My husband and I were campers before we had five kids. When we became parents, we didn’t want to stop our travels.

We wanted to show our kids the beauty of national and state parks across the US without spending our life savings. We decided to drive to our destinations and stay at campgrounds. We learned to save money along the way. It took us a lot of time and patience to turn our kids into campers. But it was all worth it because we’ve had the opportunity to share this country with our whole family.

If you’re interested in taking your children camping, it may be difficult, but these quick tips might help.

Start when the kids are young — and start small

To get our kids — ages 3 to 9 — interested in exploring nature, we took them on short day hikes, giving them some control over where we went and what we did. We took our time and allowed for questions, resting often and enjoying salty snacks and water.

We also made it a game. The kids watched us set up a tent in our backyard. We all squeezed into it for the night. Luckily, a neighbor was selling an old 1967 canvas tent trailer that slept six adults. We bought it. The only thing that needs to be new in camping equipment is your bedding.

We started by taking the kids camping locally. We also took weekend trips to family campgrounds. Eventually, we lengthened our stays and expanded on the activities we did: pools, fishing, hay rides, camp activities, and farm visits.

Let the kids be a part of the planning

Eventually, the kids helped plan weeklong adventures in different states — with activities the whole family would enjoy. In addition to hiking national and state parks, we allowed the kids to choose which activities they wanted to try: tubing down streams, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and visiting town festivals. We even headed to amusement parks.

The kids loved making checklists before we departed. They made lists for the kitchen, bedding, clothing, food, and toiletry. We loaded the vehicle and our camper before the day of departure, except for perishables. We brought bug spray, sunscreen, hats, raincoats, and maps.

Choose the right type of campgrounds for your family

Through the years, we have used a mix of camping experiences, primarily staying at commercial campgrounds. These have all the amenities: playgrounds, pools, game rooms, showers, and laundromats right on-site. Commercial campgrounds also have full hookups available: electric, water, and sewer. Most commercial campgrounds now have cabins for rent, with barbecues available. All you need are sleeping bags, towels, and kitchen utensils.

As we headed across the country, we interspersed commercial campgrounds with cheaper primitive campsites found in state forests and national parks without hookups, electricity, or showers. Most have flush toilets, and all have drinking water available. At these campgrounds, we used Coleman lanterns to light our camp and flashlights to walk to the toilets and sinks. Campfires or our propane stove provided meals.

Primitive campsites have less light pollution, allowing for star-filled nights. We lay on blankets in a field or on the beach of a lake, gazing up as the stars explode at night.

Focus on nature and each other

The key to making kids campers is to let them be a part of the journey and have interesting things for them to look forward to. Point out the ragged mountaintops in the Rocky Mountains above the tree line dressed with snow in July. Show them the towering trees, as thick and tall as skyscrapers in the California Redwoods — trees all seven of us could not surround.

Our camping experiences were free from television, social media, computers, the internet, and extended family obligations. All we had was each other and nature to enjoy. We experienced the country from the ground. We allowed time for campfires, making s’mores, and sharing stories. We discovered what our children were thinking and feeling.

Yes, making kids campers is tough initially, but it gets better with age — the kids’ ages, not the parents’. And the memories can fill a lifetime.

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