10 Summer Camping Activities that won’t break the bank!

Bonding with the kiddos over a roaring campfire, roasting weenies and marshmallows, all with stars twinkling above you can be a wonderful memory for our family. But, it’s easy to get stressed out wrangling everyone if you don’t come well-prepared. Here are some fun summer camping activities for the whole family.

boy playing in the lake at the campground

Low Cost Summer Family Camping Activities

1. Splash around in the lakes

There may be no better pair than a hot summer day and hanging out on a beach while cooling off in a lake. Bring some life jackets, floaties, and inner tubes and let the kids have a blast. 

A turquoise lake bordered by trees and grasses

2. Skipping stones

Fascinate the kiddos by teaching them how to skip stones. Show them how to do it, how to find the best flat stones for the job, and make a fun game out of it. Better yet, hold a skipping stone contest—winner gets an extra s’more after dinner! 

3. Make a picnic

Cool off from the summer heat by swimming in a nearby lake. Head down to a beach area and spend the day relaxing by the water. This is the perfect opportunity for a picnic away from the campsite, so consider bringing easy, on-the-go foods like sandwiches, chips, and cookies. 

a picnic table covered in a red checkered table cloth and picnic foods
Camping and picnics go hand-in-hand

4. Relax on a pool float

One of the best ways to enjoy the water when you’re camping is to hop on a pool float or tube and just enjoy hanging out in nature. Keep an eye on your kids and make sure they can swim if they end up in the water. Hang out in the lake and enjoy all the sights and sounds.  Float down the river or around the lake, soaking in the sunshine and basking in summer’s delight.

5. Water balloon fights

Water balloons may be one of the ultimate summer camping activities. You can find water balloons online, at your local dollar store, or any big box store. Water balloons have gotten pretty sophisticated over the years—the kinds you can get aren’t what you used to use as a kid. This is also a good opportunity to teach your kids about the “Leave No Trace” camping principle. After the fun is over, make sure you pick up all of the balloon pieces on the ground!

6. Get them involved in camp cooking

Cringing at the thought of an open fire, getting dinner together, and having crazy kids everywhere? Eliminate some stress and get them involved!

Help them make the meal plan

Before you leave, have your kids involved in the meal prep and planning. Ask them what would be fun for them to eat—it will probably be hotdogs, chips, and cookies, but a campfire gives you all kinds of opportunities for fun camp cooking. Think beyond the burger and make something new and unique – like this!

an apple hobo pie cut in two sitting on a white napkin on a picnic table
Apple Cinnamon Pies over the campfire, yummy!

Make fun camping snacks

Your kids will be begging to come back every summer if you make some fun camping snacks and let them have a little more fun with their food than back at home. S’mores are always a hit, the ingredients are easy to bring, and roasting anything over a fire makes kids go crazy. These little moments are what the kiddos will remember when they remember their family camping trips. 

READ MORE: Easy camping meals to make with kids… or have your kids make at the campground!

And Don’t forget about the Camping games!

Keeping your kids entertained without the screens they are so accustomed to doesn’t have to be a fight. Prepare ahead with some fun camping games and activities to keep them busy.

7. Put together a scavenger hunt

While there are plenty of online scavenger hunt templates out there, it’s easy to come up with your own. Common items include things like heart-shaped rocks, acorns or other seeds, specific colored wildflowers, and bugs! If you want some printable scavenger hunts, click here.

camping scavenger hunt on a clipboard

8. Stargazing

Without the streetlights that are likely in your neighborhood, your kids will be able to see the stars like they never have before. Teach them about constellations and point out easily identifiable ones, like the Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt.

Teach them about the North Star, one of the brightest stars in the night sky and how campers use it to get back home. Depending on your location and time of year, you’ll even be able to see some far-off planets like Venus or Mars. Ask them what they think it would be like to explore those planets and if they’d ever want to go to space.

9. Use flashlights for some fun games in the dark

Flashlight tag can be a great end-of-the-night activity that will get the kiddos tired and sleeping soundly as soon as they hit the sack. For safety reasons, you should have a handful of flashlights available in your camping kit, and now you can use them for fun. Lay down some rules, like they have to stay within an adult’s sight at all times, and then let them go at it.

Shadow puppets are always a hit while hanging out in the tent. If you’ve got a child who’s a little afraid of spending the night outdoors, this can help relax them. Have everyone take a go and see whose puppet is the most creative.

READ MORE: Camping games to play in the dark

10. Board games

Monopoly, checkers, Trouble, or even a deck of cards—bring some games that can be played outside on a picnic table. Board games are a fantastic way to get some family bonding in, even if they have fallen out of favor for tablets over the last few years.

Here’s a post full of great camping games if you’re looking for some new ideas!

Have fun, but also help them face their fears

Camping can be scary for kids. Sleeping outside with all kinds of new animal and bug noises, crackling leaves and sticks, all the while dealing with a completely new sleeping environment. This can definitely be scary!

Facing their fears may not necessarily fall under fun summer camping activities, but it is an important learning opportunity. If your kids are scared, ask them why, and go through possible scenarios. When they feel comfortable in new surroundings, they’ll have more confidence in school, work, and all other areas of their lives!

girl roasting marshmallows over the campfire

Written by Derek Edwards

Outdoors enthusiast and environmental advocate, Derek is based out of southern California. When he’s not out exploring the area’s diverse landscape, he can be found enjoying fish tacos on the beach. If you enjoyed this post you can follow along his adventure over on his blog, Outdoor with Derek.

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