The Ultimate Guide to Camping with Toddlers – From Planning Your Camp Trip to Packing Up!

I remember that feeling the first time we decided to camp with our toddler – it was a mix of excitement (we love camping after all), nervousness (would all this packing be worth it) and a sort of leap of faith… we had no idea what to do with a tiny person while camping!

Many, many camp trips later, as well as two more kids after our first, we have learned a thing or two about camping with your babies and toddlers… and it’s ALOT different than what you’re likely used to if you have camped by yourself prior to bringing the kids!

That isn’t to say it isn’t awesome – it is, just in a different way!

Anyways, most of the guide I read gave really general tips. Looking back now, I wanted to give a VERY in depth guide to camping with toddlers so that you can feel secure every step of the way.. because I sure as heck didn’t!

What do you bring?

What the heck do toddlers do all day in a campground?

How in the WORLD will they sleep somewhere new (when it took you months to get them to sleep at home!)??

camping tips for a good camp trip with toddlers

Don’t worry, all these questions and more will be answered! And my hope is, after reading this, you won’t “wait until they’re older”. Because when they’re older might never happen if you (and your kiddos!) don’t get in the habit now!

Here we go!

What to plan ahead of time for a great first camp with your toddler!

Planning is CRUCIAL guys! And to be honest, that first camp trip can make or break your camping experience for awhile!

If your toddler (or you!) have an awful first time camping, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll try it again for awhile. I mean, who wants to put forth all the effort for it to be a scream fest?

Anyways, here are the top tips I’ve found to really set yourself up for success when planning your camp trip with your toddler!

choosing a campsite when camping with a toddler
We love choosing a campsite that is close to water!

Check the weather for your planned dates

  • Verify warm comfortable weather – Make sure the weather allows for MAX fun, so make sure that it will be reasonably warm (but not too hot!!) Water play is always a big entertainer at our camp sites, so it’s really important that it’s warm enough to do so!
  • Ensure there is no rain in the forecast – I know the saying is there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes, but let’s be real. Your one year or two year old will not find much fun getting soaked and cold in the rain, or stuck in the camper or RV the whole time
  • Check the lows at night – it’s unreal how cold it can get once the sun drops! While you’ll likely be able to dress everyone warm enough, I usually choose not to camp with my toddlers if it is dropping below 45. The story is different for older kids, or perhaps those braver than me!

Choose a campsite close to home

When camping with your toddler, you will be WAY less frustrated that the camp trip didn’t work out if you are only an hour away from home as opposed to somewhere awesome 4 or 5 hours away!

This is also nice because you can sort of “test drive” the campground by day camping!

This lets your toddler get used to the very different activities they will be doing, primarily outside, as well as get you guys used to packing (more toys? less toys? etc)

how to plan a camp trip with toddlers
This campsite was just half an hour from home! BONUS: Camp with friends who have kids so that everyone can help out (and get a break!) Plus, toddlers are easier to entertain with other toddlers around!

Speaking of campsites… choose an “easy” campground!

What I mean by this is choose a campground that won’t require a ton of supervision.

Yes, you will still have to watch your toddler… but it’s way more intense watching them if you’re really close to water or close to the road!

For more in depth information, here is a full guide on how to pick a perfect campground for the kids

Here are some quick tips for now on picking an easy campground for your kids

  • A comfortable distance from water – Far enough that it is unlikely they will wander to it should you look away for a minute, but close enough that it’s still easily accessible and not a big deal to walk to it through out the day!
  • Away from main roads – It is awful to have to constantly make sure your kid doesn’t run in the road! Some campsites are near the main roadway that runs through the campground – I try to avoid those by camping in the off shoots that go off that main road. That way, there is way less traffic.
  • If you have to camp near the road… – Sometimes this isn’t an option! Try to find a campground that you can set up camp far from the road, or if you’re RV camping, the road can be sort of blocked and “out of sight, out of mind” so that your toddler is less likely to run into it
pick an easy campground when plannign a camptrip with the kids
Another tip for that first trip camping with your kids – choose a fairly developed campground that has things like bathrooms, water, and easy places to walk! It makes the transition from homelife to camping a little easier!

