Camping With Kids: Where to Go and What to Take
Whether you want to really rough it or just sit around a campfire, here's how to pull off a family camping trip.
Spending time in nature is invaluable for children: it connects them with their roots, gets them away from all of the screens and into fresh air, and helps them learn about the world we came from. Camping with kids is a great way to bond with the family, as you have to be more innovative, prepare more, and step outside of your daily routine and comfort zone. There are many places right outside of city limits where you and your family can see and experience new things, get your feet wet, and make s’mores over a campfire right underneath the tall trees. Here’s your go-to-guide for making it in the great outdoors within 2 hours of Philadelphia.
5 Must-Pack Items
You’ve got a tent, a cooler, a camp stove, and all the beef jerky you can carry. Here’s what else you shouldn’t forget.
This is pretty much a given, but we’re going to remind you because it’s so important. Especially when sleeping and spending the majority of your day outside, finding a bug spray that protects you and your family against mosquitoes and ticks is a no-brainer. There are many types of bug sprays, and you may be tempted to go for the one that appears the strongest, but keep this in mind: there are two types of repellent against ticks, Picaridin and DEET. Picaridin can be used on infants older than 2 months, and is definitely a great alternative to DEET because it is odorless and non-greasy, but must be applied more frequently than DEET. Both options are great, but do your research to find out what you are most comfortable with.
First Aid Kit
Also a no-brainer, but this one is easy to forget. There are so many variables outdoors, especially spending most of the day outside, so making sure you have a comprehensive first aid kit is crucial. This one from Amazon is great especially for families who like to go on hikes because it is lightweight, but still has everything you might need.
Thick, Long Socks
They aren’t the most stylish, but they’re one of the most underrated camping necessities. Why? For the same reason we mentioned the previous two items: they provide ankle and foot support while running around while also deterring poison ivy and bugs. There are many types of socks to buy, and it mostly depends on what you’re going to be doing, be it hiking, running around, or just lounging. REI has a lot of cool patterns, and you can buy them online or in local stores in King of Prussia and Plymouth Meeting. The best part? Most of them are moisture-wicking and dry quickly.
Peanut/Sunflower Seed Butter
This might already be a staple in your kitchen pantry, but you should probably think about packing it too. It’s versatile, easy to store, and a great source of protein when everyone realizes they haven’t eaten in hours. Pro tip: it also tastes really good on s’mores. If you’ve got a nut allergy in your party, sunflower butter is a yummy alternative.
Dr. Bronner’s Soap
There are some campsites that have restrictions about the types of soap you can bring with you, but there is never an issue with Dr. Bronner’s. This is probably one of the most versatile and useful soaps on the market (it works great at home, too!). A single drop of this can be brought to a full lather, and can be used to wash anything from dishes to hands to even hair and face. One bottle will do it all and leave you with more to bring home, but the most important reason to bring this along is because of its impact on the environment. Because it’s natural castile soap, it’s extremely gentle — not just on people, but on plants, and won’t cause severe harm to the wildlife around your site.
5 Great Area Camping Spots
Now that you’re packed, where are you headed? Here are some awesome family-friendly options that are relatively close to home.
129 Lentz Trail, Jim Thorpe
Camping Season: April 1 – October 1
Located in the southern part of the Poconos, Jim Thorpe hosts a lot to offer for those who want to camp and still explore the surrounding town. With a downtown area that occasionally hosts farmers markets and events, quaint shopping and restaurants, it’s more than just roughing it. Surrounded by mountains and waterfall hiking, Jim Thorpe is also home to Glen Onoko Falls, where kids can hike the waterfall, and Mauch Chunk Lake, which has its own beach.
The camping resort occasionally offers kids activities, including a few activity weekends in August. There’s a children’s playground and camp shop on-site. Accommodations range from hookup/no hookup site to family cabins and RV hookups, and access to the campgrounds includes access to bathrooms and showers.
340 Blackburn Road, Quarryville
Camping Season: April 13 – October 29
This site is right in the heart of Lancaster County, which means Dutch Wonderland, Hershey Park, Strasburg Rail Road, and Amish Country can be part of your camping trip. While the campground itself has a waterpark, gem mining, a playground, fishing pond, mini golf and more activities on-site, there is plenty to do in the entire area. The park also hosts themed weeks as well, such as Under the Sea Week and a Memorial Day Weekend celebration.
This place has lots of options: you can stay in a tent or you can rent a cabin, a tiny house, or an RV if you’re not sure you’re quite ready for sleeping on the ground. Amenities include laundry, a community fire pit, a dog park, an Amish farmer’s market, and a camp store in case you forgot anything at home.
1639 Marshalls Creek Rd, East Stroudsburg
Camping Season: All year round, but main season is May 25 – October 29
East Stroudsburg is definitely the place to go if you want to get away from everything. There are a variety of outdoor adventures near the park, including zipline parks, waterfalls, and lots of hiking. However, the campground provides scheduled activities throughout the day including sports arts and crafts, and even movie nights. There are also kayaks and canoes for rent and 60 acres to fish and explore.
The campground has three outdoor pools including a diving area, a separate kiddie pool, and a beach, and there’s an indoor pool as well. There are multiple sport courts with rentable equipment. The amenities at this camp resort include WiFi, tent and RV sites, laundry, and a convenience store.
2200 Rosstown Road, Lewisberry
Camping Season: Mid April to Late October
Encapsulating a gorgeous lake filled with colorful wildlife, this state park offers a lot more than camping for the families who want to take the time to explore nature. With around 18 miles of different trails varying in difficulty levels, a huge lake to swim, fish, and boat around, and a snack bar, this park is great for a day trip or an extended stay.
The park offers some unique features aside from regular tent camping, including camping cottages, cabins, and even yurts. The park has an amphitheater, playground, a pavilion with snacks, and you can bring your furry friend too.
US-206, Shamong, New Jersey
Camping Season: April 1 – October 1
The cool part about camping in New Jersey is simple: the wildlife is completely different in the Pine Barrens. Wharton State Forest is marshy, with lots of ponds to explore, and the trees grow in sand, not dirt. Not only is the environment unique, it is also historic: there are buildings from the 1800s to explore, blacksmithing and sawmill demonstrations, and wildlife refuges. This is definitely the type of camping for those who are looking for an authentic camping experience; it’s a no-frills endeavor that will help everyone learn more about the great outdoors.
Wharton State Forest has nine campsites ranging from primitive to family style, but Atsion Campground is more accessible for families because of the amenities. The campground has 50 campsites for tents and RVs, but also nine rustic cabins right along the lake. Amenities include two playgrounds and a swimming beach with a lifeguard on-duty, and grills, but you may want to double-check your gear before you leave, as there is no camp store.
Photograph by Sarah L. Bender.