Pack some paper and pencils in your backpack for a nature scavenger hunt. Photo by Melissa Hillier/Flickr
Pack some paper and pencils in your backpack for a nature scavenger hunt. Photo by Melissa Hillier/Flickr

17 Camping Games to Play with Kids

Camping is a great way to explore and enjoy nature with kids, especially in a summer when families want to maximize time outdoors. But when everyone returns to the campsite from the day's adventures, camping games can help keep children entertained (no screens needed!). Here are 17 camping activities for kids to play with parents or with one another, whether they're sheltering from the rain or settling in by the campfire for the evening.

For more old-fashioned games to pass the time, introduce kids to these outdoor games from the 70s and 80s.

1. Sleeping Bag Race

Whether they hop like grasshoppers, wiggle like worms, or leap like frogs, this variation of the potato sack race will surely result in much giggling (and maybe even an earlier bedtime). A grassy area is best, followed by an insect check after the winner is declared.

2. Mancala

Take old-fashioned fun to a new level: Mancala is one of the oldest known board games (think ancient Egypt!). You can purchase a wooden board equipped with glass beads or glass stones, or let the children dig small holes in the dirt and play using stones, beans, or seeds. The objective of Mancala is to capture all of the opponent's pieces.

3. Card Games

War, Go Fish, Crazy Eights, UNO, or Exploding Kittens...the options abound. A deck of cards is inexpensive, easy to pack (you can even get a deck for the kids and one for the grownups), doesn't feature extra pieces, and can provide fun for a variety of ages and skill levels. In keeping with the camping theme, you might even consider S'Mores the Card Game.

A deck of cards is easy to pack in camping gear and the gateway to dozens of kid-friendly games.

4. Animal Habitats 

A great option for little kids, small plastic animal figurines are an engaging way to play farmer, zookeeper, aquarium trainer, or whatever else imagination decides. The toys are easy to pack in Tupperware or a Ziplock bag, and given the abundance of grass, sticks, leaves, acorns, pebbles, and other natural resources at their fingertips, children can happily play in the dirt, creating various habitats. As an added learning bonus, you can choose animals or insects native to the area you are visiting. 

5. Gone Fishing

Grab a magnetic fishing set and let little ones make the catch of the day, whether on the edge of a lake or nearby stream, or from a bucket at the campsite. (Be sure to always carefully supervise children when near water.) 

6. Water Brigade 

Another fun game using water can be played by two children competing against each other, or by dividing a group into teams. Determine a starting and finishing line (10-20 feet, depending on the players' ages), then place two containers with water at the start line and two empty ones at the finish line. Give each child a small cup or sponge, and on the word "Go," each player or team has 2 minutes to transfer as much water from one bucket to the other. Teamwork and carefulness are important since the race is won not necessarily by speed, but by who carefully transfers the most water into the end bucket.

7. Nature Scavenger Hunt/I Spy

Much loved by children, scavenger hunts are a great way to pass the time while being alert to the environment. Leave home with a few free printables or let the children create their own checklist once you reach your destination. Themes can include birds, insects, trees, camping supplies, and woodland creatures.

Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

8. Glowing Ring Toss 

Need a fun activity after darkness engulfs your campsite? This is it. It only requires water bottles (full, for stability) and glow sticks, either bracelet- or necklace-sized. Use as many glow sticks as you need.

9. Bear Catcher

This game of tag requires sleeping bags and willing cubs. One player is the bear catcher and the rest are bears. Place one sleeping bag (aka cave) for each bear around the campsite and have each bear sit on it. The bear catcher stands in the center of the play area. On the word "go," the bears must race to a new cave before the catcher can tag them. A tagged player becomes the new catcher; or you can modify the rules and declare the last "free" bear the winner. 

10. Drawing in the Dirt

Give the kids some sticks and let imaginations go to work: whether they play tic tac toe, hangman, draw stick figures, or plan out a hike, dirt is a great canvass. Add some water and let them make mud pies or give their plastic animals (see above) a mud bath. Of course, this activity is much easier if the campground you're staying at has showers. 

11. Jenga

Got a picnic table and time on your hands? Jenga is the perfect game to play when you’re hanging out at your campsite. The classic Hasbro game is easy to pack and suitable for all ages and skill levels. Outdoor enthusiasts will love Jenga’s national parks edition, a fun way to learn about the country's great outdoors and sneak in some learning during summer vacation. 

RELATED: Best Board Games for Kids of All Ages

12. Balloon Toss 

A handful of inflated balloons (or a beach ball) can easily result in fun and exercise around the campsite. This can be safely played even inside the tent on a rainy day. 

13. Mosquito Bites

Grab some red dot stickers (though any themed stickers will do) and make a list of prohibited words that can't be used for a set period of time. Anyone who slips gets "stung" with a sticker. At the end of the session, the winner is the one with the least "bites". Another variation is simply trying to get rid of your stickers by secretly placing them on other players. 

14. Camp Charades 

This classic is suitable to everyone in your camping party. Write down the names of movies, plays, famous people, a well-known phrase, or a favorite food and throw them in a hat. Take turns trying to act out the words without using your voice. You can even keep with the camping theme, where all suggestions are outdoor related: hiking, skipping rocks, swimming, roasting marshmallows, fishing, napping...and the list goes on.

15. Hiking Stick Limbo 

This one is as easy as it sounds: grab a hiking stick, a trekking poke, or a long enough branch. Place it over two chairs. Start the music (be mindful of your proximity to nearby campers who may really appreciate only the sounds of nature) and see how low you can go as the stick is lowered with each round. Whoever knocks it down is eliminated.

16. Cornhole

Cornhole is an awesome and straightforward game, and it’s perfect for camping. Just load your boards into your car and set them up at the campsite. Take turns tossing bean bags into the holes. Each bag that goes into a hole is worth three points; each one that lands on the board without going into the hole is worth one point. Tally the points in each round, counting the difference toward the team or player with a higher number. (If you score seven while your opponent scores five, you get two points.) The first one to get to 21 wins. Choose a board with an LED component or add your own, and you'll have fun playing into the night. Or, you can find a collapsible edition, lighter to pack and definitely great for younger kids.

17. Add to the Story or Mad Libs

After a long hike or drive to reach your destination, you may want a game that requires little effort. For a mellow activity that allows you to sink in your camping chair, grab something to write on and a pen. Have someone write a few lines to a story, then fold it over so that only the last sentence is showing. The next person does the same thing and passes it along. When you reach the end of the page, you’ve got a fun, memorable, and oftentimes hilariously story to read around the campfire. If you'd rather forgo the narrative, pack a few Mad Libs books (choose from different themes) and behold the silliness that emerges from these word games.

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Top photo by Melissa Hillier/CC BY 2.0

 

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