Plan for one night of camping (don’t get overly ambitious!) but bring supplies should things go well!

This is a mistake alot of parents make!

Don’t plan a giant week long camp trip to somewhere really cool without knowing how your toddler will do camping!

Important things such as knowing how well they sleep and what all they need to keep busy during the day are key factors in knowing how long you all can (sanely) camp!

It’s good to be optimistic, of course, and pack extra food and clothes should everything go well and you want to keep on camping!

Plan to arrive at camp during the day so as to avoid rushing set up and create stress for everyone!

It can be really stressful setting up camp for the first time, especially when you have to make sure the sleep situation is ready for your toddler!

Plan to arrive with plenty of time for your kid to play and get used to the camp site, as well as to give yourselves time to set everything up the way you want it!

Besides, we all know that some kids don’t transfer from the carseat.. so if yo u arrive at night, and you’re setting up camp while your toddler is in the carseat, it’s like waiting for a bomb to go off!

As soon as he wakes up, it’s go time!

And if his sleep spot isn’t ready.. you’re in for a loooong night!

It’s better to wear them down at camp and go to sleep intentionally in their designated sleep area!

set up camp during the day with toddlers
We set this camp up just in time – we were able to get everything set up in the light, and the kids were able to play with some toys after the travel!

Get some camping books for your toddler to get them excited for camping!

Alot of having a great camp trip is the set up, and this includes doing everything you can to get them really excited for it!

Get some camping books that let them know all the fun stuff they might see and do camping!

This is also a good time to talk about what things might be different, such as night time sounds, day time activities, and sleeping area!

We loved these camping books for our toddler – they are full of pictures, and all describe camping through different view points!

Lastly… you might read this and wonder what age can kids start camping?

ANY age! Heck, we went camping with our twin babies at two months while they were still on supplemental oxygen!

To be honest, the baby stage is a little easier just because they can be carried everywhere and don’t often object.

They are also easier to contain – they can be put in pack n plays, carriers, jumpers, high chairs… they don’t need too much!

Toddlers though?

They are just learning their independence, and everything is new and excitiging! They want to do everything for themselves, but at the same time still need alot of reassurance from you… and honestly, it’s a magical time!

Camping with a toddler will really bring back the magic of getting outside – they notice little things like caterpillars, pretty rocks, the sounds the birds make, the way the sun looks on the water… so just know, all this prep work will be worth it!

what age can kids start camping
Our toddler first camped when he was around 6 months, but our twin girls camped at two months! You can never start too early when it comes to camping with kids!

Don’t forget this 9 page checklist + planner to keep your organized when camping with your toddler

Now that we got that initial planning phase done, we are going to move on to packing, activities, meals and more!

It can kind of seem overwhelming, but I’ve gotten it pretty much down to a science.. and I put it on paper!

I made this 9 page kids camping planner checklist because, let’s be honest, it can feel like ALOT of extra work to go camping for just bringing one (or more!) additional little people!

Here’s what’s in this 9 Page Toddler Camping Checklist + Planner!

  • Camping Checklist for making sure you pack everything!
  • An activity planner to beat boredom at the campground
  • A 4 day meal planner + shopping list so everyone stays happy and full!
  • An easy guide to picking a campground to ensure the safest and funnest camping experience for your baby or older children!
  • 4 camping and hiking songs they’ll love!
  • 3 crafts and activities to making camping with your baby even more fun!

What to pack and bring when camping with your toddler!

Kids are surpisingly easy to pack for! The key to not getting overwhelmed is to not pack too much!

I find it easiest to think through the whole day, and just make sure I have what I need for whatever activities happen!

I’m going to go over some basic things to pack, including clothes, footwear, snacks, as well as some helpful toddler camping gear that isn’t completely necessary… but REALLY helpful!

If you want more details, I did write this really detailed article on what to pack when camping with babies and toddlers here!… it’s still pretty applicable!

bring extra clothes when taking a toddler camping
Kids WILL get dirty camping – and that’s ok! Just make sure you have clean sleeping clothes, as well as extra day clothes for “accidents”!

Clothes to pack to ensure a comfortable camping kiddo!

A word before I start this list – YOUR TODDLER WILL GET DIRTY!

