Camping with Kids: A Quick and Dirty Getting Started Guide

Camping with your kids can be a rewarding experience: getting outdoors, falling asleep to crickets (or in the case of North Alabama, cicadas), waking to the sound of an owl, spying some deer, eating s’mores. You get the picture.

What can ruin the experience: whiny kids without their electronics (I’m BOOOOOORED!!), forgetting a key camping supply (matches, bug spray, tongs), or rain. With that in mind, here’s a list of things to put you on the road to a memorable – in a good way – camping trip.

Start with a Great Campground

There are several Alabama State Parks within easy driving distance from the Huntsville area. We really love Monte Sano State Park, with the planetarium and lots of hiking trails. Even though it’s very close to home, it’s a nice get-away for last-minute camping trips.

If we do a little more planning, we’ll head down to DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne. It seems like the park and general area always have something going on like Campfire Talks and classes with a survivalist bent. Plus, they have one of two naturalists working for the state stationed there. Be sure to check out the Nature Programs calendar before planning your trip.

BONUS: How to build a proper fire here.


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Camping fire

Then, there’s Oak Mountain State Park (south of Birmingham) with hiking and biking trails, a BMX track, boating, horseback riding (and a petting zoo!) and more, plus a favorite place of ours: The Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

PRO TIP: If your kids are easily bored, Oak Mountain State Park has a gold mine of activities and it’s close to civilization. However, DeSoto is close to Little River Canyon, a National Park Service National Preserve, and they have a Junior Ranger Program. Maybe you’ll get to meet Larry the Park Ranger!

Find a Good Checklist and Fun Activities

Your checklist will be personal to your family, but you can get a good start on it by checking out lists others have developed. It’s tempting to over-bring and common to forget the obvious, but if you have a checklist specifically for your family, you can be more efficient when packing up your car or camper. Take what you need from the lists below and leave the rest!

Camping moon


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Be sure to add bikes or scooters and helmets to your list along with some good activities for the kids, like…

      • Have them hunt for pine cones and twigs for campfire kindling. This is fun AND helpful and will occupy them while you unpack or pitch the tent.
      • Send them on a scavenger hunt! There are lots to choose from on the Internet, but I really like this one and this one. Don’t forget pencils!
      • Have some back up activities (in case of rain) like board and card games, books, and favorite (compact) toys.
      • Play some great campground games.
      • PRO TIP: GLOW STICKS! The end.

Serve Up Some Fantastic Campfire Foods

Although kids may think campfire cooking begins and ends with s’mores, you need more than sugar to keep you fueled during your camping trip. Plus, campfire cooking can be a lot of fun.

First, you have to think of your equipment. Monte Sano and Oak Mountain have a built-in grills on the fire pit, but DeSoto doesn’t, so you’ll need a campfire cooking grate (something like this) for cooking anything other than hotdogs and hobo packs.

camping friends


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Of course, anything you’d cook over fire at home, you can cook over a campfire – it’s the prepping that makes the difference. Cutting up meats and veggies prior to the trip is ideal. That way, you’re just cooking and not having to worry about a large knife and cutting board (and cleaning up after cutting up meats).

There are tons of websites with campfire cooking ideas – from classic, Dutch oven recipes to every flavor dietary restriction you can think of – more than I can list here.

PRO TIP: Make a batch of soup or chili, freeze it in a large ziplock bag, and use it to cool other foods in your cooler. It will thaw a bit so you can just pop it in a heavy-duty pot over the fire when you’re ready. This is my family’s favorite.