7 hints for fantastic family camping trips

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Family Campout

because-I-said-so-REDNo indoor plumbing, no fridge, no walls, no privacy. There are reasons why camping with kids in the Great Outdoors may not seem like such a great idea. But there are grounds for trying it out, anyway. No electronics, no friends and no cleaning, to name a few. Camping is a relatively inexpensive activity that can provide fantastic family memories — even when it’s a flop. Here are seven suggestions for making your camping trip a hit:

1. Start ’em young

We don’t suggest you take a newborn camping — unless you bring earplugs for everyone at the campground — but starting when your kids are relatively young is one way to solidify it as an annual family activity. Younger kids think everything about camping is an exciting adventure: the outhouses, the water pumps, the campfires. Stoke their excitement about camping when they’re little kids and it will hopefully carry into their tween and teen years. Fingers crossed.

2. Start close to home

Camping isn’t expensive, but unless you’re going primitive it isn’t completely free. Before you drop cash on camping reservations throughout the state, test out the experience closer to home. Our family usually camps in my in-laws mountainside backyard on the 4th of July. It’s free and flush toilets are only steps away. Plus, if it starts to rain we can always camp on the family room floor.

3. Survey equipment before you go

Check all your equipment before your first camping trip of the year. Make sure there aren’t any rips in the tent or tarps or funky smells and stains on the sleeping bags. If your tent is new, put it together once beforehand so you know exactly what you need to pitch it at a campground.

4. Reserve sites well in advance

Campgrounds in Utah book quickly. By May, many of the online reservations are booked. Most campgrounds have walkup sites but here’s the rub: if you want a site for the weekend, you’ll likely need to stake your ground on a weekday. Call the camp manager to see what the odds are of your getting a site before you hit the road.

5. Rent your gear

If you don’t already have camping gear on hand, consider renting it until you’re sure it’s a family activity that sticks. The one-time investment is easily a couple hundred dollars, after tents, tarps, sleeping bags and coolers. Call a outdoors outfitter to reserve your rental gear, or you could even borrow equipment from your outdoorsy neighbors — as long as your return it in good condition.

6. Keep cooking simple

Everything tastes better over campfire, so use that to your advantage and stick to simple meals. Sure, you could organize a dutch oven cook off at the campsite, but why not save time and sanity with muffins and yogurt for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and burgers and hot dogs for dinner. S’mores optional. If you’re planning a longer camping trip, search Pinterest for easy, varied ideas.

7. Don’t take it with you

When in doubt, leave it at home. Resist the urge to pack up your entire playroom for a weekend camping trip. Make it a true adventure by only taking a few things to entertain the kids — a baseball and gloves, fishing poles and bait, and the like.

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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