line when tied from tree to tree), lighters to start a fire, a forest service map, a cellphone (for emergencies) and a GPS, if you have one.
• Sleeping bags, pillows and extra blankets.
• Pack warm clothing like long-sleeve shirts, long pants and sweatshirts even if it's 95 degrees outside. Krepps says nights can get down to as low as 40 or 50 degrees, and shivering kids can ruin your fun quickly.
• Bring good footwear. Krepps says there is nothing more miserable than a child in flip-flops trying to take a hike.
"They are bound to cut their feet or receive large blisters if they are not wearing the appropriate footwear like tennis shoes or good boots," he says. And, if you plan to be around water, some good water shoes offer good protection and durability.
• Plan to bring a large cooler to store meat, fruits, drinks that need to be chilled.
• Toilet paper, paper towels and Kleenex. Baby wipes are also useful.
• Bug spray, sunscreen, a small first aid kit, medications and tweezers. Krepps recommends "after-bite" sticks to help ease constant scratching if bitten.
• If you have a baby, don't forget to bring extra bottles and enough diapers for the entire trip.
• Krepps suggests you bring a five gallon bucket with a toilet seat lid (this can be bought at a sporting goods store).
"The seat snaps on any five gallon bucket and your youngsters might appreciate a place to 'go potty.'" Be sure to bring a shovel if you decide to dig your own "bathroom holes."
• Make sure your vehicle is ready for travel. Krepps says car trouble while your family is in the mountains is not much fun.
• And a tidbit from me: Don't forget to bring your camera!
At the campsite
Once you've made it to your destination, have your kids help you unpack and help set up camp.
"One of the largest joys is teaching your youngsters about the world around them," Krepps says. "Don't be afraid to let them help do small things."
Let them help set up the tent, cook dinner or collect pine needles to start the fire. Krepps says you will be shocked how interesting and fun it can be for both of you and how long it stays with them after the trip is over.
And the fun doesn't stop there. There is an endless supply of things to do with your kids in the outdoors.
Taking the kids fishing, swimming or hiking are always possibilities, but when everyone is enjoying some down time around the campground, bring out playing cards or board games. You can also have some fun throwing Frisbees or horseshoes or playing baseball. If you're near water, do some rock skipping and see who can get the furthest.
Krepps also suggests purchasing an bird or wildlife guide. Take the kids out for a scavenger hunt to see how many different types of birds and animals they can spot.
"Even star gazing at night is fun," Krepps says. "A star guide would come in handy _ let them pick out constellations."
With fun also comes safety. A lot can happen in just a split second so you should be aware of your child's whereabouts at all times.
Krepps says common sense is your guide for safety, and if your child gets hurt, stay calm because kids feed off your panic which will only make things worse.
"They look to you for support, give it to them with a calm head," he says.
Packing up and heading home after all of the fun has been had and it's time to go home, have your kids help with the packing and cleanup.
"Teach your children to clean up after the trip," Krepps says. "Have some personal responsibility and pride for your spot. Leave it the way nature made it, beautiful and pristine for all to enjoy."
Hopefully your camping trip will be filled with memories and traditions that your kids will remember for a lifetime. What are some of your tips for camping with kids?