Did you know that June is National Camping Month here in the US? If the prospect of loading up the family for a trip into the wilderness seems like more than you can (or want to) deal with, plan a camping trip a little closer to home—like in your very own backyard!

Three years ago, I would have turned my nose up at the mere mention of a backyard campout. Where’s the adventure in staying at home, right? Fast-forward to today, and the thought of rounding up my rambunctious two-year-old, our two dogs, and all of our camping paraphernalia to head into the woods makes me want to take a nap.

My husband and I want our daughter to share our love and respect for the outdoors, but we also value our sanity. Setting up a tent in the backyard seems much more appealing—at least for now!

Backyard camping doesn’t mean we’re completely off the hook in terms of preparation, though. I consider myself pretty outdoorsy, but I’d prefer not to camp in overgrown grass, clouds of mosquitoes, or poky sticks.

Keep reading for my family’s plan to get our backyard ready for a fun-filled campout to celebrate National Camping Month.

Backyard Maintenance

Mow the lawn

Close-up image of lawn mower in grassLong, overgrown grass increases the likelihood of creepy-crawlies joining your party (at my house, long grass attracts snakes, much to my horror), and maintaining a regular mowing schedule is healthier for your lawn.

Follow these lawn mowing tips:

  • Before you mow, have everyone in the family walk through the yard to pick up rocks and sticks that could dull the mower blades.
  • To encourage healthy, dense growth, cut only the top third of the grass—if necessary, adjust the height of the blade.
  • Make sure your mower blades are sharp. Have them sharpened (or do it yourself) if they’ve dulled, and consider purchasing an extra set of blades to rotate through the season.
  • You probably won’t want to camp in damp conditions, and it’s best not to mow the grass then, either. Your yard will fare better if you can wait for dry weather.
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Spray for mosquitoes

Mosquito bites are no joke—between the threat of West Nile virus, Zika virus, and general itchiness, it’s a good idea to do everything you can reasonably do to deter mosquitoes.

You’ll find several mosquito-repelling yard sprays at your local home improvement store, but for an easier alternative, contact a mosquito control professional. Most mosquito control companies offer a range of services, including one-time sprays, recurring sprays, and automatic misting machines. Be sure to ask about kid- and pet-safe pesticide options.

Do a final walk-through

If you don’t have pets, you can probably skip this step, but for those of us with a small menagerie, a walk around the yard with a small shovel and a plastic bag is a necessity.

Pick up any errant dog poop (and chicken poop, in my case—an unavoidable part of having laying hens that love to forage in the yard) to avoid unpleasant surprises as you set up camp.

Camping with Kids

Setting up

Woman setting up a tent with three childrenNow that you’ve done all the hard work, it’s time to set up your campsite. To make the experience as authentic as possible, prepare as you would if you were venturing to the mountains.

  • Plan and prep meals—dinner, dessert, and breakfast—and bring everything you’ll need out to the campsite.
  • Find your stash of flashlights—try to make sure every family member has one of their own—and round up any other utility items you might need, such as matches, lanterns, and a pump for air mattresses or inflatable sleeping pads.
  • Gather your tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads or air mattresses, pillows, blankets, and camp chairs, and send your kids off to scout out the flattest part of the backyard.
  • If you have the space for a tame campfire, gather a few dry logs for an evening fire and s’mores. If you have a fire pit on your patio, it may be easier (and a little safer) to relocate the party temporarily rather than creating a fire ring in the yard.

Activities

In my pre-kid life, camping was an opportunity for the type of peace and quiet that can only be found outdoors—napping in a hammock whenever the mood struck, curling up with a book, or taking a leisurely hike.

With kids, planned activities are much more important. Impromptu naps are out of the question, and my daughter thinks hammocks are pretty nifty—for about 30 seconds. Luckily, there are plenty of fun games to play outside.

  • Toddlers will enjoy wandering around the yard to find leaves, plants, and flowers on a simplified scavenger hunt.
  • Once the sun sets, older children might like flashlight tag—and as a bonus, all that running will help everyone sleep well.
  • Get the whole family involved in a silly skit or a round of camp songs from your childhood.

Bedtime

Woman setting up a tent with three childrenCampout nights are probably not the time to enforce a strict bedtime. And smaller children may get a little spooked by nighttime noises, especially if it’s their first camping experience. Be patient, and take the opportunity to snuggle as a family.

Unless your children are really frightened, try to keep everyone in the tent overnight. Plan a fun camping breakfast as incentive for making it through the night.

Packing up

Packing up is my least favorite part of camping, but it has to be done. Make sure everyone has a job, whether that’s rolling up sleeping bags or pulling up tent stakes, and institute a rule that until the campsite is completely packed up, no one walks into the house with empty hands.

Even though you’re not camping on public land, packing up your backyard campsite is an excellent opportunity to introduce your children to “leave no trace” principles and talk about leaving the campsite in better condition than you found it.

When my family camps, I try to leave our schedules open for a nice, long nap the following day. Camping is supposed to be fun and relaxing, and I like having a day to rest and slowly get back to our normal routines.

Ready to Camp?

Camping is a wonderful, low-cost way to unplug from our busy, technology-focused lives and spend time with family. Whether you’re an experienced camper or new to the whole scene, a little preparation will ensure that you have a fantastic time.

Follow my tips above to turn your backyard into an ideal camping spot, and then relax and enjoy the evening with—dare I say it?—your happy campers.