Sure, many love nursing an ice-cold beer, hot toddy, or other adult beverage when they’re camping, but you certainly don’t need booze to sip something fun around the fire. Maybe you want to make something for everybody to enjoy, including teetotalers and children; maybe you just want a break from the hard stuff.
Either way, here are some ideas for “mocktails” and other non-alcoholic drinks that taste especially good when enjoyed in front of some dancing flames at your KOA cabin or campsite.
1. Mulled Cider
It’s hard to beat the coziness felt when sipping a mug of mulled cider under the stars. You can either buy premixed mulling spices for this or use whole spices of your own choosing. For the latter approach, you might go with something like this, depending on your personal tastes:
- Stick of cinnamon
- 1-2 cloves
- 1-2 cardamom pods
- 1 star anise pod
- 2 allspice berries
- Piece of ginger
Simmer apple cider with these whole spices or a tea-ball infuser filled with a mulling spice mix and a couple of orange slices for 15 minutes or so. Taste to see if it’s flavorful enough yet and if it’s not, give it a little more time. If you’ve got campers in your party who are looking for an alcoholic beverage to enjoy, they can easily spike their cider cup with a bit of brandy or bourbon, and everybody’s happy.
2. Fruity Lemonade or Limeade Cooler
A lemonade or limeade enhanced with some muddled fruit makes a very refreshing summer’s drink for those campfire hangouts. Take some strawberry—or whichever berry gets you going—and mash it at the bottom of a glass. Fill glass halfway with lemonade or limeade, then finish filling the cup with soda water. Add some fresh mint for good measure, and you’re ready for the (booze-free) races.
3. Virgin Mule
As it just so happens, ginger beer and lime juice taste plenty good without the vodka (or whatever other spirit you prefer in your “mule” or “buck”).
A squirt or two of lime juice works fine and makes for hassle-free prep, but you can also crank up the flavor for your mocktail mule by making a simple lime syrup ahead of your camping trip. This one from chef Rick Bayless (via Martha Stewart) uses:
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 T fresh-squeezed lime juice
Combine the above in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring steadily until the sugar dissolves. Then take off the heat and allow it to cool.
You can keep this refrigerated for as long as a week. Add about a tablespoon to a glass of ginger beer and garnish with a fresh lime slice for your Virgin Mule.
4. Coconut Water Mojito Mocktail
Enjoy that mojito zestiness without the hard stuff by using coconut water to amp up the flavor of your mocktail substitute! To make a virgin mojito, you can use the same lime simple syrup employed with the Virgin Mule or just go with lime juice.
Pour a tablespoon or so of the syrup or juice into a glass with a few mint leaves and mix. Add some ice and fill ‘er up with coconut water and a few splashes of sparkling water or club soda. Garnish with a lime wedge or two and some more mint leaves, and you’ll inject the campfire proceedings with a jolt of tropical refreshment.
5. Golden Milk
Golden milk has boomed in popularity over the past few years. It’s easy to prepare and can be made ahead of time, to boot. It’s perfect at the campsite as a tasty, warming, chai-esque beverage. There are lots of ways to make it, including this version from Epicurious:
Here’s what you need:
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 cup water
- 1 one-inch piece of unpeeled, thinly sliced turmeric, or ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder
- 1 half-inch piece of unpeeled, thin-sliced ginger
- 1 T honey
- 1 T virgin coconut oil
- ¼ tsp whole black peppercorns
- Ground cinnamon
Combine all of the above except for the ground cinnamon in a small saucepan and heat to a small boil, then lower to a simmer for about 10 minutes.
You can serve this immediately by pouring through a fine sieve, or store in an airtight container for as many as five days; then just warm it up at the campground before drinking. The ground cinnamon’s for sprinkling on top of the milk in the mug.
6. Flavored Water
It might not sound like the most exciting drink in the world, but flavored water’s all the rage these days, and it translates beautifully to a camping setting. Just fill a jug with water, add some sliced cucumbers or oranges, and let sit a few hours to allow the flavors to soak in. You can keep this jug in a camping cooler (or, hey, the fridge of your KOA Deluxe Cabin!), or simply add ice to your glass when you dispense from it. You’ll want to stay hydrated when you’ve got this to wet your whistle.
7. Hot Cocoa With Nut Milk
Hot cocoa around the campfire is as classic as it comes, and probably the first thing most folks think of when considering an evening-ready camping beverage that’s sans alcohol, so what better note to close on for this here roundup?
Here’s an easy recipe from KOA for whipping up your own homemade hot cocoa mix. If you’re keen on saving space in the cooler for camping, you can use coconut milk, almond milk, or another nut milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated until it’s opened as a substitute for cow’s milk.
Written by Ethan Shaw for Matcha in partnership with Kampgrounds of America.