On the surface, a family camping adventure seems idyllic: s’mores by the fire, bedtime stories by flashlight, and simply unplugging to enjoy nature — and each other’s company — for a couple days.
However, when the logistics come into play, you may have second thoughts. Where to go? What to pack? How to entertain the kids? Which meals to make? How to ensure everyone sleeps comfortably? Don’t let these questions dampen your enthusiasm. With a little planning, everyone can have a great time.
From toddlers to teenagers, seasoned campers to tent-pitching newbies, there’s a family camping adventure that’s perfect for you. Check out these ideas to plan your family’s perfect excursion.
Where to Go
While it might not be 100 percent “roughing it,” the amenities offered by established campgrounds are very convenient, especially for families with young children. Many campgrounds throughout the state offer things like bathrooms, shower houses, commissaries, playgrounds, pools and even sites with electricity. In addition, sites often include a picnic table and fire ring, so all you have to do is pitch a tent and unload the car.
Ohio State Parks
Fifty-seven parks offer camping. Close-to-home options with family-friendly amenities include Geneva State Park, Punderson State Park, West Branch State Park and Findley State Park.
Akron Canton Jellystone Park
12712 Hoover Ave. NW, Uniontown
Clay’s Park Resort
13190 Patterson St. NW,
If you’re more about “glamping” than camping, add a roof, indoor plumbing and beds (and, depending on the location, heat/air conditioning, a kitchen, linens, maybe even a hot tub) by renting a cabin. Just be sure to plan some outdoor activities and limit screentime so your family still gets to experience nature at its finest.
Hocking Hills Cabin Rentals
Various locations, just south of Columbus
23164 Vess Road, Glenmont
Atwood Lake Park
9500 Lakeview Road NE, Mineral City
Off the Beaten Path
No plumbing? No problem. For seasoned campers or families with older kids, consider going primitive for a true “live off the land” experience.
Lake Metroparks offers rustic camping at nine parks. Sites are set back from developed areas and campers must hike or paddle to reach them.
Wayne National Forest
With a welcome center located in Nelsonville, this park allows primitive camping away from developed campgrounds and anywhere that your camping equipment and/or vehicles do not block developed trails or road rights of way.
Life’s a Beach
Add an element of fun in the sun to your camping trip by pitching a tent on or near a Lake Erie beach.
Ohio State Parks
Set up camp steps away from the sand at Kelleys Island State Park and Middle Bass Island State Park. Or stay at Geneva State Park or East Harbor State Park for a traditional campground feel with easy access to the beach.
Lighthouse Point Campground
RV sites, cottages and camping are offered on the Cedar Point peninsula, with access to the beach included. OK, so a quick visit to Cedar Point’s Camp Snoopy or a thrilling ride on Steel Vengeance isn’t exactly roughing it — but it takes care of the question of how to entertain the kids.
Think Outside the Box
Founded in 2013, Hipcamp is the Airbnb of the camping world. If you want a particular area or amenity that’s not offered at local campgrounds, Hipcamp connects you with private landowners. You can search by location, date or amenity, with each Hipcamp host’s profile providing photos, details, rates and reviews. Here are a few local options:
Heritage Farms in CVNP, Peninsula
Bath Hollow Farm @ CVNP, Bath
Harmony Fields, Grafton
Permaculture Farm Stay, Chardon
If you and/or your kids have never camped before, nothing beats your own backyard as a trial run. This option is particularly toddler-friendly, as bathrooms, snacks and beds are close by in case the night proves to be restless.
To make the experience authentic, set up a tent, toast marshmallows while telling stories around a fire, then hit the sleeping bags. A portable sound machine or smartphone app can provide rustic background noise if your suburban neighborhood is somewhat noisy. Outdoor string lights can make the setting more fun — plus provide a well-lit path into the house for bathroom trips.
Get the Gear
Of course, there are the basics: tent, sleeping bags, cooler and flashlights. But to make your camping adventure go as smoothly as possible, consider purchasing (or borrowing) the following items.
- Matches, newspaper or kindling
- Bug spray
- Hand sanitizer
- Travel-size toiletries
- Flip-flops (for showering)
- Extra blankets and towels
- Vinyl tablecloth
- Cooking and eating utensils, cups & plates
- Dish soap, scrub brush and bin to fill for dishwashing
- Bottled water or a large, insulated water cooler
- Cooking supplies: cast iron skillet, cooking grate, hot dog skewers, pie irons
- Folding chairs
- Tarp (place under the tent for added moisture prevention)
- Sleeping mats: (for added ground cushioning under sleeping bags)
If you’re worried that your kids will be bored without Wi-Fi, consider the following activities and pack accordingly.
Baseball & gloves
Nature scavenger hunt
Butterfly net/bug jar
Corn hole set
Meals during a camping trip should be simple crowd pleasers. Most campfire rings have grates on one side, perfect for placing pots and pans when cooking.
When it comes to food prep, do as much as you can at home before you leave. Cut up fruits and veggies; trim meat and place in an airtight bag with marinade; and pre-measure any spices and seasonings, placing them in a small container or bag with a label. Throw everything into the cooler, and you’re all set. Not having to take along cutting boards, extra packaging and half a dozen jars of spices will help lighten your load.
PITA CAMPING PIZZAS
Courtesy of Take Them Outside (takethemoutside.com)
What you’ll need:
Tomato or pizza sauce
Pizza toppings (cheese, olives, peppers, tomatoes, ham, pepperoni, etc.)
Heavy duty aluminum foil
BBQ tongs or a spatula
Assemble as many pizzas as you need, letting each person choose their toppings. Cook over the fire, either directly on the grate (for crispier crust), or in a pan (for softer crust).
Using something to reflect the heat back down onto the top of the camping pizzas helps them cook more evenly (cover with an upturned pot or a “tent” made with aluminum foil). Cook for 5-8 minutes, until cheese is melted and begins to turn golden. The edges of the pita will be well toasted.
Pack the graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey bars, but for a more gourmet experience, consider the following substitutions:
In place of standard graham crackers: cookies (any flavor your family loves), donuts, cinnamon or chocolate graham crackers, brownie brittle, Ritz crackers.
In place of plain chocolate: Reese’s Cups, Nutella, York Peppermint Patties, peanut butter, Rolo pieces, soft caramels, hot fudge