The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Camping

Sleep under the stars without going too far from home. Just use our backyard camping guide to get started!

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Whether you’re a camping newbie or have roughed it tons of times, backyard camping is a blast. You get to immerse yourself in the outdoors, without all the packing, planning and gear-buying associated with traditional camping (plus, having nearby access to a clean bathroom is a pretty big perk). Plan your mini-getaway for an outdoor adventure—complete with plenty of s’mores—with these helpful hints.

Three Ways to Create a Cozy Campsite

Setting up a cozy nest takes some teamwork. Here’s how to do it.

  • If you have a tent: Treat your backyard like an honest-to-goodness campsite. Take your tent outside and find a smooth, flat surface to call home for the night. Everybody can pitch in, whether it’s spreading out a tarp first, or putting together the poles. Make it cozy inside by lining the tent floor with yoga mats, bed rolls or multiple layers of sleeping bags and cushy comforters. But if you really need extra comfort, there’s no harm in bringing out an inflatable air mattress (like this self-inflating one) for extra cushioning—it’s not cheating, it’s just making everyone’s experience a whole lot happier!
  • If you don’t: You can easily create a makeshift shelter by tying a rope or clothesline between two trees and hanging a large tarp, blanket or canvas over top. (This 10×12 tarp is perfect!) Just make sure you have a dry place to sleep by laying a waterproof tarp underneath, then make it comfy by layering lots of blankets and cushy pillows on top. And for the inevitable next time, make sure to snag this fan-favorite Coleman tent!
  • Make it magical: Set the scene by hanging lamps or stringing lights around the tent (these will do the trick). They’ll illuminate your campsite with a soft glow, and help everyone feel more comfortable spending the night outdoors in the (slightly less) dark.

Cook Up Some Camp Chow

One of the best parts about camping? Eating around the fire!

If you have a fire pit, it’s easy to roast hot dogs, toast marshmallows, and even cook up meats and veggies in foil packets. Or get inspired for your outdoor cooking adventure with any of these camp-friendly recipes.

If you don’t have a fire pit, a small charcoal grill like this one will work. You can even make pudgy pies over the coals whenever tummies start to grumble. This pie iron makes it super simple!

Of course, you don’t need a campfire to eat like a camper. Pack sandwiches, trail mix, juice boxes and desserts in your cooler to grab at the ready. And because s’mores are a necessity even without a fire, try these fun, flame-free mini s’mores that are easy to make in the kitchen and pack up to enjoy outdoors, even where there’s no campfire in sight.

Plan on Games and Activities

There’s so much adventure to be had outside! From classic backyard games to hikes around the block, here are some fun activities to keep the whole family entertained all day—and into the night.

  • Neighborhood Nature Hunt: Make a list of different types of plants and animals to spot in the backyard, around your neighborhood or in a nearby park. Pack a backpack with a camera, a journal and plastic bags, then set out for your neighborhood hike. Point out the objects you find from the list, then take a photo of each object. Record it in a nature journal like this one, and write down how it looks and feels. For small objects, collect them in small plastic bags to inspect later and create your own nature collection.
  • Throwback Fun: Classic games like Simon Says, Telephone, Tag and Name That Tune are fun for all ages. Plus, they don’t require any extra packing!
  • Flashlight Foraging: Someone hides a small trinket or toy somewhere in the backyard, then, when it starts getting dark, everybody goes on a search to find the item. The hider may need to give people a hint for where to look, but they’ll love scavenging to find the treasure! This four-pack of flashlights will do the trick while hunting.
  • Campfire Stories: What’s a campfire without gathering around for some storytelling? Start with spooky stories regaled with an eerie flashlight glow illuminating your face. Or tell a story in-the-round, where each person takes turns to build upon the story as it goes. (Get ready for giggles!)
  • Stargazing: If it’s a clear night, spread out a big blanket, throw down some pillows, and cozy up together to look at the stars. You can bring pictures of constellations to search for, or use your imaginations to dream up your own star shapes!

Find more ideas for family camping games.

Make a Rule to Stay Outside

Make sure the event feels like a real campout by prepping ahead so you won’t have to dash back in the house every few minutes. Pack up everything you’ll need to sleep overnight, including a tent, sleeping bags, stuffed animals, pillows, flashlights, games, books, bug spray and a cooler packed with snacks and drinks.

Once you have all your essentials, make a pact that everyone should only go inside for emergencies and bathroom breaks (no sneaking in to check phones!), to make it feel like a real rustic getaway. And, of course, all electronics stay inside (that goes for parents, too!).

Whether it’s your first time camping as a family, or you just want a mini trip without all the hassle, backyard camping is fun at any age, because adventure can be found right outside your door. Use this checklist to plan your family camping trip.

Next up: Learn how to make the most of your time outdoors with this guide from Family Handyman.

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Rachel Seis
As senior editor for Taste of Home magazine, Rachel has her hand in everything you see from cover to cover, from writing and editing articles to taste-testing recipes to ensuring every issue is packed with fun and fabulous content. She'll roll up her sleeves to try any new recipe in the kitchen—from spicy Thai dishes (her favorite!) to classic Southern comfort food (OK...also her favorite). When she's not busy thinking of her next meal, Rachel can be found practicing yoga, going for a run, exploring National Parks and traveling to new-to-her cities across the country.