When done right, camping is a blast. It brings to reality idyllic stories of roasting marshmallows over a fire and telling imaginative stories while gazing at a night sky. Once the initial equipment is purchased, camping can be a frugal way to vacation – averaging about only $30 a night. Opportunities to camp around the country are endless, but if you’re new to camping or have young children, “experts” recommend beginning the adventure close to home. It just happens that Connecticut offers some fantastic campgrounds. We have five recommendations for tent camping that your family can try out. If you don't feel quite ready to pop up a tent, we mention a few locations that provide cabins for rent, while still keeping things basic. In addition, we offer some camping tips that will help make the experience that much more enjoyable.
For more ideas on how to have a great summer, browse our Summer Fun Guide.
Hammonasset Beach State Park - Madison
Bird watch in the nearby marshes, visit Meigs Point, the recently renovated nature center, bike, stroll the boardwalk at sunset, go boating or canoeing, fish, play horseshoes, or just relax at the beach - there is much to do here. As Connecticut's largest public beach park, Hammonasset offers some 550 grassy campsites, perfect for nature enthusiasts. Amenities include restrooms, showers, a camp store, dump stations, and water. Open Memorial Day weekend until mid October, this is definitely a place where the family can return a couple of times a year.
Mystic KOA - North Stonington
Located on a 250-year-old site of one of Connecticut's first farms, this campground is situated among maple and apple trees. Enjoy beautiful views, children's activities, and amenities like a swimming pool, mini golf, and bike rentals. Centrally located in a vibrant area, the campground offers convenient access to Mystic Seaport, Mystic Aquarium, and the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center.
Charlie Brown Camping Ground - Eastford
If you're looking to explore the quiet side of Connecticut, this campground offers opportunities for horseback riding, biking, fishing, hiking, and swimming in the Natchaug River. Children will enjoy moon bounces, pony rides, horseshoe tournaments, and entertainment. The revolutionary town of Eastford features charming antique shops, ice cream parlors, and an orchard.
Housatonic Meadows State Park - Sharon
If you're seeking a woodsy experience in the western part of the state, few places are more tranquil than the Housatonic River. Camp under the tall pines, enjoy a picnic by the riverbank, go fly fishing or canoeing, and, of course, hike. This campground is ideal for nature lovers not interested in entertainment or "extras".
Strawberry Park Resort Campground - Preston
You will not run out of things to enjoy here: the campground features five pools (including a kids' diving pool and a kids' swimming pool), indoor arcade, recreation center, super soaker wagon rides, a jumping pillow, athletic fields and courts, a nine-hole Frisbee golf course, and plenty of activities to keep the family entertained all day.
If you don't feel quite ready to pop up a tent, the following locations provide cabins, tipis, or huts:
Lake Waramarug State Park - Kent
In addition to tent sites, this campground features six rustic cabins in close proximity to the picturesque lake. Enjoy hiking, fishing, kayaking, and explore the charming towns in Litchfield County.
Bear Creek Campground - Bristol
In addition to RVs or tents, Bear Creek offers deluxe tipis, cub huts, and cabins. You can also participate in family-friendly activities and take advantage of transportation to and from Lake Compounce Family Theme Park.
Black Rock State Park - Watertown
Four cabins are available here, and the campground includes a picnic area, bathrooms, and opportunities to enjoy scenic views, swim, pond or stream fish, and hikes that can last from half an hour to all day.
Water's Edge Family Campground - Lebanon
Choose from two model campers or two camping cabins and get ready for a fun getaway that features many children's activities, including dancing, ice cream socials, painting, ladderball tournaments, tie dye, and more. Grab your dinner at the local farmer's market and let Fido have some fun in the Bark Park.
GrandView CampResort & Cottages - Moodus
Whether you're camping in a tent or RV, or looking to rent a cabin, this campground has you covered. Enjoy swimming, outdoor games, letterboxing, basketball and tennis courts, pool tables, campfires, or horseshoe pits. Nearby attractions include Gillette Castle, Devil's Hopyard State Park, and wineries.
If you're camping for the first time, here are some necessities to consider:
- A weather-proof tent that provides more square footage than you think you need (especially if you’re traveling with pets). It is recommended that you shop for a tent as a family and spend a few minutes inside a showroom one.
- Air mattresses or thick pads are important to a good night’s rest and should be taken into consideration when choosing a tent size. Sleeping on hard ground or being poked by rocks isn't the way to enjoy nature.
- Appropriate sleeping bags: if you know you’re only going to be a summer camper, there is no need for a sleeping back fit for the Arctic; it will be costlier and probably make for uncomfortable, overheated sleep.
- Flashlights (with fresh batteries) are necessary (headlights allow you to work hands-free) for every family member. Of course, anything else that glows in the dark – bracelets, necklaces, or wands easily found at crafts or toy stores – will make little campers very happy.
- Bug repellent is an absolute must. Think ticks, mosquitos, gnats, and other pesky insects: don't let them deter you from enjoying the outdoors, but definitely prepare to keep them at bay.
- A first aid kit should include tweezers (for ticks and splinters), a kit for potential bee or wasp stings, and poison ivy scrub.
- Unless you’re camping in a remote area, food and water should be available nearby; plan your meals ahead of time and look for camping recipes your family can try. Be aware that most camps do not offer drinking water, so secure an appropriate supply ahead of time.
- Toilet paper because, well...you know. Also, don't forget to pack an ample supply of wipes.
- Pets - many Connecticut campgrounds do not allow pets, so check ahead of time.
Not necessities, but items that will make for a fun adventure:
- A camera. Though technology should be left at home (and most children will forget about it as soon as they come up close to nature), a camera captures unforgettable moments. Let your child be the photographer, or bring a journal or drawing pad for the creative little campers.
- Nature guides – a few days spent outdoors can be a great time to learn the names of insects, trees, or flowers.
- A board game – though you will likely spend most of the time on trails, fishing, or otherwise exploring, it’s nice to return to camp and unwind after dinner. When was the last time your family played Jenga or Rummikub?
- Bears are home in nature...and teddy bears should feel just as welcome. Stuffed animals can help children not feel alone or scared in the middle of the night, especially in a new place. Allow your child to bring along a beloved stuffed animal to keep him or her company. Oh - and keeping your campsite clean (no leftover food, no dirty dishes) can help prevent real bears from rummaging through your belongings.
Top image: courtesy of KOA (Kampgrounds of America) Press Room
Originally published 6/15/16.