Pitching a tent in the backyard, pulling out an old radio and telling ghost stories under the stars… backyard camping is a timeless family tradition. You get to enjoy the novelty of a stay in the great outdoors without schlepping your gear all over creation – and without being miles from indoor plumbing. Whether you’re hanging out with your besties, kiddos or just your partner, here are some ways to make the experience a memorable one.
And don’t worry; we won’t tell if you make it more of a glamping trip than a camping trip.
Here’s the Pitch…
If you don’t have a camping tent – or you just want to make the experience even more fun – building your own can be really magical. Tarps, canvas drop cloths, sheets or blankets can make a great improvised tent. Dress up your shelter with greenery, string lights and lots of cushions.
Go For a Theme
If you really want to take your backyard camping experience to the next level, consider incorporating a theme. Maybe it’s retro camping with throwback games (Twister, anyone?), kitschy decorations and vintage equipment. It could be a summer camp vibe where you make team pennants, weave lanyard keychains and improvise a camp theme song. Or maybe you make the entire event a bougie glamping affair, with lush seating and gourmet snacks!
You’ll get hungry at some point in the evening, so plan on bringing some snacks. Whether you pack a picnic, roast weenies over the fire or get out the grill for a full-on cookout, sharing a meal outdoors is always a lot of fun. Don’t forget camp cooking classics like S’mores, popcorn, orange brownies and campfire elotes!
Backyard games are fun all year long. Washer toss, badminton, giant Jenga, croquet, cornhole, ladder toss, bocce… the options are endless! If you want to take the fun to another level, consider setting up tournaments with carnival prizes.
Speaking of games… coordinate a scavenger hunt that will have everyone laughing. Pass out flashlights, a list of items to find and a way to collect them, like a basket or backpack. Need ideas? It could be natural elements, like sticks, leaves or flowers. It could also be fun things you place around your yard beforehand that will be used later in the evening, like campfire marshmallow forks, lanterns, toys or outdoor pillows.
There’s nothing better than movie night in the backyard. Set up a projector and hang a white sheet or canvas dropcloth to serve as the screen. Remember to be courteous to your neighbors with the volume!
Want to make it a no-screens night? Instead of playing a movie, serve as your own entertainment! More dramatic campers could try a little improv or stage a silly play. Everyone could get in on the fun with charades, Pictionary or Who Am I? (that game where you write a famous person's name on a card and stick to someone's forehead and they have to try and guess who they are.)
Stories to Tell in the Dark
Everyone loves to gather around the campfire and tell stories. While traditionally those are scary stories, there’s nothing wrong with telling silly stories, long jokes or interesting mythologies. We also love playing campfire story games, like Telephone or Round-robin, where everyone goes in a circle and improvises a little bit of the story.
There can be a little chill in the air at night, even with a fire going. Bring out flannel throws and hoodies for everyone to bundle up with. Warm drinks in thermoses will be a welcome treat; everyone can enjoy hot cocoa or mulled apple cider while the adults sip hot toddies, coffee or chai.
The whole point of camping is to let loose a little and enjoy the outdoors. There may be mishaps and a few bug bites, but you'll be so glad you took this little staycation adventure!
There's nothing closer to perfection than a classic S'more. Picture it: a gooey campfire-toasted marshmallow, sandwiched together with a Hershey bar between two graham crackers. It's warm, decadent and wonderfully easy to make. But we're big believers that there's nothing so close to perfection that it can't be improved upon, and S'mores are no exception. A little creative flair can take this campfire treat from "wonderful" to "WOW!" with almost no effort.
The Banana Split
Classic graham crackers + marshmallow + milk chocolate + sliced bananas + sliced strawberries
The Peanut Butter Lover’s
Chocolate graham crackers + marshmallow + Reese’s Cup + peanut butter
The Girl Scout
Chocolate graham crackers + marshmallow + milk chocolate + caramel sauce + toasted coconut flakes
Chocolate graham crackers + marshmallow + peppermint patty
Cinnamon sugar graham crackers + coffee marshmallow + white chocolate + sprinkle of pumpkin spice
Classic graham crackers + strawberry marshmallow+ white chocolate + sliced strawberries
Classic graham crackers + Bourbon marshmallow + dark chocolate + candied bacon
Classic graham crackers + marshmallow + peanut butter + sliced bananas + candied bacon
Classic graham crackers + milk chocolate (wrap in tin foil and heat over campfire)
Not a big fan of graham crackers? Swap 'em out for something more indulgent. Chocolate chip cookies, Rice Krispie treats, Stroopwafels, flat pretzel crisps, donuts, brownie crisps... the possibilities are pretty much endless!
DON'T GET SURPRISED.
If you have a sprinkler system or automatic fl ood lights, turn them off to avoid a nasty surprise at night!
PREPARE FOR BUGS!
Whether you use sprays, bug zappers or candles, do whatever you can to mitigate mosquitoes, ticks and other nuisances.
Remember that you're not really camping; don't feel the need to pack for every possible scenario or emergency. You can always just run inside for whatever you're missing.
CAN'T BUILD A FIRE?
Use a propane camping stove, grill or kitchen torch to toast marshmallows. If you want to simulate a campfire,
spread yellow, orange and red tissue paper over white LED string lights.
SET THE RULES.
Here are a few things to consider when backyard camping in a group:
• Will everyone have access to their phones and screens the whole time, or only in certain circumstances?
• Will you limit the number of trips inside?
• Will you all be sleeping outside, or just the kiddos?
• Who is the “leader” in case of emergencies?
• What are the physical boundaries everyone needs to abide by?
• What happens if it rains?