Backyard camping is a perfect alternative when you can’t go camping, or even just to create a simple and fun adventure right at home. Here is our ultimate checklist (with a free printable!) with lots of backyard camping ideas to make the experience fun and authentic for the whole family!
Our family has enjoyed a few different backyard camping experiences. Most recently was during National Parks week, when we took a virtual tour through the US National Parks. We loved experiencing the majesty of the parks right from home!
We often camp when we visit National Parks in person, so we thought it would be fun to do some backyard camping while exploring National Parks from home. While some of these ideas are specific to being outdoors, many of them work as indoor activities with kids, as well. Indoor camping can also be a really fun family experience!
Our latest backyard campout was our most successful and authentic of all. Our kids loved it just about as much as actual camping (and that’s saying quite a lot)! There were a few things we did to help it feel like a genuine camp experience, so I thought I’d share our backyard camping ideas here. I also put together our ULTIMATE BACKYARD CAMPING CHECKLIST. It’s a perfect way to check off some of the most fun parts of camping!
I hope they help you have a wonderful backyard camping experience, as well!
This guide to backyard camping contains affiliate links, but all opinions are 100% my own. That means I earn a small commission if you purchase through my link, but doesn’t change your price.
Table of Contents
Ultimate Guide to Backyard Camping: Printable Backyard Camping Checklist
Backyard Camping: Tips for Setting Up Camp
The first step to making backyard camping feel like the real thing is to set up camp! Start out by pulling out your tent if you have one. (THIS is a great tent, or this one is perfect for larger families or if you just want a little more space.) Have the kids help out with setting it up, as well as with bringing out sleeping bags (or this is a great one for littler kids), pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, and camping pads (we LOVE these pads that go inside your bag).
The great thing about backyard camping, though, is that you can still do it even if you don’t have any special equipment. If you’re willing to rough it a bit more, you can hang up a clothesline with a sheet, or just make a fort to sleep in. That said, if you’re considering going camping away from home in the future, it’s worth investing in some basic equipment. That way, you’ll get more use out of it and be more comfortable in your backyard!
As part of your setup, consider what activities you’d like to include in your “camp.” If you can, set up a small fire pit (or you could try making one out of a clay pot!). It will be perfect not only for making s’mores, but also for singing songs and telling stories (keep them light and fun if you have younger kiddos). Consider some water activities, such as playing in sprinklers or a hose, or some backyard games like cornhole or bocce ball. You could also bring out some card games or even set up a backyard movie! (We love our projector – we just use it with a white sheet.)
Backyard Camping: Food
Food is undoubtedly one of the most fun parts of camping, and that’s no different when camping in your backyard! You’ll elevate the whole experience if you put just a little bit of time into food preparation.
For dinner, consider doing a traditional campfire dinner such as aluminum foil dinners (don’t forget to use heavy duty foil so it doesn’t tear) or roasting hot dogs over a fire. If you have a grill, that’s also a great and fun choice! If you have a camping grill, now is the perfect time to pull it out. Or you can use your regular grill – we love ours!
Food Equipment for Camping
Here’s some other equipment to have on hand:
- Be sure to have heat protection – these grill gloves are SO useful and so much easier to use than oven mitts.
- These grill mats are super helpful and making cooking on a grill so much easier!
- We love our marshmallow roasting sticks.
- I love these beautiful grill tongs!
Dinner isn’t the only part of camp food. Be sure to make plans for breakfast, dessert, snacks, and drinks. S’mores are a classic dessert option, of course, but consider mixing things up with some unusual toppings. Or you could consider doing a dutch oven cobbler! (You could even just bake it in the oven and bring it out.) For breakfast, consider breakfast sandwiches or burritos with fruit – easy, and everyone can assemble their own.
Plus, add in some trail mix, chips, and popcorn for while you’re hanging out or out on a walk, and don’t forget plenty of water and maybe a fun drink – hot chocolate on a cool morning is always a winner!
Here’s our favorite vegetarian camping food!
Backyard Camping: Nature
To help backyard or indoor camping feel more authentic, try to add in a few elements of nature that you might have if you were out in the wilderness. Even if you can’t go on a hike nearby, take a walk around to a new part of the neighborhood. Look around for different leaves, rocks, or sticks, or set up a nature scavenger hunt.
Even in your own backyard, there are plenty of opportunities to interact with nature. Do some birdwatching, cloud watching, or stargazing. There are lots of different apps that will help you identify everything from constellations to flowers! You could hunt for bugs right around your own home, or find some leaves for leaf art or to make a leaf bracelet or crown.
Or you could also do some nature art by painting rocks or sticks, or you could learn about different types of animal scat. You could even try out a virtual Junior Ranger activity. The options are endless!
Here’s a huge list of over 65 Things to Do Outside with Kids at Home!
Backyard Camping: Skills & Safety
One great advantage of backyard and indoor camping is it provides a safe space to practice skills and safety without actually being in the middle of nowhere. It’s great fun, and perfect as a trial run before camping in the wilderness! These are all definitely great skills to brush up on (or learn) for adults as well as children.
First and most importantly, it’s useful to review some basic first aid. (This great UK Red Cross site provides excellent info on what to teach kids about First Aid, or this book is a wonderful reference). You can cover what to do for a cut or bee sting, and when to call for help. Talk about when to use a whistle, and when to call 911.
It’s also useful to discuss things like:
- Fire safety (stop, drop, roll), and how to build a proper campfire
- Water/boat safety (always wear a life jacket near open water!)
- Knot tying (we love this knots book for kids)
- Leave No Trace Principles
- Proper food safety and storage (bear boxes!)
- Hiking safety (stay with a buddy and always carry water, as well as hiking essentials)
- Knife safety/using a pocketknife (this could be a great opportunity to learn some whittling – or a pocketknife could even be a really fun prize for an older child who wants to pass off some new skills!)
All these would also be perfect things to learn to practice going camping away from home, as well. It’s a wonderful way to make a backyard campout fun, engaging, authentic, and useful. Here are some of our favorite activity books for kids that teach some of these useful skills:
FREE Backyard Camping Printable Checklist
Here’s our FREE printable so you can have a fun and enriching backyard campout. It has tons of backyard camping ideas as a starting point for a connective, educational, and exciting at home activity for kids!
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