Planning Your First Family Camping Trip

planning a camping trip with kids

Are you gearing up for your Want to take your kids camping but not sure how to prepare? Worried about what things you need to take with you? What you can do to set yourself up for the best outcome?

Will this be your first family camping trip? These were certainly our worries before taking our kids camping for the first time! If any of this sounds familiar, read on for how to plan your first camping trip with kids!

Intimidated by Camping with Kids

We have been planning our first camping trip for two years! Well, not exactly planning, but it has been on our mind that long!

Two summers ago, when our oldest turned 6 we started thinking about finally taking the kids camping….the issues we had were multiple though:

  • Our youngest was only a year old and a very poor sleeper
  • We owned none of the right gear
  • We had lots of other summer plans, including two trips requiring flights with three kids!

So what we started doing was slowly researching some gear, watching out for summer sales, and overall hoping to get prepared for our first family camping trip the following summer. Here’s where we started:

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Steps for Planning Your First Family Camping Trip

  1. Find a Camping Spot
  2. Making a packing list
  3. Collect or buy necessary gear
  4. Practice setting up your tent at home
  5. Pack and go!

Well, summer 2018 came around, and by then we owned a tent and the kids had gotten sleeping bags for their birthdays. So my first step was researching good camping spots in close distance to New York City.

our first family camping trip campsite

Choosing a Campground and Campsite

Generally speaking, you will want to choose a campground ahead of time during the summer camping season, as sites book up quickly. This is especially true if you are looking to camp on the weekend.

For your first family camping trip, I suggest choosing a campground that is not too far from home. You know your driving stamina with kids.

For your first trip I suggest somewhere not too far so you can arrive earlier in the day and have plenty of time to get set up! You do not want to stress of a setting sun while trying to get your tent up for the first time!

Find a Campground

Search for camp grounds on your state park websites, or try these:

Consider which amenities you need to feel comfortable: flush toilets, picnic seating for meals, potable water, trash collection, grilling stations, etc. Not all campground will have all of these available.

Choose a Campsite

Once you have chosen your campground, then it’s time to reserve a specific site. If your campground has a map, take a look and try to choose a spot that will best serve your family.

We prefer not to be too close to the restrooms or trash containers, both for the smell factor, but also because of the foot traffic.

Double check that you are booking a drive-in site, or a campsite that has parking nearby, or else you may have to carry in your gear. This doesn’t have to be a big deal, but can be tricky with little kids!

Camping In and Around New York City

There are actually many camping options around New York City. You can even camp within city parks at certain times. There are glamping tents on Governors Island, and camping options in Gateway National Recreation Area in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

We were ready to travel further out of the city, up to two hours drive, so our next step was checking out the New York State Parks. There are so many camping options in New York! We consulted with some friends that are experienced campers and narrowed down our options to two:

  1. Taconic State Park- Rudd Pond
  2. Kenneth L Wilson Campground

Where will we go? Check back in a couple of weeks for the recap! Hint: it wasn’t either of these! (womp, womp)

Family Camping Packing List

Having a packing list is essential when you have little kids around. The easiest way to ensure you have everything you need for your first family camping trip is to print out a list and check things off.

For this next task, I did some internet research and read up on tips for what gear to take. I roughly divided our list into sleeping gear, and cooking gear to make it easier to pack.

This is the packing list we use for our camping trips. Click to print a copy!

Family Camping Essentials List

If you prefer a typed up list, here you go. Links are to products we own or similar versions! Where we have multiples, I’ve referred to my camping gear guides so that you can choose the best version for your family!

