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Family camping trips - How to make the most of your getaway

Camping is the ultimate in outdoor family fun and is loaded with benefits for parents and kids alike. It provides adventure and unlimited opportunities to experience the great outdoors. It's also an excellent way for kids to learn about nature, from plants and animals to the weather and skies. Historical landmarks and different regions offer lessons in history. And parents get a break from the daily responsibilities of life and a little relaxation. Not to mention, it's an affordable way for families to vacation.

What’s the best way to camp?

Your family can choose from a variety of camping options. If you love the experience of roughin' it, pitch a tent and haul the bare necessities. Tents come in many sizes and styles, some with dividers for separate sleeping quarters. When purchasing a tent, remember capacity doesn't include luggage space. If you plan to keep belongings in your tent, opt for a larger size. Most importantly, don't forget padding or a blow-up mattress to insulate against the cold, hard ground.

If you like the idea of roughing it, yet want some of the comforts of home, a pop-up camper is the best of both worlds. The canvas sides and pullout sections of pop-ups are surrounded by screens and give the feeling of sleeping in the fresh outdoors. Pop-ups come in several sizes and often include an icebox or mini-refrigerator, heater, air conditioning, portable toilet, shower, kitchen sink, stove, cabinets and storage space, dining table, and other necessities.

Some families prefer going in style. Travel trailers and motorhomes offer a luxurious nighttime retreat after a day of outdoor fun. The ease in loading and unloading these shelters is excellent for moving from campsite to campsite, making cross-country camping less work. Motorhomes and travel trailers often have a full-size kitchen, living room complete with sofa and chairs, and separate bedrooms for comfort and privacy.

Don't overlook the option of a cozy cabin in the woods. Cabin rentals are sometimes found at campgrounds or in cabin resorts. Cabins range from basic single-room shelters containing only beds to completely furnished three or four-room units, including kitchenettes. When reserving a cabin, ask what is supplied before you go so you'll arrive prepared while avoiding unnecessary packing. And don't forget to ask about electricity, lights, and water.

Camping costs

The cost of travel can make family vacations a rare treat, but the affordability of camping may allow for frequent getaways. Overnight fees range from a free night's stay on crown land (no showers, toilets, electricity, or water) to $100 or more per night at some private campsites. These top-of-the-line campgrounds are often loaded with amenities from built-in swimming pools to live entertainment.

Provincial park campgrounds vary in quality and range of amenities. Still, these are often the best deal for families interested in experiencing all that nature has to offer. Fees for overnight accommodations in provincial parks typically range from $8 to $31 per night. Many provincial park campgrounds have modern facilities, including flush toilets, showers, grassy or gravel sites, playgrounds, stores nearby for firewood and ice, and more. Furthermore, provincial park campgrounds frequently offer extensive hiking or biking trails nearby, natural wonders, historical sites, and more at a much lower price than private campgrounds.

Camping also helps keep other vacation expenses to a minimum. Many families prefer cooking over the campfire to eating out. Additionally, most outdoor camping activities are free or available for minimal cost.

Fun camping activities

Whatever your family's interests, there is plenty to see and do. Trails offer ample activities such as collecting rocks, leaves, or insects, scouting for wildlife, learning about plants and trees, and practicing survival skills. You can also go on hiking excursions, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams offer fishing, swimming, row boating or canoeing, sunbathing, and more.

Wildlife viewing is often a highlight. Look for animals early in the morning or at dusk on dirt roads and trails, in open fields surrounded by woods, and near water. Be patient, walk slowly and quietly, and don’t forget binoculars.

Other activities include nature programs, nature centers, and historical sites, flying kites, rollerblading or bicycling on paved trails, and more.

When you're ready to relax, light a campfire, and enjoy reading or storytelling, play cards or board games, watch the sunset, stargaze, and roast marshmallows.

What to take

Buy a couple of large plastic totes with lids to carry and store your camping supplies. The following are some of the basics you'll want to take:

  • Reusable plastic cups (labeled to save on washing)
  • Silverware
  • Plates and bowls
  • Paper towels, food storage bags, and tinfoil
  • A cooking source such as a one or two- burner stove
  • An aluminum pot and skillet
  • Cooking utensils and can opener
  • Coffee pot
  • Tablecloth
  • Ice chest, food, and drinks
  • Drinking water and large water container
  • Dish soap and dishcloths
  • Insect repellent and sunscreen
  • Folding chairs
  • Backpack
  • Radio, flashlight, and batteries
  • Lantern and matches
  • Firewood (unless available near your campground)
  • Knife and hatchet
  • Rope and twine
  • First-aid kit
  • Sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows
  • Air mattress or padding
  • Personal hygiene items and toilet paper
  • Towels and washcloths
  • Bikes, rollerblades, balls, fishing, and other sports equipment
  • Camera and binoculars
  • Clothing for all types of weather, rain gear, and walking shoes or hiking boots

What not to take

Don’t get carried away with packing, or camping will become a chore. Make a list, then weed out items you don’t really need. Portable televisions detract from outdoor fun, so leave yours at home.

Think it through before taking your pet. Some campgrounds don't allow pets, and even if they do, pets cannot be left unattended. A pet can hinder many activities, including public beaches, where dogs often aren't allowed.

Easy camp foods

There are many ways to cook. Buy a gas or liquid fuel camping stove. If electricity is available, a crockpot or electric griddle works well. You can also carry a charcoal or small gas grill or cook over an open fire.

Keep meals simple to minimize packing, preparation, and clean up. Easy choices include hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, steak, sandwiches, eggs, bacon, sausage, crockpot meals, sweet corn, baked potatoes, canned foods such as baked beans, tuna, chicken, spaghetti, ravioli, and soup, fresh fruit, vegetables and dip, bagels, English muffins, cereal, fruit juice, and hot cocoa.

On the other hand, if you enjoy cooking and tasty meals are one of the highlights for your family, then make the most of mealtime. With all the options for cooking, you can easily enjoy a gourmet feast.

Camping tips

Camping is often a learn-as-you-go experience. But the following can alleviate hassles and keep your family safe.

Protect your food from animals and animals from your food by blocking access. Animals can find their way into nearly anything. A cooler that latches is usually a safe bet. All food should be stored in your vehicle overnight, if possible. Review Alberta’s BearSmart guidelines here:

Teach your kids animal safety. Wild animals usually want to avoid humans as much as we want to avoid them. Still, they can pose risks. Cougars, coyotes and bobcats usually stay away from people, but have been known to attack humans. Bear interactions with humans can be disastrous for both parties. Even small animals, like nesting birds and small mammals like squirrels, that feel threatened may attack.

Poor weather can strike at any time, and insect infestations can also make for a miserable experience. Make additional shelter such as a screen tent or tarps and rope part of your camping gear.

Arrive at your camp destination ahead of the crowd. Every campsite is unique, and early arrival can assure a site that satisfies your needs.

When selecting a site, look for proximity to restrooms, the playground, electricity, and water. If you have young kids, make sure the site isn't close to a river or lake. The amount of shade you'll want may depend on the weather forecast. To avoid mud in the event of rain, choose a grassy or rock site. Also, stay away from a site that backs up to outhouses, which can smell in the heat and wind.

Kimberly is a freelance writer. She also owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed, and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera and more at


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