When warmer weather hits, Seattle-area families are more than ready for the change of scenery and big dose of nature that camping provides. But if you don’t have a campsite reservation, or want to capitalize on a random sunny-weather weekend (these can’t always be predicted), have we got a solution for you: Re-create some of the best aspects of camping — and skip a few less savory ones — with our list of ideas for your awesome at-home family campout.
First, you need your shelter. If your family are regular campers, you can just pitch your tent in the yard. If you don’t have a tent and still want to sleep outside, get creative stringing a cord between a tree and a fence post. Drape some sheets over it and pin the edges to the ground with toothpicks or slim stakes (Note: This will leave holes in your sheets.). Or rig up a teepee with broom handles and a sheet. A tarp or thick picnic blanket on the ground will give you a dry surface.
So maybe you don’t have a yard, or don’t fancy the idea of sleeping outdoors. For your camp-in, pitch a small tent right in the living room or in your basement. No tent? Build a blanket fort with blankets, sheets and tons of pillows. Clothespins work well to secure all your corners and seams. (Or perhaps your fam is equipped with a ready-made fort kit?)
Cozy beds required! For kids to sleep, all they need is a sleeping bag and a camping pad. But here’s where (nearly?) middle-aged parental bodies are going to super-love the at-home campout. Drag out your memory foam mattress topper or the airbed you use for guests. Your fave flannel sheets will do nicely, plus all the covers you want. And you can gather up every pillow in the house and not worry about stuffing them all in the car. Ahhhh.
Cookout time. For an authentic camping experience, get out your camp stove or your grill. If you’re the ambitious sort, try a genius campfire meal for your backyard dinner. Or grill up some tasty burgers — it’s grilling that gets the dads cooking, am I right? For a less-fuss dinner, break out the hot dogs and grill them, or just boil them on the stove inside.
Set the camping mood with a backyard firepit or chiminea, if you have one. A hibachi also works — because you know we’re getting to the s’mores in a sec. No fire pit? Turn off all the lights inside and outside your house and hang up some string lights, or gather around a lantern or some candles. (Of course with any type of fire or candles, you’ll need a grown-up eye on them at all times.)
Dessert. It’s really why we’re doing all this. Set your s’more over your firepit or hibachi grill, or just melt (and grow!) your marshmallows briefly in the microwave. And how good is it that you can just pop inside and easily wash all the sticky hands and mouths? When you’re ready to go beyond the traditional s’more, try elevating your campfire dessert with these sweet cook-over-a-fire recipes.
Game time. You’re never going to get the kids to sleep without burning off the sugar bomb they’ve just ingested. Convince your crew to leave all the devices inside and play some old-school games. Try a no-equipment game such as charades, red light, green light or Simon says. Larger families could try sardines (a twist on hide-and-seek) or Mother, may I? For fun lawn games, try kid-safe lawn darts or croquet. For very young kids, go nuts with the bubbles for a popping-good time.
After games, it’s time for music or stories. My husband likes to play guitar by the campfire. Do you have a musician in the family? Or see if you can get the troops singing in a family sing-along. It might be fun to teach the kids classic folk songs like “This Land Is Your Land” or “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Or sing whatever you know — belt out the Beyoncé if that’s what you like. Ghost stories are fun for older kids; you could look one up beforehand if you don't know any.
For families with older kids, cozy up for an outdoor movie. You could watch together on a device in your tent, or set up the big screen following these DIY outdoor movie ideas. After your movie or stories, have everyone zip inside to brush their teeth and for a final bathroom break, then snuggle in to sleep.
Good morning!? First things first: Run inside and get the coffee maker going. Then, if you’re feeling ambitious, fire up the camp stove for pancakes or oatmeal. Or there’s nothing wrong with a buffet of cereal, fruit and milk grabbed from the kitchen.
You know, I generally like camping and being in the woods, sleeping outside in our state’s beautiful places. But not needing to make reservations nine months ahead, skipping packing the car and not battling traffic or ferry lines ... plus having the comforts of home 10 yards away? I think I could become a backyard camping convert.