Camping is a great way to get in touch with nature, bond with family or teammates, and learn about the natural world. If you don’t have camping activities planned in advance, it’s easy for this relaxing time to turn into boredom.
Having a go-to-list of camping activities will help make the most of your time out in the woods. Many activities are appropriate for any type of group, but we separated our camping activities out by who might enjoy them most.
All of these games are made for hanging around camp. Check out these apps to use while hiking to get some ideas for educational activities while you’re on the move.
Camping Activities for Families
Camping is a great way to bond as a family. What better than quality time in the peace of the wilderness, right? That said, a lack of fun activities can lead to boredom and even crankiness in the most loving of families. Here are a few time-tested camping activities for families or small groups.
- Build forts, sandcastles, or fairy houses. You can easily turn fort-building into a collaborative family effort or a friendly competition between siblings. That said, some areas frown upon fort-building. In this case, you’re better off heading to the beach for sandcastle building. Fairy houses are a happy medium, where you make miniscule castles for the creatures of the forest.
- Play some card games. Packing a deck of cards is pretty easy, even if you’ve got a long hike into your camping spot. Simple games like Blackjack will help your kids practice math, while more complex games (I’m a One-Card fan myself) will keep older families entertained. To add to the camping theme, get a deck of playing cards that are survival themed or teach you how to identify edible plants!
- Family fire-building. It’s no secret that building fires is one of the all-time best things about camping. Whether you’re an eight-year-old boy or a thirty-year-old woman, there’s something incredibly soothing about sitting around a fire, feeding it sticks and keeping it alive. Make fire-building into a family affair (and reduce bickering over whose job it is to go get wood) by delegating tasks and rotating duties regularly.
- Delegate a wood gatherer, a firestarter and firebreather (the person who starts the fire and breathes on it to keep it going) a fire structure master (the person who actually adds sticks), and a fire extinguisher (the person in charge of properly putting out the fire when you’re done).
Camping Activities for Individuals
These camping activities are geared towards introspection and quiet time. Whether you’re going out to camp alone or just need a break from the group, these activities are sure to clear your head and put you in touch with your surroundings.
- Journaling. Take time to write out your thoughts. If that’s not your thing, write about what you see. Just take notes, using as much detail as you can. If you’re more of the creative type, write a story from the point of view of a tree or bird near you. All of these activities will get you to notice the world around you on a deeper level. Plus, you can look back on this writing later to remember the trip! I use the National Parks Journal to write a short journal entry for every National Park that I visit.
- Sketching. Naturalists used to rely on their own hand to take down information about the world around them. The ornithologist John James Audubon was quite the artist, hand-drawing birds that eventually led to the field guides we have today. Honor this legacy by sketching out what you see around you. It doesn’t matter if drawing isn’t a natural strength – there’s only one way to get better!
- Stacking stones. Hear me out – the art of stacking stones is nothing short of breathtaking. This methodical practice is quite meditative, resulting in temporary but beautiful stone structures. Try your hand at this if you’re near a rocky beach or pebble-strewn stream.
Camping Activities for Team or Larger Groups
Not all camping activities are well-suited to large families or teams. Trust me, it’s really hard to split up fire-tending duties among a group of 12 teenagers! These camping activities are a bit higher energy in general. Mix them with low-key individual activities to have a well-balanced camping trip.
- No-Doze leadership. This leadership styles activity, popularized by the National Outdoor Leadership School, is a great way to guide groups through working together and developing their leadership skills. It takes just a few minutes to sort groups into categories, but there’s potential for hours of discussion based off of your group’s findings.
- Capture the flag. Classic games like capture the flag stay popular for a reason. This game can be played in open fields. For a real challenge, though, move the playing field into the woods. Ensure your group is aware and athletic enough navigate the terrain, and let them loose! This game is a great team-building activity and burns off excess energy.
- Mafia game. On long summer days after a hard day of hiking, you might not want to run around after dinnertime. Card games are hard to play with big groups, so how can you keep a group occupied during those long evening hours? The Mafia game is a great solution. This game is best played with at least ten people, but you can work with smaller groups. The group works together to identify a pair of “spies” within their midst before it’s too late. This game takes a bit of explaining, so check out the full rules to Mafia here.
Educational Camping Activities
Whether you’re with a school group or just hungry for knowledge, camping is a great time to learn more about the natural world. Try these three activities while you’re out and about.
- Catch and identify bugs. Grab your net and a jar! As long as you’re not in a protected area, bug catching and bug ID is a great mix of exercise and education. You can flip over rocks, sweep the net across areas of tall grass, or chase down dragonflies near the pond. Bug identification isn’t easy, but you can use a field guide to get started. There are some portable resources available for aquatic macroinvertebrates, if you’re near a stream. Be sure to release the bugs when you’re done.
- Learn about the plants around you. In some ways, plants are easier to identify than bugs. They don’t move, and they are actually fewer plant species (just shy of 400,000) than bug species (nearly 1,000,000). You can use a traditional field guide or explore the options with a plant identification app like PlantSnap.
- Watch the birds. Many campsites are full of intrepid birds, looking to steal your food. Take advantage of the brave birds and observe their behavior. Looking for a challenge? Head out further from camp and sit quietly near a water source or fruiting tree – you’ll be amazed what sort of birds show up. Bring binoculars and a field guide (or the iBird Pro app).
We hope that you’ve got tons of ideas for how to fill spare time on your next camping trip. If we missed one of your favorite camping activities, let us know in the comments. We’ll be sure to add them in the next version!