As vacation season quickly approaches we all start weighing the options: a trip to Disney or a theme park, a week at the beach, sightseeing in a new city or a good old-fashioned family camping trip. Why not enjoy them all by going on a family camping road trip. You can hit the road as a family, explore a variety of places and still enjoy the great outdoors. A family camping road trip can also be a great way to bond with your kids and add a little spontaneity and adventure to your next vacation.
Here are a few of the big perks to taking a road trip with your family instead of the typical single-destination vacation:
It can be educational
Try stopping at a few historic sites and museums to add a little learning to your trip.
It can save you money
Campgrounds are cost effective compared to hotels and you can cook your meals at your site without having to take your family out to dinner. Plus, the money you spend on gas is nothing compared to the cost of airfare for a whole family.
You Don’t Have to Go Far
This country has so much to offer. You don’t have to travel far to see some great things. Every state has loads of unique activities and destinations and plenty of campgrounds if you want to stay local and make it a short trip.
Kid’s learn to explore
Instead of racing to your vacation destination your family will have the opportunity to see all the fun, interesting and wacky things along the way. Don’t be afraid to pull over or take a detour to follow your curiosity.
It’s the best of both worlds
Just because you want to be a tourist during the day doesn’t mean you are locked into a hotel at night. You can enjoy the city by daylight and the adventure of camping by starlight (or flashlight).
You can bring the comforts of home
No need to worry about airline travel and luggage restrictions. One of the best parts of a road trip is being able to bring a few more outfits or your favorite bottle of shampoo.
You can change plans mid-trip
Road trips lend themselves to spontaneity. Whether you feel like staying put for an extra day or are ready to move on early, it’s all up to you.
You can enjoy a variety of things and places
Not only do you get to enjoy the destinations you have planned for each day, you also get to explore all the sites along the way you didn’t know were there.
Tips for a Successful Family Camping Road Trip
Time to get organized before the big trip.
First, decide how long your trip will be. This will give you an idea of how far you can go and how many sites and campgrounds you will stop at. You don’t want anybody getting bored, but you also don’t want to try and cram too much activity into a short trip. This can lead to burn-out. If you’re only gone 3 days, try to stick to a single campground and spend your time enjoying local destinations you can reach easily.
Once you nail down how long you will be gone, you can start to determine your route. Begin by choosing a general region and slowly narrow down the stops you want to make along the way. Time to map it out! Use Google Maps to check how long it will take you to get from one destination to the next. This will give you the opportunity to weed out any stops that may be too far.
Campgrounds are the next thing you’ll want to nail down. Try to find campsites that aren’t too far off your driving course. You don’t want to travel more than an hour off your route just to find a campsite. What do you do if there is no campground near one of the destinations you chose? Decide if seeing that destination is worth grabbing a motel for a night. If it’s at the top of your list you may not mind shelling out a bit more for a night or two in a bed.
Lastly, you’ll want to iron out all the little details including campsite or motel reservations, meals and snacks, a packing list and car activities.
Here are a few more tips to consider when planning your family camping road trip:
Plan your route ahead of time
Even though you may end up veering off course at some point in your trip it is good to have a basic outline of where you are going, how you are getting there and what you want to see along the way. When you have a car full of anxious, hungry, tired, bored or excited kids, it is a big help to be able to tell them how long you have until the next stop and what you will see there.
Don’t spend too much time in the car
With any road trip you can expect to spend a good amount of time in the car, but when you have little ones tagging along, don’t spend more time than you need to. While you may want to push through a few more hours to get to your final destination, being cooped up in the backseat all day might sour your child’s view of family road trips. Try making stops at intervals that the kids can count on, even if it is just a bathroom break at a rest stop. Sometimes all they need is a few minutes to stretch their legs and breathe some fresh air.
Encourage reading rather than other media
Smartphones, tablets, laptops and media players can all drain a car battery pretty quickly. Instead of leaving your car running all day and night at the campsite to charge your children’s multiple devices, encourage them to use their free time to read. eReaders hold a charge for much longer than other devices.
Always keep an eye out for a restroom
Especially when it comes to a big family, bathroom breaks can’t always be coordinated. When you see a rest stop, a public restroom or a Johnny-on-the-Spot, take the opportunity to ask if anyone needs a pitstop. Stopping for a few minutes every so often is better than pulling off the highway or driving miles down back roads to find a service station.
Get to your campsite before dark
Setting up a campsite is hard enough, but when you’re doing it every night or every few nights with children it can be really tough. Don’t add the complication of pitching your tent in the dark. Try and get to the site with at least an hour of daylight left so you can easily find your site, set up your tents and get your fire started.
Try and make reservations or get tickets ahead of time. Not getting reservations can lead to small frustrations like a long wait at a restaurant or big obstacles like the campground being full or an event being sold out.
