Camp With Your Kids (Painlessly)


We asked camping experts for age-appropriate activities likely to grab your kids' attention and get them outdoors.

Many state and national parks offer ranger-led experiences geared toward grade-schoolers. For example, Junior Ranger programs allow youngsters to complete a set of activities during their park visit under the direction of an adult ranger. Participants receive an official Junior Ranger badge or patch and a certificate. Call your park to find out if it runs this program. If it doesn't, the National Wildlife Federation suggests some do-it-yourself activities, such as planning a nature scavenger hunt, telling campfire ghost stories, and asking your kids to identify the night sounds as you all fall asleep. Find more ideas at

Suggested activities and parks:

With this age group, you can take it up a notch. Appeal to your tween's innate competitiveness and curiosity by seeing if they'd like to try caving, rock climbing, or cross-country skiing.

Suggested activities and parks:

They're probably more capable physically than you are, and more eager to take on challenges. Let them test their mettle in the wilderness. Ask them to prepare a few meals by themselves. You might even consider booking teens a separate, adjoining tent site, to give them some privacy and independence.

Suggested activities and parks:

  • Mountain climbing. Aim high, at peaks like Mount Katahdin at Baxter State Park, Maine, and the Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn.
  • White-water rafting. Build your teen's confidence by tapping into his or her thrill-seeking side. Call your local park to find out if it has beginnerlevel rapids, such as the one on the southern (a.k.a. upper) part of New River Gorge, W.Va.
  • Snorkeling. Have your kids play aquanaut by donning masks to explore a park's narrow shore bed. Call the ranger at your local lakeside park to find a spot suitable for beginners. To illustrate, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wis., features fish darting around the spooky wreck of the Noquebay, lying beneath about 15 feet of clear water. Rent a charter service in nearby Bayfield to take your kids the quarter mile from the shore of Stockton Island.
  • Volunteering. Many high schools now have public-service requirements, and some camping areas have volunteer opportunities, such as taking a senior citizen for a walk. Your teen might be able to combine a family trip with a volunteer experience. Contact the National Wildlife Federation for details.
  • Wilderness skills training. Challenge your teens to brush up on their outdoorsmanship under the guidance of pros. There are orienteering trails in some parks, where your teen can sleuth out control points by use of map and compass alone. Orienteering courses teach the necessary skills and are run either by park rangers, field schools, or nonprofit institutes. For example, Prince William Forest Park, Va., provides reservation-only introductions to orienteering courses led by rangers. A similar program is at Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

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