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13 Tips To Have The Ultimate Backyard Camping Experience

National Parks Service

My parents never bought me and my brothers the latest gadgets, or let us stay up all night watching TV, but they knew how to have fun.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are the "backyard camping" trips we took as a family in our yard.

It was such a simple activity: a tent set up in the backyard and family bonding time outdoors, but it meant the world to us kids.

Backyard Camping
Martie Duncan

If you want to pass on some of your own happy memories to the next generation of your family, we have some pointers that will guarantee a great experience.

1. Make it a surprise

What do your kids or grandkids have planned for this weekend? Another two days on the couch in front of the TV?

It can be hard to compete with Netflix and iPads, so it's best to take your younger campers by surprise.

Backyard Camping
Birthday Ideas - Flickr

Set the tent up before they get home from school on Friday, then ask them to check the backyard.

The novelty will make kids interested, and that's when the fun begins.

2. Make it a cell phone-free night

The idea of backyard camping is that you get to "rough it" close to home. But that doesn't mean your kids can stay glued to social media all night.

Smartphone
PXhere

Collect all the smartphones and tablets at the beginning of the night and make your whole family pledge not to touch them until the camping trip is over.

If kids get antsy about missing Paw Patrol, you'll just have to distract them with fun activities and games.

3. Make it comfortable

My backyard camping experiences as a child featured a vintage canvas tent and a sleeping bag with holes in the bottom.

I still had fun, but making things comfortable guarantees your kids or grandkids will enjoy themselves, and ask to go "camping" again next year.

Tent
PXhere

Set up your tent beforehand and check if it's still safe for human occupation.

Provide sleeping bags, pillows, and plenty of blankets (it's always colder than you think outdoors at night).

Keep mosquitoes and pests out of the backyard using homemade bug repellents.

Maybe you could even set up a battery powered nightlight if there are younger kids in your family.

4. Have a backyard treasure hunt

Treasure Hunt
Steven Johnson - Flickr

This is an old classic that kids always love. Bury or stash a "treasure" in your yard (like small toys or candy) and let kids follow a hand-drawn treasure map to find it.

You can give older kids a compass and coded directions for an added challenge, and let them learn about orienteering at the same time.

An alternate idea is a backyard scavenger hunt, or "camping bingo," where everyone has to search for items like a pebble, a leaf, or a feather.

5. Cool off with frozen treats

Popsicles
Marco Verch - Flickr

If you ask me, a summer day spent in the backyard isn't complete until you have a popsicle in your hand.

While fruit juice in popsicle molds is easy enough, you can impress your family with all kinds of creative flavors.

That includes boozy tequila pops for the grownups.

For something sweet and savory, you can beat the heat with these frozen dessert recipes.

6. Go for a neighborhood nature walk

Backyard camping is great for families on a budget and with busy lifestyles.

You just pick a night, hitch up the tent, and relax outdoors. But it's nice to do something a little adventurous close to home too.

Backyard Camping
Public Domain Pictures

The fun of "camping" in your own neighborhood is it reminds you of the nature in your own backyard.

Take the kids for a walk around the block, and tell them to look out for squirrels, birds, and rabbits. Take out a nature book from the library and challenge them to list all the species they met on their "nature hike."

7. Play fun backyard games

There's no purchase necessary to play silly and fun family games like Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, and I Spy.

But you can also make new games kids will love for next to nothing.

Backyard Camping
Taber Bain - Flickr

A few sprays of paint on the lawn (or some colored paper circles) will make a Lawn Twister board that will make everyone giggle.

A little wood (or an old shoebox with a hole cut in one end) and some beanbags are everything you need to play Bag Toss.

Or - if you're feeling brave - let your kids make up their own games and try to follow their silly rules.

8. Fire up the barbecue

Barbecue
PXhere

Just because you're sleeping under the stars doesn't mean you have to pass up modern conveniences.

Your kids will love treats fresh off the grill, including cowboy hot dogs and steak and potato skewers.

Better yet, if it's too hot to stand around the grill, let your slow cooker do the work using these creative recipes.

9. Make a campfire

Campfire
Kristin Johnson - Flickr

You may not be allowed to set up an actual bonfire in your backyard, but don't let that stop you.

A group of candles or a bright lantern make great replacement "fires." There are even ways to skirt bylaws with a mini fire pit.

Nest of Posies managed to turn a terracotta flower pot and some charcoal into a pint-sized campfire that's perfect for heating up s'mores and hot dogs.

10. Host an outdoor movie night

Backyard Camping
Jason Gessner - Flickr

It's not a typical camping activity, but nothing beats watching a classic movie under the stars.

Fire up some popcorn, puts a few sodas in a cooler, hang up a sheet and plug in a movie projector. Don't forget lawn chairs and extra blankets to make the screening totally cozy.

This is a fun way to introduce your favorite movies to the younger generation, and to get the more rowdy kids to sit down and relax.

11. Make s'mores

Is camping even camping without s'mores? I don't think so!

Backyard camping
Jonathunder - Wikimedia

These days you can get all-in-one "s'mores kits" from the grocery store, but there are a lot of delicious twists on the classic dessert to enjoy, if you think outside the box.

From frozen s'mores pops to s'mores truffle cupcakes, and even healthy (sort of) grilled banana boats.

If you invite the neighbors over, make them these tipsy caramel s'mores milkshakes. They're irresistible.

12. Read scary stories

Scary Stories
Staff Sgt. Jason Colbert - Air Force

Boo! I get spooked very easily, and I definitely had trouble sleeping after my family swapped campfire stories, but it's part of the fun.

There are collections of the creepiest ghost stories online, but for my money you can't beat spine-chilling classics like Scary Stories To Tell I The Dark.

13. Watch the stars

Star
Pixabay

Your luck with this activity depends on how close you live to a big city and what night you plan your backyard camping trip. The best results will always be on a clear, moonless night.

If you don't remember your high school astronomy lessons, you can find some basic facts about the planets and stars on NASA's Kids' Club website.

Here are more tips for summer family fun:

I write about all sorts of things for Shared, especially weird facts, celebrity news, and viral stories. CONTACT: zachary@shared.com