And here’s the bomb – THAT’S OK!

What that means is you definitely don’t have to change your toddlers clothes after every time they get dirty.. in fact, we usually make it by with two sets of clothes for each kid!

They just rewear the same “day time clothes” that they did before!

The only reason we bring two sets is in case one set gets wet – we can set one out to dry, and change them into their second set of clothes!

Anyways, here we go!

  • 2 long sleeve shirts, 2 short sleeve shirts – Long sleeves are great for that additional warmth in the cool mornings or evenings!
  • 4 Pairs of pants (and undies if you’re at that stage!) – This is the ONLY thing I pack what could be considered “too much of”. However, if you have a freshly trained toddler, or perhaps one still using diapers, it really sucks to have to use accident or blow out pants!
  • 4 pairs of socks – This sort of varies (depending on how many I can find in the house.. ugh!) but it’s nice to have clean socks everyday because foot sweat is real, and leaves socks crunchy! Ew!
  • 1 pair of sandals, 1 pair of shoes – I like sandals for day time use to stay cool! However, I always bring a pair of shoes because the morning dew on the grass when we start our day is pretty cold! I also like shoes at night so that when we are near the campfire and playing in darker conditions, no one’s feet get hurt as easily! Bonus tip: Bring light up shoes to keep track of runners!!
  • 2 pair of footie PJs – A full body outfit is way better at keeping in warmth, so I always bring two! The extra is just for any accidents that happen. We have a pull behind camper now (started car camping) and I still dress everyone warm in footie PJs!
  • Atleast two jackets (campfire safe!) – I know “puffies” are popular camping jackets because they are so warm, but consider leaving it home and instead getting a Carhartt! They are way more durable, and also won’t rip and burn from embers as easy! I tend to bring one heavy one (the carhartt) and a lighter one for layering or just when there’s a chill breeze during the day!
  • Awesome sun hat – I’m not talking about those cutesy ones that are super basic – I mean those legit floppy hats that have giant brims, venting and break away straps! Face sunburns are the worst, and sometimes kids rub off their sunscreen since they touch their face so much! I really love Sunday Afternoon Hats for Kids, and have purchased their hats for all three of my kids!
the best hat for camping with toddlers
Here is that Sunday Afternoon floppy hat I was talking about earlier! All of our kids have one and we love it!!

Toddler camping food to pack!

Camping, to me atleast, is all about having fun, and spending the least amount of time prepping!

And if you have a picky toddler like mine, that probably means alot of snacks if you can’t prep like normal!

I do reccomend having atleast one “solid” meal a day. Snacks are awesome, but I find they definitely don’t sustain a little active body… for us, that’s the only meat he will eat, which is a certain brand of chicken apple sausages!

Lots of finger food, with an emphasis on non sticky items (there’s alot of dirt around when you’re camping!)

Here are some examples of easy prep food to bring camping for the kids!

  • Breakfast – Scrambled Eggs, Oatmeal, Pancakes, Cereal (dry cereal is actually great to keep the kids occupied while you get their breakfast ready should it need prep work!)
  • Lunch – Hotdogs, sausages, left over breakfast, sandwiches (we do peanut butter ones!)
  • Dinner – Same as above! Usually there are left overs, or the kids don’t mind eating the same thing again!
  • SNACKS – Squeeze pouches, nuts, dried fruit, cliff kid bars (or similar bars) yogurt, S’MORES STUFF!
camping food for toddlers and kids- pancakes!
Pancakes in the morning for the kids! Buy mix at the store, or bring your own premade mix so it’s easier to make!

If you notice, the list gets easier and easier as the day progresses! Also, there ISN’T a giant menu!

This means less food to pack, and that just makes everything way easier if you have a limited amount of space to store it (especially if it’s refrigerated!)

S’mores are the magic – they are hyped up for a reason!

Besides making a fire (because my 3 year old loves to throw sticks in it) s’more time is his favorite!

Here’s how to make the perfect s’more + other fun s’more stuff! (it’s more than you think!)

s'mores while camping to make it special for kids
My sweet guy enjoying a yummy s’more!

Other helpful toddler camping gear!

Some of this stuff didn’t really fall into food or clothes, but thought it was still worth mentioning!