  • Tent
  • Tent kit (stakes/mallet)
  • Tarp
  • Flash lights/Lantern (<this lantern is amazing!)
  • Extra Batteries for flash lights
  • Sleeping bags
  • Camping pads
  • Extra blankets
  • Pillows (inflatable pillows)
  • Towels (microfiber quick dry!)
  • Raincoats
  • Clothes- use a Ziplock bag, with appx. 2 outfits each/per day
  • Hats
  • Bathing suits
  • Flip flops/crocs (for showering)
  • First aid kit
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, paste, soap, hair products)
  • Baby wipes (must have!!!)
  • Insect repellant (<this one is the best!)
  • Sunscreen (<the absolute best one for kids and parents!)
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand soap
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Camping Chairs
  • Duct tape
  • Firewood
  • Fire starters (newspaper)
  • Roasting sticks (surprised by how much we loved these cheap ones)
  • Cast iron pan
  • Coffee pot (how cute is this one? or bring your French press or Turkish coffee pot)
  • Water bottles
  • Knives
  • Cutting boards
  • Plates
  • Mugs
  • Bowl
  • Utensils
  • Aluminum foil
  • Ziplock bags
  • Paper towels
  • Sponge
  • Dish soap
  • Cleaning wipes
  • Trash bags
  • Can opener
  • Bottle opener
  • Pot holder
  • Tongs
  • Tablecloth
  • Mini broom (comes with tent kit)
  • Shovel (for putting out fire)
  • Camera
  • Glow sticks
  • Citronella candle
  • Deck of cards
  • Rope for hanging towels
  • Bucket (for water near fire)
  • Whistle- we use the ones attached to the kids’ backpacks!
  • Doormat
  • Swiss army knife
  • Meat thermometer

For the New Campers: How to Choose Family Camping Gear

The Best Tip for Family Camping

An easy tip I read was to pack your cooking gear in a clear bin, to make things easier to find. This serves double duty, helping keep things clean while you are camping. If you have the space for it, you can leave this bin always packed away so that you don’t have to pack and repack throughout the camping season.

Related: The Best Paleo Camping Meals!

This has been great advice! We keep our bin packed in the garage, and it’s easy to pull out when we want to go camping. I also love, that I can see from the outside what is inside without having to rummage through!

clear bin for camping
gear pile for camping

Practice Setting up a Tent

Let’s say we already have all of our camping gear, the one non-negotiable tip I read was to practice setting up your tent! The last thing you want to happen on your first camping trip with kids, is that you get there and then can’t figure out the tent.

We actually went so far as to having completed this step last year!!! Except, then the weather turned to fall and seeing as we are not cold weather fans, we decided to put it off, yet again.

setting up a tent

Preparing for Your First Family Camping Trip

So let’s review:

  1. Find a place to camp and make a reservation!
  2. Make a packing list.
  3. Buy or borrow camping gear.
  4. Practice setting up the tent.
  5. Pack up cooking gear in a clear bin.

There’s only one thing left to do- go camping! This is the year! We are too excited for our first family camping trip. How about you?

For reference, the kids were 3, 6, and 8 years old when we went camping for the first time. We were not expecting them to be much help, but on the other hand, they should (hopefully) be cooperative. (Update: they were great!) The excitement is building! Wish us luck!

Have you been camping with your kids? Do you have any more tips for me?

Not yet ready to go camping? Save this post for later!

8 thoughts on “Planning Your First Family Camping Trip”

  1. I like that you mention that you should practice setting up a tent before you go camping. My husband has been wanting to get the family together outside of the house. I think we should find an outdoor store where we can get a tent and an outdoor climbing net.

  2. Oh my gosh! I would be terrified to go camping as a family…always worry that I’d forget something and we’d have a horrible trip. Thanks so much for sharing these tips and especially the packing list!

  3. So good to have such a great overview to help you organise yourself. I always think I’ll forget something and it’s only two of us for the moment 🙂

  4. Such a helpful post, and a great list of essentials. I think testing setting up the tent at home is so important. It always takes longer than you think it will, and if the light of the day is not on your side then it’s always a rush to get the tent put up. I did some long hikes last summer and that was our biggest issue, getting set up before dark

  5. These are great tips! We have 4 kids as well, but haven’t done a ton of camping together. When we finally go for it, this list will come in handy!

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