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family with two young kids enjoys a backyard camping experience with grilled food and string lights

How to Create a Backyard Camping Experience for the Whole Family


Nothing says summertime like roasting s’mores over a campfire and making memories with your loved ones. If you don’t have the time (or budget) to go on an out-of-town camping trip this year, you can bring the fun home by setting up a makeshift campground in your backyard. Here are our favorite backyard camping ideas that are sure to be a hit with the whole family.

In This Article:
  1. Planning Your Backyard Camping Experience
  2. Budget-Friendly Backyard Camping Ideas
  3. Other Backyard Camping Tips

1. Planning Your Backyard Camping Experience

To ensure the optimal backyard camping experience for the whole crew, set some ground rules before the night begins. For example, do you want to go off the grid by turning off your WiFi and leaving your cell phones inside? Would you rather pack a cooler or get things from the refrigerator as the night progresses? Are you going to stick to normal bedtimes or let everyone stay up late? Talk through your expectations with the whole family before the night begins to ensure the most streamlined, smooth experience possible.

Choose Your Campsite

Before kicking off the camping festivities, make sure to turn off your sprinkler system so you don’t get soaked in the middle of the night. You can also turn off as many indoor and outdoor lights as possible to make the backyard camping experience feel more authentic. Once you’ve taken care of those practical concerns, you can choose a level part of the yard and set up your tent there. If you don’t own a tent, you can simply tie a clothesline between two trees or a tree and the fence and put a tarp or blanket over it. Enlist your kids to help you set up the tent so that you can enjoy some quality time together and teach them valuable life skills in the process.

Tip: Read The Right Way to Store Your Camping Gear for the ins and outs of storing a tent and other equipment after using them. 


Create a Sleeping Station

After putting a waterproof cloth or tarp on the floor of your tent, cover it with as many mattresses, pillows and blankets as you need to stay comfortable. If you’re more of a glamper than a camper, you can make the experience extra swanky by setting up a teepee or hammock. To add some atmosphere, hang up string lights and create a musical playlist for the evening. Creating a comfortable sleeping area will help everyone truly enjoy the camping excursion — and get a good night of sleep in the process.

2. Budget-Friendly Backyard Camping Ideas

If you’re wondering exactly what kinds of experiences and snacks to include in your backyard camping itinerary, here are some ideas that won’t break the bank.

Go on a Hike

If you live near hiking trails, why not start the night off with a quick hike? You can make the outing even more fun by seeing which family member can spot the most bugs, birds or flowers on the hike. If you live in a more urban area without easy access to hiking trails (or if you simply prefer to stick closer to home), you can print off REI’s Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt and create a friendly competition to see who can check off the most things on the list. If you have older kids, consider going on a scavenger hunt or trying your hand at geocaching. Alternatively, you can book an outdoor activity like biking, kayaking or canoeing to enjoy the great outdoors before you head home.


kids sitting around a backyard bonfire


Build a Bonfire

No camping experience would be complete without a bonfire! Consider purchasing a portable bonfire for your backyard so you can roast hotdogs and marshmallows over the open flames. (You can purchase this easy-to-use version for less than $150.) If you’re on a tight budget, you can use a standard BBQ grill to cook your food and then create a makeshift “campfire” on a flat outdoor surface by using a variety of candles and flashlights to create a flickering effect. As day fades to dusk, have each member of the family tell their favorite ghost stories or listen to a spooky podcast. If scary stories aren’t quite your speed, consider playing songs or reading books around the campfire instead.

Make Campfire Food

One of the most memorable parts of the camping experience is the food. In addition to roasting hotdogs over the bonfire, you can cook hamburgers, kabobs, or steaks on the grill. Let each family member pick a side dish — such as baked beans, watermelon or a pasta salad — that you can eat alongside the main dishes. You can also fill a cooler with juice boxes, water and soda so everyone can have cold drinks to enjoy throughout the night. Don’t forget to pack some trail mix and beef jerky to snack on throughout the night. In the morning, you can cook eggs and bacon on the grill and eat them in your outdoor dining area

Set Up a Dessert Station 

No matter how many hotdogs you may have eaten, there’s always room for dessert. Before heading out to your backyard campground, whip up some rice krispy treats, puppy chow or cookies so your family can snack on the sweets throughout the night. You can also set up an ice cream bar complete with various kinds of ice cream and toppings. If you’re looking for a more hands-on activity, why not do a make-your-own cupcake or cookie decorating station instead?

Enjoy Outdoor Activities

To make the evening truly memorable, let each family member pick an outdoor activity to try throughout the course of the night. This might include making tie-dye shirts, creating individual friendship bracelets or having a talent show. Once the sun sets, you can see which family member can find the most constellations. If your kids are a little older, play flashlight tag or set up your own backyard movie theater experience (complete with popcorn, snacks and bean bags for a comfy seating setup).


backyard camping ideas campground


Play Campground Games 

To bring out the inner kid in everyone present, play some lawn games like horseshoes, corn hole or outdoor checkers. You can also divide into teams and play pickup games of softball, Frisbee or Capture the Flag. If you have extra money in the budget and want to invest in some new lawn games, you might want to purchase a giant Jenga game or a Twister set. But if you prefer something a little more low-key, don’t underestimate the fun of a good old-fashioned water balloon fight.

3. Other Backyard Camping Tips

Need extra space in your backyard to pitch a tent and set up your evening activities? If you don’t have a shed where you can store your garden tools, bins and other bulky items, consider stashing them in a self-storage unit or making room in your garage.

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