Get a motel room
Even though you are on a family camping road trip, it doesn’t hurt to spend one night off the ground with some of the comforts of home. This may not matter if you are only gone for a few days, but if you are planning to be gone for a week or two it helps to get everyone cleaned up and rested.
Bring your bikes
If you plan to explore the local area around the campground bring your bikes along. This way you can leave you car, with all of your gear, at your site and avoid looking for parking or feeding meters. Don’t forget your bike locks!
Essential Gear for Your Family Camping Road Trip
Traveling and camping are always easier when you bring along the right tools. Especially when you have kids who need a lot more creature comforts that adults can live without. When you have a car packed full of people and camping gear for days on end, it can really help to have a few items to make the experience easier and more fun. Here are some of the essentials that you’ll want to take along on your trip:
When you’re spending this much time on the road the most important thing is to keep that car running. It can really be a downer to be stuck waiting for roadside assistance. Bring along this jump starter and compressor combo so you can get the car back in working order.
If you do happen to get stuck along the way, it’s best to be on the safe side. This kit will help you get back on the road and keep you safe if you need to wait for some help.
With this organizer/cooler combo you can keep the backseat tidy. It makes it much easier for your kids to find their snacks, drinks and toys without you having to pull over every few minutes.
It’s hard to play games, color or even eat without something on your lap. This tray table helps by giving you little ones a sturdy place for all their activities while you keep making headway.
We use our devices a lot when we’re traveling so we can read, play, look up destination details and use the GPS. It is important to keep these electronics charged. The multi-port car charger will allow you to plug in all your devices while driving instead of charging one phone or tablet at a time. The Solar On-the-Go Charger is great for those times when you don’t want to or can’t rely on the car battery to charge your electronics. All you need is a little sunlight.
On any road trip the car gets packed up pretty quick. If you’re looking for more room to store some camping gear, try this waterproof bag that straps to your roof. You don’t even need racks.
Car Activities to Keep the Kids Happy
One of the things a lot of parent’s dread about a long trip with a car full of kids is the constant question, “are we there yet.” Take this opportunity to teach your kids that it’s not always about the destination, sometimes it’s about the journey. But to do this, the trip itself has to be fun. Try some of these activities to keep your kids happy and occupied along the way:
You can buy them through Amazon’s Audible or check them out at your local library. Even better, download the OverDrive app on your smartphone, find your library and download your borrowed audiobooks straight to your phone. Libraries will often let you check out multiple books at a time in case you will be without the internet for a few days.
Travel Games and Cards
You can find most of your favorite board games in travel size now, like Sequence, Yahtzee, or Battleship. And if they don’t have a travel edition, they usually have an on-the-go version like this Apples to Apples dice game and Monopoly Deal.
You’ve probably heard of geocaching but have you heard of letterboxing? It’s like modern day treasure hunting without the need for a GPS. Letterboxers will hide boxes with rubber stamps. You stamp your notebook when you find one and leave your personal stamp on the logbook in the letterbox. You can use sites like AtlasQuest.com to learn more about it and find letterboxes along your route.
Want to keep your kid’s eyes off of their devices and in the world around them? Try organizing a game that requires them to search their surroundings like a scavenger hunt, truck and car spotting, or bingo. Check out these free printable road trip games and also our very own License Plate Game here on Beyond The Tent.
Especially if you have kids who get carsick, try some activities that don’t require them to read or write. Games like Would You Rather, 20 Questions or Round Robin Stories are also great for a media-free evening around the campfire.
Ready To Get Exploring?
Try these 6 Family Camping Trip Routes Around the United States.
Our nation has so much to offer from national parks and historic sites to big cities and white sand beaches. Here are some of the best camping trip routes and destinations by region that you should try on your next family camping road trip:
This relatively short route can be easily extended over a week or more since there are several big destination spots along the way.
Start at Melville Ponds Campground while you explore the Newport, Rhode Island area.
Next up are Cape Cod and the North of Highland Camping Area, which is a short walk to the beaches and right near Provincetown.
The next stop on the route is the historic city of Boston. Stay at the Minuteman Campground, which offers transportation to the city center. Plan to stay here for at least two nights so you can spend more time exploring all that the waterfront city has to offer.
Try some lobsters and visit the lighthouses in the next city on this route, Portland, Maine. Stay at the Hid’n Pines Family Campground nearby the city.
The last stop is in Acadia National Park. Famous for being the first eastern national park, it boasts beautiful views of the rugged Maine coastline, excellent family camping and hiking options and best of all, it is dog-friendly.
Try this loop of the Mid-Atlantic area to explore some of the nation’s most iconic cities, beaches, and some lesser known hidden gems. You’ll want to plan at least 10 days for this trip.