I do have a list of must bring baby camping gear, but alot of it still applicable to younger toddlers! Check that out here!

  • A pop up shaded area for everyone to hang out in-  This was a lifesaver for that middle of the day heat! Being stuck inside the camper / tent / car is awful, however being in a cool shaded tent is great! It’s even better if it has drop down sides that keep the bugs out!
  • A large bucket or kiddie pool – Water play is a great way to cool off as well as keep busy toddlers entertained! Ours dropped rocks into a 5 gallon bucket for AN HOUR, by himself, while we were able to just hang out in our camp chairs the whole time!
  • A kid carrying backpack – Our 3 1/2 year old still sort of fits into his back pack, but those two years of toddlerhood, the backpack was essential! It allowed us to set up camp, get chores done, hike and whatever else while also caring for him! If we only did stuff when he was happy and cooperative, I’m pretty sure over half of it would have never got done! We love the Osprey Poco series!
  • A camping chair of their own – Toddlers are all about independence, so it’s really nice to have their own chair! They will likely try to climb into the adult chairs, and of course they will tip which might mean hitting a rock or, even worse, falling towards the fire ring! Besides, they are just cute!! (If you’re curious, here are the best toddler camping chairs of 2019!)
  • An all terrtain stroller – We love the Thule Chariot! This can handle all the rough terrain of a campground, and is a lifesaver should your toddlers have a hard time sleeping with all the excitement of camp!
helpful toddler gear to bring camping include an all terrain stroller and a kid carrying backpack for exploring
Hubby pushing our twin girls in the chariot and carrying my son in the Osprey Poco Child Carrier!

What toys do I bring camping with my toddler?

You’ll find alot of different opinions on this one!

Some people say that nature should be enough – and it likely will be! All the rocks, plants, sticks etc paired with some simple pots and spoons is probably going to keep them pretty occupied!

However, I definitely thing there’s a time and place for really awesome, special camping themed toys!

P.S. I wrote a pretty extensive list of the best kids camping toys – everything from ones you use at home (camping lego and barbie themed toys, pretend campfires etc) to ones you would actually bring camping!

Anyways, I find camping specific toys really helpful for a couple of reasons

  • Camping toys are an easy way to get kids excited to go camping! These toys ONLY come out while camping, so they are special!
  • Alot of camping toys are designed for rougher so will hold up longer
  • Having a second set of toys that is stored with the camping / camper items reduces the amount you have to pack for each camp trip
  • And, let’s be honest – there are some awesome camp toys that are just nice to have to keep the kids entertaind for longer should they get bored, or are on a longer camp trip!

With that being said though, let’s focus on toys you already likely have around the house so that you don’t have to spend more money!

  • Balls – Try to shoot for big ones as the tiny ones get lost in the tall grass! (Lazy mom hint – playing catch is a really easy way to be able to sit in your camp chair and relax while still entertaining your toddler!! LOL!)
  • Extra kitchen items (spoons, pots, plastic cups) – this will be the big crowd pleaser as kids LOVE to pretend cook with stuff in nature! Especially if you have water available for play!
  • Trucks and shovels – These are pretty standard outdoor toys, and they’ll be even funner at camp with more dirt and grass to dig up!
  • Easy to clean special toys – I mean toys that your kiddo LOVES, and that they already know all about so that perhaps they can play unassisted with it! It might also provide comfort to them at the new campground!
Open campsites are easier for little kids camping
A fun activity we personally love “create a digsite!” it’s simple (dig a hole, give them shovels and toys!) and they’ll play forever!

You’ve arrived at your campsite with your toddler – now what?

No matter if you are tent or RV camping, there is alot of set up that only adults can do!

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t involve your toddler somehow to keep him busy and make him feel like he is being helpful!

