As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.

Fall camping activities for children

By Thomas Ray

Fall camping activities for children

In most areas, fall means crisp, pleasant days and cool, comfortable nights. It is a great time to introduce children to camping and outdoor activities. Here are some ideas that are sure to captivate your curious camper and enhance their outdoor experience. 

Keep it light

Make sure the children have fun. Ideally, that’s what it’s all about. If they don’t seem to be interested, move on to something else, stop to eat or take a break. Not giving them too much of a good thing at one time should keep them coming back for more.

Animal tracking

Animal tracking and observation is a great activity to get youngsters interested in nature. One way to get started at home is to get a couple of books on animal tracks and tracking. Begin by sharing a little of this nature knowledge when it makes sense, such as when you observe an animal track or sign together. Next, if you have room at home, build a tracking box. To do this, build a wood frame of two by two-inch lumber that is four feet by four feet near an animal trail or at the edge of the woods. Fill the box with loamy soil and then screed it out with a board, making a smooth, flat, level surface. You can place baits in the center of the box to attract certain animals, or just leave it to chance and see what happens by. Finally, you and the kids can put your knowledge to work when you go camping, identifying the animals and their habits from tracks you find together along the way. Making plaster casts of tracks is another fun activity. There are also great articles online to help you build and use a tracking station

Bird identification

While growing up, my mom and I spent hours in front of our living room window, observing and identifying birds that came to our feeders. Later I graduated to learning the sounds of various bird calls and even identifying the tracks of certain birds. You can teach your little one how to identify birds, too. Aside from getting outside and practicing identifying birds in your own backyard, you can purchase one of the Sibley Field Guides for birding basics, birds of western North America, birds of Eastern North America, and more. Reading through this book with your child will help them develop a better understanding of the birds that live around them. 

How to cook with sticks

Camping just wouldn’t be camping without cooking on sticks! The two most popular items for this are marshmallows and hot dogs. When cooking hot dogs, show children how to choose and cut a forked stick. This way, they won’t have to try to push the stick through the entire length of the hot dog. Choose green sticks of woods such as maple or hickory that are non-toxic. For marshmallows, straight sticks will work. If they want to cook quickly, let them do it with marshmallows. They will soon discover how they prefer them cooked.

Campfire stories

Scary stories (as long as they aren’t too scary!) are always fun around the campfire, especially at Halloween time. There are some great books available. Perhaps you can choose one specific to your region. If you don’t want to read scary ones, you might want to try some traditional Native American stories, such as “How Coyote Gave Fire to the People.” This book was one of my children's favorites when they were growing up. 

Nature walks

While you are camping, you and your child might like to try simply going one a “nature walk.” While you are hiking, move slowly and quietly and be extra vigilant. Be on the lookout for animals and their tracks, plants, and insects you can identify. If your child is older and you are very knowledgeable, you might even introduce them to wild edibles. Stick with things like wild plums and blackberries at first that can be easily identified. The number of activities you can enjoy during or after a nature walk with your child are endless. 

A tree or plant inventory

As your children get older, if they are interested, you can work to complete a tree or plant inventory for an area in which you camp. This activity can be used to teach children about the importance of biodiversity. For example, if certain plants are present, then particular insects such as specific kinds of butterflies might also be present. Journaling can also be taught through keeping records of plants encountered and how animal populations are affected from one year to the next. 

Survival camp

If your kids are old enough to read a book such as “Hatchet,” then they will love these activities! First, have fun by helping them building a simple “survival kit” using a plastic soapbox. Provide some basic items like a whistle, some string, matches, and a small knife (if they are old enough). They will get excited about learning as you teach them how to whittle a tent stake or make fire without matches. Keep the kits in a safe place and let the kids bring them along when you camp.

 A “shoebox survival campout” in the backyard is an awesome activity that older children with outdoor experience will enjoy. The mild fall weather that most areas experience make it the perfect time. Begin by giving each person a shoebox and tell them that they can only take things camping with them that will fit inside. They may choose to include things like matches, knives, garbage bags, duct tape, string, food (maybe a foil-wrapped potato for example) or a small fleece blanket. Then perhaps they can build a fire, rig a tarp made of garbage bags, and make a soft bed of leaves. Only help them if necessary. They’ll enjoy it more if they do it on their own. If it gets to be too much, they can just go inside.


These tips are sure to make fall camping with your family a fun adventure-filled experience that your children will remember and appreciate for years to come!

As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.