For the past five years we have found a way of sharing our love for camping with our friends through our annual Family Camp Out. What started off as a desire to go camping and finding a friend, or two, to join us tent camping in the cooler fall weather has grown into something I never could have imagined. This year we had nearly 60 people (16 families) join us as either weekend warriors, overnighters, or day campers for a weekend of games, activities, camp food, fun, and relaxation.
As you can imagine organizing, planning, and hosting a camping event does not happen overnight and requires some attention to detail. Here are 5 tips to help you plan a large camp-out for your family or friends.
1. Select a Setting: The setting to any gathering is important and a camp out should be no exception. Finding a campground that will allow a large group to gather and has sufficient parking can be a little tricky. We originally selected Smithville Lake because it is beautiful and we could pick a loop that was close to the public restrooms which was super important when we were all tent campers. We keep returning to Smithville Lake because I have not found another campground that will let us buy day parking passes and park on the grass near the sites we have rented. One last tip about the setting, find a place that allows advanced reservations or will do group reservations.
2. Select a Date and Invite Some Friends: We live in the Midwest and have a lot of weather considerations; spring and fall are unpredictable and the summer is humid and hot. We selected the fall and hope each year for sunny days and cooler nights. Most of the families attending the camp out are no longer in tents but we still have some tent campers who do prefer fall to summer. Each year the weather has challenged us and surprised us; we have encountered near freezing temperatures, wind, storms, and even sunshine.
Once you have a date set, start inviting friends. I did not look for friends who liked to camp, I started with friends who had children. My goal was to create a weekend of camping that my kids would enjoy and playmates were central to that. One friend I invited was so shocked she literally asked if I had sent the invitation to the wrong person as she had never been camping in her life. As she laughed about it, she actually let the idea sink in and she decided to join us. My dear friend Deanna has been at every single camp out and tells me every year that without this opportunity her two kids would never experience camping. So, when looking for guest, don’t limit yourself by looking for campers instead open the opportunity to others and they might surprise you and themselves!
3. Activities: There is absolutely nothing wrong with free play but no parent wants to hear the words, “I am bored” especially during a weekend camping trip. Each year we attempt to plan a few activities we think the kids will enjoy just so we can proactively ward off those three dreaded words. Pinterest can provide you with a plethora of ideas: nature scavenger hunts, wood chip necklaces, stamped metal, painted rocks, and one year we even had our very own raingutter regatta. In addition to the activities we have also do crafts. Every year we have either tie dyed, reverse tie dyed, or screen printed a t-shirt. It makes me very happy to see a returning camper wearing shirts from previous years.
This year, our fifth year, we started the morning with an oversized adult coloring book poster that I found at 5 and Beow. It allowed for quiet time while parents fixed breakfast or just enjoyed a cup of coffee in the quiet morning hours. Mid morning we a painted pet rocks. By late morning we had started tie dying t-shirts and by the afternoon all the kids had migrated to the lake to play in the warm water and the cool clay mud.
4. Food: As I have previously stated, this camping event has morphed from tent camping to mostly RV camping (although we still have several tent campers) and many of those camping had never been camping prior to our first year. The menu for the weekend was fairly prescriptive at the request of the guest. By our second year, we had a menu that pleased everyone and we have kept it year after year. You would think someone would complain but they have not, and until they do, I am going to keep doing what works.
We have a balance between community meals and on your own meals. One of the main reasons we do community meals is because of the amount of children we have at the camp out. Small children, as well as picky eaters, tend to shop between their friends to see who has the most desirable meal. So to avoid one parent being targeted to feed a large number of kids, we chose to organize community meals. We use a Sign Up Genius for the community meals and campers bring their own drinks and paper/plastic wear. Determining how much of each item we will need is probably the hardest part of the entire planning. How many hot dogs per person, how many bags of marshmallows, how many eggs for breakfast? Each year the attendance at the camp out changes so the amounts change as well. This one aspect of the planning probably causes me the most grief so I start mapping this our early so I have time to gather as much input as I can. Despite the grief, you know what? Only one time have we came close to running out of food and more often than not, we walk away from the weekend with very little leftovers!
Here is a sample of our tried and true menu: Friday Evening and Saturday Morning are on your own meals. Saturday lunch is a community meal of walking tacos (a camp favorite). Saturday evening we light a huge bon fire and have a hot dog buffet: chili dogs, bacon wrapped dogs, dogs stuffed with cheese, and even corn dogs in a pie iron! After dinner we break out the smore’s to round off the night. Sunday morning we have a community meal of eggs in a bag and hash brown potatoes.
If you select to do community meals, I would suggest that you ask for volunteers to help get the food heated up, fire pit made, and to help keep things rolling. An event this large takes multiple hands and there is no harm in asking for help in the set up, the delivery, and the clean up of community meals.
5. Continue the Fun After the Sun Goes Down: Fun can be found around every corner at the family camp out all day long. For years, the kids played on a picnic table at an empty campsite next to ours and somehow the water fountain just accidentally gets the kids soaked EVERY SINGLE YEAR. The lake is great for fishing or wading and the sandy beach is perfect for building sand castles. But my final tip is simply, the fun does not have to end when the sun goes down. Find a way to keep the young guest and their parents engaged right up till bedtime.
A few years ago, we found ourselves with some old florescent light fixtures and we decided to recycle and reuse them by hosting a glow party every Saturday night of the camp out. We fix the lights to our awning, open a few bottles of glow-in-the-dark body paint, add a few glow sticks, create a play list, and we have ourselves an instant child friendly dance party at the campground. Young and old guest alike will enjoy watching their clothing change appearances under the black lights. Seeing parents and kids dance together for a few hours is just another memory that makes me happy.
Dancing and glowing the night away is one option for using night time but there are other ideas worthy of consideration. Night hikes are awesome and with limited sight other senses increase creating a whole new learning experience. If you plan a night hike, I strongly recommend introducing a whole new crop of campers to the sparks Wintergreen Lifesavers make. Star gazing is another fun activity if your camping setting is dark enough.
I hope these 5 steps help you create a weekend camping trip with your friends or family that is just as memorable as our Family Camp Out. To all the folks who came out and attended our camp out, thank you. I had a great time and look forward to next year!
I am going to leave you with a collection of short video’s of the glow party. They are so cute I can’t keep it to myself!