Once upon a time, the words “camping trip” and “roughing it” generally meant the same thing: a family vacation in the great outdoors with bare-bones amenities, simple meals, and a little too much heat, cold, rain, or wind at some point during the trip.
These days, camping (and its cushier cousin, glamping) has evolved into an experience that appeals to dedicated nature-lovers, plugged-in teens, and everyone in between. While hardcore adventurers can still experience the thrill of the backcountry, many families opt for an outdoor experience that’s enhanced by a few home-away-from-home conveniences. You can spruce up your tent with string lights, furniture, extra rooms, and plush bedding. RVs, meanwhile, come equipped with the comforts of home, some with multiple bathrooms and elevated decks. And many campgrounds now offer accommodations like teepees and yurts, as well as pools, playgrounds, snack bars, and even mini-golf courses.
The result? Camping is back—and better than ever as an ideal vacation for all ages and interests. The next time you’re craving some back-to-nature togetherness, use these tips to help you plan a camping trip the whole family will love.
Choose the Right Campsite
There’s nothing like waking up surrounded by nature, with the smell of fresh air and the sound of birds chirping—a wonderfully relaxing way to start the day. But not all campgrounds offer the same experiences. Start your trip planning with a little research into the best type of campground and campsite for your family.
For travel days when you need a quick in-and-out overnight stop between destinations, KOA Journey campgrounds are an excellent option. Campsite set-up is a cinch thanks to Pull-Thru RV Sites and premium tent sites, while late check-ins offer flexibility for those times when you just didn’t get out the door as early as you planned to. Holiday campgrounds, meanwhile, are a solid pick when you’re setting up base camp to explore the parks and attractions nearby; options include Premium Tent Sites, RV sites with a KOA Patio, and Deluxe Cabins. Deluxe Cabins come with a full bath, beds, a small kitchen, and cable TV, so you’ll have all the conveniences of home, along with outdoor adventure right at your doorstep.
Looking for a cushier getaway? On-site restaurants, resort-style pools, and other amenities are all part of the offerings at KOA Resort campgrounds. If you’re vacationing with other families or planning a family reunion, on-site facilities are perfect for group gatherings. Like Holiday campgrounds, Resort campgrounds offer Premium Tent Sites, RV sites with a KOA Patio, and Deluxe Cabins to choose from during your stay.
Prepare Like a Pro
The perfect campground and a scenic campsite won’t keep your campers happy if you haven’t packed the essentials to stay warm, safe, and dry. About a week beforehand, monitor the weather conditions at your destination and watch for changes in the forecast in the days leading up to your camping trip. If you’re in the mountains, factor in cooler temperatures and possible wind at higher elevations; for hotter destinations, be sure to stock up on sunblock. Make sure everyone brings layers of clothing for quick changes in temperature.
To simplify trip prep, keep a camping checklist handy, give everyone a copy so they can pack their own bag, and do a gear check a day or two before you leave.
See the Sights
With so many fun things to do in camp, you may not want to leave. But some local landmarks and attractions are just too good to miss. Use the KOA Trip Planner before you leave home and download the KOA Camping App to use once you’re on the road to plan your travel route and navigate to your destination.
Whether you’re roasting hot dogs over an open fire or whipping up a multi-course meal in your RV or cabin kitchen, you’ll find recipes to satisfy all palates on the KOA Blog. It’s easy as pie to ramp up your camping culinary game with tips on everything from meal prep for large groups to how to cook with campfire foil packets. You can also find variations on camping classics like s’mores and mac and cheese, as well as special occasion recipes like Thanksgiving turkey and Easter treats that add a camping twist to holiday traditions.
Take Advantage of Campground Fun
Instead of running from one park or attraction to another every day while you’re on vacation, be sure to factor in plenty of time enjoying all that your campground has to offer. Maybe it’s playing with your pup at the Kamp K9 dog park or savoring an ice cream cone from the snack bar with the kiddos. Active types will love campground amenities like climbing walls, paddle boats, and waterslides. And, when the sun sets, pop up some popcorn and spread out a blanket for outdoor movie night–a popular summer event at many KOA campgrounds—under the stars.
Many campgrounds also offer special family activities (and some have theme weekends with organized crafts and games), so check out the calendar of events before leaving home. Finally, for some old-school family fun, hiking the trails and fishing in the lake are always hands-down winners for all generations.
It’s also a good idea to open the conversation beforehand to find out what every family member wants to do on vacation: Little ones might love a group hike, for example, but perhaps the biggest priority for teens is simply chilling at the pool. Avoid cramming too much into your itinerary and factor in some free time, and everyone is likely to enjoy themselves more (and stress less).
With a little bit of planning, you’ll find a family camping trip isn’t intimidating. Instead, it offers a reasonably priced way to see the country, bond with your loved ones, and enjoy nature—not to mention make beautiful memories together.
Written by Ann Gibson for Matcha in partnership with Kampgrounds of America and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].