Here’s a plan of action to get everything set up in camp while keeping your kids busy

  • As soon as you arrive, get the toys out! – Kids will be excited to be somewhere new, and having their toys to play with will likely keep them around camp and prevent them from wandering off as easy while you’re trying to set up! We have all of our camp toys in a bucket at the very front of our storage compartment in our camper so that it’s easy to access when setting up, and last to be packed when we’re leaving!
  • Start making a snack – we usually have a couple really yummy, ready to go snacks for important events such as set up and take down of camp. Cliff Kids makes this really tasty snack bar that is somewhat healthy, so we tend to give each of the kids one of those!
  • Assign a fun task – Almost every single time, this chore is something to do with the fire. It can be helping unload the firewood we brought, finding kindling (little sticks) and putting them in a pile by the fire, or if there aren’t many sticks nearby, just building up the fire ring by adding more rocks!
keep kids busy around camp with fun chores
Our toddler’s favorite thing to do around camp is anything involving the campfire! This particular time, we asked him to get the firewood out of our camper. He was kept busy around camp, and we were able to set up!

How do you keep your toddler busy and entertained while camping?

This is probably one of the biggest questions besides how to get the kids to sleep at night… and you’ll be happy to know that toddlers tend to entertain themselves while out and about somewhere new!

If you’re only camping for a short period of time (such as one day and night) then you might not even need to do anything extra with them, unless of course you want to! The funness of being outdoors the whole day, eating special food and exploring will probably not wear off for awhile!

However, if you are going to be camping for awhile, or maybe just want to make the camp trip special, here are some fun activities to do around the campground!

Related: Here’s 11 fun things to do around the campground with kids that are mostly hands off (meaning the kids won’t need help from you!) and cheap! We’ve been able to actually enjoy our camp trip, in our camp chairs sipping on a cool beverage while the kids are having a blast doing these activities!

Here are some fun things to keep your toddler entertained while camping!

  • Make “sensory soup” with items from around camp – This is a favorite of all my kids! It’s really simple – get a pot of water, give them a big wooden spoon of sorts, and send them out to gather items for their soup! If you have younger kids you can definitely let them do their thing, but for older toddlers I made some fun sensory soup recipe cards here to help give direction as well as inspire creativity!
  • Make a campsite sign – Toddlers loooovee to claim everything as their own, so why not let them make their own custom campsite sign to let everyone know this is their camp? Just make sure to bring some paper and glue! I tend to write out “Luke’s camp” and then let him use the glue to add things as he likes to it.
  • Do some fun camp themed crafts – There are so many fun “campy” crafts to do with kids! Check out this list of 53+ camping crafts (don’t worry, there’s something for almost every age and ability!)
  • Have a nature scavenger hunt! – What better way to encourage kids to observe what’s around them than by trying to find things in nature with a scavenger hunt? This might be something you will need to help your toddler with, but it’s honestly a great experience to go on a little hike to point out and talk about everything on the sheet!
  • Ask them to do “chores” – As I mentioned earlier, assigning them little tasks is a great way to keep them busy! Easy tasks for toddlers around camp include gathering kindling, making a pile of rocks to add to the fire ring, and sweeping up camp!
  • Fill a bucket with water and let them drop things inside of it! – I know this sounds super simple, but really any form of water play is super fun for kids! It’s fun for kids to experiment with what things sink or float (and if you watch Blippi at home… he does an episode on this too which might be something to hype the kids up about!)
  • Set up a wash station for cleaning off treasures they find! – This is sort of similar to the bucket activity, but this includes bringing something like a toothbrush to help them wash off cool stuff! There are LOTS of interesting rocks and sticks that you can only see the true color of when wet! Let them know about this, and you’ll be amazed at the excitement they have every time they find something new to clean off!
  • Bring some play doh and create with nature – We really like bringing a couple jars of play doh each camp trip because it makes a really good medium for building with! We like building houses because the playdoh is so easy to poke sticks into without worry of them falling over or needing to be precise! Another fun activity is to use items from nature to build fun animals with the play doh!
campsite sign fun activity for toddler around camp
Write out your child’s name on a paper, give them some glue, and let them make their own campsite sign!

How do you get your toddler to sleep while camping?

This is probably the SCARIEST thought… trying to camp, having everything different than normal, and then missing naps or even worse, not sleeping at night either!

The good news is that it’s likely that naps will happen – they might not be at the normal time or length, but the sheer exhaustion of playing outside all day will make them more willing to sleep anywhere!

While it’s still good to keep a similar schedule as home, don’t get too caught up in maintaining naps while camping!