Start out in New York City. You can explore the Big Apple with Floyd Bennett Field in Gateway National Recreation Area as your home base. Just hop the ferry over to Manhattan to sightsee during the day.
Take the NJ Turnpike down to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell, the Mutter Museum and ride one of the duck boats. Stay at Timberlane Campground, the closest tent camping site to the city center.
Baltimore is the next stop on the list. Make this one a day trip and explore the Inner Harbor area. Stop to snack on some Maryland blue crabs from Captain James before heading out of town.
Head straight to your campsite at Greenbelt Park Campground just outside of Washington D.C. Spend your evening roasting marshmallows in this woodsy oasis near the capitol city. Be sure to get there early because the sites are first-come-first-serve. The College Park Train Station (4931 Calvert Rd, College Park, MD), which takes you right to the city center, is only a few minutes from the campground and has a parking lot for a small fee on weekdays and is free on the weekends.
Once you’re done exploring the capitol city, head to Assateague Island where you can camp on the beach. Plan a day of hiking to explore or just stroll the beaches to catch a glimpse of the island’s famous wild horses.
Take the Lewes Ferry from Delaware to Cape May, NJ and settle into the Adventure Bound Camping Resort for some rest, relaxation and lots of summer fun for the last day or two of your trip. Cape May is only a 2.5-hour drive up the coast and back to NYC to complete this fun-filled loop.
Follow this route through the deep south to enjoy some old-world southern charm, white sand beaches, and historic sites.
Start your trip in historic Charleston, South Carolina where you can stay at the campground at James Island County Park with easy access to the city. Make sure to visit Fort Sumter for a Civil War lesson and take a tour of downtown to learn about this antebellum city.
Take a short drive down to Charleston’s sister city, Savannah, Georgia to grab some soul food, stroll River Street and take a ride in a hearse on one of their famous ghost tours. Stay at River’s End Campground on Tybee Island and enjoy beautiful beaches, or camp out in the low country at Skidaway Island State Park.
Next, take a drive down to the panhandle and enjoy the white sand beaches of Pensacola, Florida. Stay at the Pensacola Gulf Islands National Seashore while you soak up some rays and the kids play in the calm gulf waters.
Finish your trip in the jazz capital of the country, New Orleans, Louisiana. Try some crawfish, enjoy some live NOLA jazz and explore the French Quarter. Stay nearby at the New Orleans West KOA for easy access to the city.
Didn’t think there was much going on in the Midwest? Let this trek through the middle states prove you wrong with adventures in national parks and world-renowned cities.
Begin your journey in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can enjoy hiking, biking, and wilderness camping. Feeling adventurous? Plan a night of camping in the backcountry.
Travel just a few hours to the home of country music in Nashville, Tennessee to enjoy plenty of live music and some of the best barbecue in the nation. Stay nearby at the Anderson Road Campground.
Take a ride north over the Mississippi to St. Louis Missouri to see the gateway arches and explore the city’s rich culture from art and science museums to outdoor adventures. Stay at the Onondaga Cave State Park and explore the network of caves while you’re there.
One of the quintessential road trips is through the American southwest, and for good reason. With miles of open road, towering rock formations and legends of cowboys and outlaws you’ll be glad you tried this trek through several of the region’s most iconic parks.
Start in Santa Fe, New Mexico where you can stay at the Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground with easy access to Old Town. Explore the city or take some day trips to explore ruins, old mining towns, and colonial villages.
Drive north to the Rio Grande National Forest where you can stay at any one of their convenient campgrounds while you enjoy the beauty of the rocky mountains.
Next, you’re off to Utah. Make sure to take in the sites along the way like Monument Valley, where many of the famous westerns of the 50‘s and 60‘s were filmed. Make your way over to Zion National Park for an amazing hiking and camping experience among some of the most beautiful rock formations in the country.
To close out your trip, drive south to Grand Canyon National Park, featuring one of the most well known natural sites in the world.
One of the most beautiful and untouched regions of the country is the Pacific northwest where scenic coastline meets lush forests.
Start in the Siuslaw National Forest on the coast of Oregon for excellent hiking, swimming, and fishing.
From here you can choose to drive up the coast on Route 101 to take in more of the Pacific coastline, or head inland to shorten the trip to Portland, Oregon’s largest city. Camp at Oxbow Regional Park while you explore the city.
Take a day trip to the nearby Mt. Hood National Forest or grab a campsite there to explore the area for more than one night.
Finally, drive north to Mount Rainier National Park to see the active volcano and hike and camp near its icy slopes.
Family camping road trips have a special place in American culture and they are a fantastic way to introduce your children to the natural wonders, historic sites and diverse cultures this country has to offer.
Not sure what to pack? Read Family Camping Checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything on your next trip.