By Dan England
My kids are hardy. They enjoy camping. They will even sleep in a tent. They are also teenagers.
Those traits can clash sometimes, as you’ve probably guessed. They still want their screen time. They still get hungry every 12 seconds. Most of all, they don’t like being uncomfortable. Yet, we’ve had many great times together sleeping on the ground. How do I do it? Well, I’m a genius, read every parenting manual and my kids love me dearly.
Also, I have some tips for you, which probably have more to do with my success.
Pair your camping with fun, cool stuff to do. Fortunately, most of the best camping in Colorado sits next to something cool, such as a state or national park. You can probably get your kids to go on a short, pretty hike, but having other things to do, such as rocks to climb, places to explore or even a town to check out helps make the trip fun. Kids won’t be happy just sitting around the campsite all day.
Leave the hardcore stuff for yourself. I am happy sleeping under a tarp on a small mat at 11,000 feet. The odds of my kids wanting to do that, or even my fiancé, for that matter, are low. Making sure they are comfortable at night is a HUGE key to your kids wanting to go again. I’m thankful my kids will sleep in a tent: Many other families have bougie pop-ups, RVs or campers, and that’s basically bringing your bedroom to the outdoors. So, I bring air mattresses, pillows, extra blankets, a lantern and anything else that will make our night as comfortable as it can be. Bring more blankets than you think you will need: It gets cold in Colorado at night, even in the summer.
Relax on roughing it. A tent, in my mind, is roughing it, so I try to be as liberal as I can about allowing other comforts of home. I let my kids bring their smartphones, headphones and Nintendo Switches. I know this breaks some supposed holy law about unplugging, connecting with nature and spending time together, but we usually spend all day doing that.
If you want to bring board games, crafts or a ball for the dog, great. Those things can make camping a lot of fun. But give your kids time to unwind by allowing them some screen time. I usually need it, too, after a day outdoors with my family. Bring lots of portable chargers, too, and zap them back up in the camping bathrooms or during your time in town.
Offer them something they can’t get in a hotel. The best way to create memories for your kids is to give them something to remember. I once took the kids out to Crow Valley Campground in northern Weld County because it’s one of the best places to see the stars in the state. I took the kids to Rifle Falls because of the waterfalls they won’t see anywhere else and a river that rushed by our campground, luring us to sleep. I took them to Rocky Mountain National Park to listen to the Elk bugle at night. These are not experiences they could get in a hotel, even if the hotel was five minutes away. Camping offers you many ways to enjoy the outdoors, but you have to prove it to your kids to sell the idea of going back and roughing it again.
Have plenty of snacks and water. Even when they are teenagers, kids get super cranky when they are hungry, thirsty or both (and so do adults). Food and water are a pain in the butt, especially when teens consume it as if they’re preparing for hibernation, but it’s the key to a happy campsite. Make sure you have plenty of it, or a nearby town that will allow you to restock. Restocking is also a good reason to go to town, and one of the best parts about camping is returning to civilization (and ice cream) for a bit before you dive back into the wilderness.
Let them be teens. If you get them up early for a hike one morning, give them another where you don’t need to get them up at 6 a.m. Let the sun, the warm tent and the noise of the campground wake them up. You may want to sleep a little later, too.
Dan England is a freelance writer and mountaineer, hiker and ultramarathoner. He lives in Greeley with his jazz-singing fiancé, his three kids (including twin girls) and a dog, Pepper. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram, @DanEngland, and TikTok, @adventuresinengland.