It’s highly unlikely that one or two days of a messed up schedule will ruin your hard work you did at home getting your kids to sleep on a decent schedule!

I wrote articles specifically on how to get your toddler to sleep while RV camping ,as well as how to get your baby to sleep while RV camping , however, most of the tips can apply to tent camping as well!

If you’re tent camping, check out this article on how to help your baby (or toddler – most of the tips work for both ages!) get warm, comfy sleep in a tent! as well as this guide to the best toddler camping beds!

Here are some of the most important tips to get your toddler to sleep while camping!

  • Maintain the same night time routine as at home – For us that’s a book, vitamins, teeth brushing, and some stories in bed. This will help signify to your toddler that bed time is coming up next, even if you’re away from home!
  • Get a white noise machine – Tent walls are pretty thin, and no one wants to creep around a sleeping toddler in a camper either! There are alot of amazing portable white noise machines that can really soften the typical campground noise (talking, music, vehicles etc) and allow your kiddo to sleep and you to stay up if you choose without having to whisper!
  • Get a baby monitor that takes batteries – If you plan on hanging out by the campfire after, it’s very important to still be able to hear what’s going on in the tent or camper! It’s really amazing to be able to still hang out after bed time, and not have to stay right next to where your kiddo is sleeping
  • Acknowledge that your toddler will likely go to bed much later – Summer days are long, and it’s really hard to go to bed sometimes while camping if they are used to a darkened room at home! There are workarounds for this, especially if you are using a pack n play (check out this blackout cover up for pack’ n plays) or in a camper (drape a thick sheet over the entrance to the bed to darken it) however it is what it is! Atleast you know they will likely sleep well!
  • Walk them to sleep! – Sometimes there is no option other than just throwing them in the backpack or stroller and waiting for them to fall asleep. It’s alot to calm down and decompress from such an exciting day! Wait to transfer them until night time so that there is nothing going on should they wake up during the transfer! We love our osprey poco backpack (that carries our 3 1/2 year old who is almost 40 pounds!) and our Thule Chariot Stroller that does amazing on bumpy campground roads!
how to get toddlers to sleep while camping
P.S. Here is the Chariot in action! If all else fails, you can walk everyone to sleep! We’ve done this ALOT of times while camping – it can be pretty hard to relax for naps and such when you’re having so much fun!
how to camp in an rv with your kids and get sleep - black out the bunk
This is our sleep set up for our toddler in our camper – there is a pressure mounted baby gate to make sure he doesn’t fall out (really it’s more of a deterrent), a white noise machine right out of view on the table, and we have that super thick blanket to block out most of the light!

How do you pack up camp with a toddler (or more!) to keep track of?

Packing up is similar to setting up camp, except that you will likely be focused on putting things away in a very specific manner – and that can be hard while trying to watch a busy body run everywhere!

Here are the best tips I have for packing up camp and keeping your toddler occupied

  • Pack the toys last! – The toys are always first to be taken out, and last to be put in! Typically we only have a bucket full of toys and maybe a truck or ball, so it’s not that much extra to pick up!
  • Use a pack n play – If your toddler still fits in one without being able to climb out or tip it over, now is the time to use it! Tents need to be folding very particuarly to fit back in, and RV have alot of moving parts going on to get ready for travel! For more space, consider getting a camping specific play pen such as the Summer Infant Portable Playyard – it packs up really small, and has an optional shade attachment!
  • Ask them to help with something – We lik asking our toddler to help sweep off all the mats and rugs, or give him a wipe to clean up all the chairs! Not only does this make them helpful (instead of brushing them off and making them frustrated!) but sometimes they actually DO the chore!!
how to keep babies safe while camping and entertained
Even my oldest goes in the camp play pen sometimes if we really just need to get stuff done!

Do you feel a little less nervous about camping with your toddler now?

I hope I’ve covered everything that you have wondered about!

The first run might not be your best – but as long as it isn’t AWFUL then I bet it will keep getting better!

Let me know if you need any help or have any questions in the comments!

Don’t forget to PIN THIS if you loved it and it helped you! <3

Let’s help everyone go out on a camp trip and get away from the mundane life of chores and cleaning at home!

Thank you!


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