The Ultimate Camping Bucket List

September 28, 2023

15 Things Every Camper Should Do at Least Once

No trip to Disneyland is complete without meeting Mickey Mouse, riding “It’s a Small World” and watching the fireworks go off behind Cindarella’s castle. Similarly, there are certain milestones associated with camping. Fortunately, escaping into the woods isn’t as expensive as taking a trip to Disneyland. And you don’t need to be in Anaheim to do it. In other words, it’s OK if you don’t complete all the camping “musts” in one trip. After all, camping is often about relaxing. No one wants the pressure of having to check a bunch of things off a list in the course of one weekend. Still, conquering challenges can be exciting and it’s definitely rewarding. Whether you camp four times a year or full-time, below is the ultimate camping bucket list. And no, you don’t need to do the items in order.

Going Camping? Here is the Ultimate Camping Bucket List

1. Reel in a trophy trout (or any fish)

Camping and fishing go together like football and tailgating. You can do one without the other, but they’re more fun when done at the same time. Regardless of what they say, every angler is after the big kahuna. Fortunately for this bucket list item, the word trophy is subjective. It may be four inches, or forty inches. You decide. And just because you caught it doesn’t mean you have to keep it. (You just need to take a photo because pics or it didn’t happen.)

Pancake cooking in a cast iron pan over a campfire.

2. Cook over an open fire

If you do decide to keep your catch, try cooking it over the fire. There’s something primal about preparing food over an open flame like our ancestors did thousands of years ago. Is using the grate at the campfire ring cheating? No, but if you do want to do it the old fashioned way, consider cooking directly on the coals or creating a tripod with branches and hanging your pot from the center.

Father teaching young daughter about campfire safety on a camping trip.

3. Build a fire without matches or a lighter

If you want even more of a challenge, build your fire without the help of matches or a lighter. You can use a magnifying glass, flint and steel or friction. If you opt for the rubbing-a-spindle-against-a-baseboard route, just remember to be patient. And persistent. This is the hardest way to build a fire.

Woman resting on a hammock at a green forest campsite by a mountain stream.

4. Take a nap in a hammock

This next one sounds easy. But if the bugs are bad, the dog wants you to throw their ball or you have kids who are constantly asking when they can start s’mores, you know it’s not easy to nap outside during the day. Still, a snooze between the trees can be super satisfying. Thirty minutes of napping in the hammock is probably equivalent to an hour sleeping in the comfort of your RV.

5. Master the science of the s’more

Whether or not they’re one of your favorite camping desserts, the DIY aspect of s’mores is appealing. Getting the right ratio of chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker is just the beginning. You still have to perfectly toast the marshmallow, adequately melt the chocolate and finally, be able to fit the whole thing in your mouth without making a mess. First, decide what your ideal s’more looks and tastes like. Then practice getting consistent at making it. Pro tip: recruit someone to eat your mistakes so you don’t get a bellyache.

6. Become a Junior Ranger

It’s not just national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite that have the Junior Ranger program. There are hundreds of sites managed by the national park service that offer these prestigious badges for the pint-sized members of your family. See how many your kids can collect in just one camping season or over the course of their childhood.

Young woman with her boston terrier dog watching the sunset sitting on the bed of her camper van.

7. Camp on a beach

Most people associate camping with the woods, not the waves. But there’s something special about falling asleep to the sound of the surf and waking up with your toes in the sand. While many beaches don’t allow camping, it’s definitely possible to find amazing coastal camping spots. Just make sure to do a good job of cleaning your tent when you get home since salt water can wreak havoc on your gear if given a chance.

A middle aged couple is packing their backpacks and checking the route for a day of hiking.

8. Go backpacking

The most comfortable kind of camping involves driving right up to your site. But if you really want to feel accomplished, try backpacking. It will give you a greater appreciation for everything you pack, and it will encourage you to pack lighter. Even if you never do it again, you’ll like knowing that you’re capable of hiking in and hiking out if you have to.

Woman sitting relaxed outside a tent.

9. Solo camp

Another new way to experience camping is to go by yourself. It may sound counterintuitive since part of the fun of camping is hanging out with other people. But you’ll be surprised at how peaceful it can be to just be in nature sans distractions. Bring a trashy novel you’d be embarrassed to read in public or pack that knitting project you’ve been working on for way too long – just enjoy being in nature and not having to take care of anyone but yourself for a change.

Man sitting at the door of his tent looking out over the winter snow.

10. Winter camp

Perhaps the hardest way to camp is to go when there’s snow on the ground. Still, there’s something magical about camping in a winter wonderland. The trick is to pack warm clothing and plenty of hot cocoa. You’ll also want a four-season tent if you don’t have an RV or can’t get cabin reservations. Of course, if you want serious bragging rights, sign up for an overnight winter survival course where you build your own snow shelter to crash in.

Man diving in a mountain lake.

11. Polar plunge in a glacial lake

Speaking of embracing the cold, few things are as refreshing as taking a dip in a glacial lake. Just make sure the body of water you’re at allows swimming, and you don’t stay in the water too long. This is also a bucket list item you’ll probably want to document, since it might be a one-and-done for you depending on your cold tolerance.

Father son on an adventure hiking through the mountain side at sunrise.

12. Summit a mountain for sunrise

You might not be happy about having to get up so early and hiking in the dark, but you’ll have no regrets once the sun starts to come up, and you have million-dollar views. Pro tip: pack a headlamp for the trip up and a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate for the sunrise. Anyone who wants to stay behind and sleep in can be in charge of having breakfast ready when you return.

Jasper National Park Dark Sky. Canadian Rockies summer night. Stunning natural scenery background.

13. See a meteor shower

One of the best parts of camping is sleeping under the stars and actually being able to see them thanks to the lack of light pollution. And while the constellations you can see most nights are spectacular, seeing a meteor shower is next level. Fortunately, there are about 30 per year that are visible on earth according to NASA. The American Meteor Society has a calendar that will tell you when to expect the next one.

Hoodoos at Last Light from Ramparts Point of Cedar Breaks

14. Visit every national park

The U.S. currently has 63 National Parks spread out over 29 states including Hawaii and Alaska. There’s an elite club of people who have been to all 63, and the best part? Anyone who visits all of them is automatically a member! There’s also no age limit. Grandma Joy, 93, recently became the oldest person in the world to join the club.

Daughter and mother hiking in forest using compass and map to navigate

15. Learn how to navigate with a compass

Every device these days seems to have GPS, but of course it’s only good when you have service. That’s why one of the first skills scouts learn is how to navigate by compass. They actually have orienteering competitions to see who can reach checkpoints the fastest.

KOA Author Katie JacksonKatie Jackson is a writer and media specialist based in Montana’s Big Sky Country. Living and working everywhere from New York to Nicaragua, Katie is no stranger to adventure. When she’s not traveling the world (or writing about it!) she’s busy chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus. Follow Katie’s travels on Instagram @katietalkstravel.


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