Getting Outside with Kids Tip 4: Camping


Up until this point, we’ve discussed activities that require minimal investment to easily engage kids in outdoor places. Camping is not necessarily one of those activities. However, it’s easier than you realize and getting started can be very simple. In fact, for those that are regular tailgaters at your favorite sporting event, you are already well on your way.

As in previous posts, the advice here is the same – start small and easy. For camping, the easiest starting point is the backyard. The gear you will need: a tent, sleeping bag or blankets, and something soft on which to sleep (foam padding works great).  If you don’t have this gear, you can rent a tent and ground pad from your local Alabama Outdoors before making a purchase commitment. The backyard allows you to be outside with the convenience of home – add a fire pit and it’s your own “remote” campsite with added benefit of being able to go inside at any time.

As you venture out from the homestead, gear becomes more important. For those avid tailgaters, much of the gear you haul to each game can also be used at your local state park to create that “home away from home” campsite. Chairs and camp furniture, grills, coolers, cookware, plates and utensils can all double as your camping gear. The canopy you use at the tailgate also makes a great cover for shade over the picnic table. Again, your choice of tent and sleeping gear becomes very important. A quality tent can save the weekend by keeping unexpected rain and other elements at bay. The quality of your sleep is very dependent on the right choice in sleeping bag and ground pad for the weather in which you’re camping. Your local Alabama Outdoors can assist in choosing the right product for your particular need and getting you out to the campsite ready to enjoy the weekend.

Finally, when can we reasonably take kids camping away from home? The answer is up to you and your (and their) comfort level with the process. Our children have been camping around the age of two (the pack and play works just as good in the tent as it does in a hotel). However, that may not be the norm.  Understand that the way your kids are at home will be the way they are at the campsite. Meaning if they are good sleepers at home, they likely will be in the tent. The best advice for young children is to follow your same routine at the campsite as you would at home. A bed-time story, song or other evening ritual ensures the only thing different that evening is the place and gives your child (and you) the best opportunity to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep. Finally, properly equip them to be outside given the temperature difference between their normal sleeping environment and a tent. Understand the evening’s temperature and properly dress young children and cover appropriately. Their ability to be comfortable while sleeping will improve everyone’s experience.

While more of an investment than a quick hike or trip to a local park, camping can be a rewarding way to change a weekend routine, unplug and reconnect with your family in different setting.  As always, preparation is key. Alabama Outdoors can assist with this preparation from checklists to gear selection to advice on accessible places to camping with the family.

Getting Outside with Kids Tip 3: National Parks

Tip 3: National Parks

With the 100th Anniversary of the National Park system, there has been renewed focus on the parks as a national treasure and resource available to everyone. The Park system offers access to some of the most spectacular outdoor places in our great country, just waiting for your family to visit. Rather than rewrite what can easily be found elsewhere about the Parks, I want to share some experiences that have been valuable to my family as we’ve visited the Parks.

Junior Ranger Program

The Junior Ranger program is an opportunity for you and your children to invest in first-hand in each national park. In every park, you can pick up a Junior Ranger workbook at the closest ranger station or visitor center. The workbook walks kids through a series of fun activities specific to that park. Additionally, it asks that kids participate in outdoors activities and listen to a talk by a Ranger. The activities are age appropriate (older children are asked to do more activates, younger less) and very young kids can often complete assignments with adult assistance. The reward for this work?  Your child receives a special Junior Ranger badge or patch and takes the oath as an official Junior Ranger. It has been a special occasion to see the excitement each time our children have earned a badge and has been a favorite for them on each trip.

Schedule and Activities

On a trip to Yellowstone, I was not sure how much time to allocate to certain activities. Our kids were six and four and I wasn’t sure they would be that excited about geysers and mud-pops. I was wrong. It was a favorite of the trip for them, (outside of the bison sightings) and opened my eyes to what got them excited. From that point on in our trip, I looked for every opportunity to stop and see something similar. On each trip, it is tempting to set a fixed schedule and stick to it.  However, it is important to be flexible enough to respond to your children’s excitement. Yes, make a point to see the major sights, but also build on the “win’s” and enthusiasm for the things they enjoy. You might be pleasantly surprised at where it will take you and your family.

Child Carrier

For traveling to Parks with younger kids, there is no more valuable piece of gear than a backpack style child carrier. Walking for smaller children is unrealistic due to the distance and often sheer mass of people. Strollers as highly impractical and time consuming. A child carrier is the most practical gear for moving small children in these environments as they as compact, store all the “gear” you bring for small children (think diapers, food, drinks, change of clothes) and allow for easy movement throughout the crowds. The carriers also allow for flexibility to get off the main path and explore different areas that may not be sidewalk accessible. Be sure to note the weight rating of each pack, as it will limit how large of a child can be carried.


For the most popular parks, it is important that you begin planning as early as possible. Often, if you want lodging in the park itself, you must reserve a year or more in advance. There are many resources available to assist with your trip planning, but start with the lodging reservations and work from there.

National Parks can be a great way to wow your children and spark a life-long love of outdoor places.

Getting Outside with Kids Tip 2: Hiking


Tip 2: Hiking

Hiking sounds intimidating. It implies you need gear, training and a vast knowledge of outdoor places.  It is reserved for the most outdoor savvy among us. In reality, you are just walking.  Yes, probably a little more involved than walking down the sidewalk, however, it is much more fulfilling and offers kids both a challenge and reward for their efforts. So how do we begin?

Start Easy

Pick a trail that is both nearby (short drive) easy in terms of mileage and elevation change. Most online guides will provide an overview of the trail and give details such as distance and elevation. Many will also provide a “rating” of the trail difficulty, often on a scale from easy to very difficult, and even as “family friendly”.  Start off with a short, relatively flat, and “easy” trail. What distance?  Most kid’s age 5+ can easily hike 1-2 miles on a flat trail with little difficulty. You know your child best and can make the best selection based on your child.  When in doubt, choose the lesser distance. Your goal is to make their first trip the best experience possible, and incite excitement for future hikes.


You will need some basic items with you on your first hike:

  1. A small backpack to carry essentials such as snacks and water.
  2. Water bottles or various hydration for everyone.
  3. Food or snacks and water sufficient for the time you will invest.
  4. A small kid’s or family first aid kit.
  5. Good footwear and socks. Note that you likely do not need hiking specific boots or shoes on your first few hikes, however, you should ensure your child has sturdy footwear that can withstand the abuse of rocks and dirt, as well as equip them (and yourself) with good socks that will dry quickly and provide comfort.


In my experience, snacks are key in hiking with kids.  They can be used as motivation and reward (we will have a snack when we get there), a mid-hike boost when kids get tired or bored, and provide needed nutrition and energy on the trail for both kids and adults. You know what your kids prefer and what gets them excited. If the food packs well and is easy to carry, bring it along. You will be glad you did.

In hiking many miles with my young children, I have never encountered a hike where they could not physically complete the trail. I have observed situations where they mentally felt they could not, or did not want to do so. Keep in mind that kids get bored easily.  Keeping them engaged mentally is the biggest challenge of all. Before setting off, look for hikes that have interesting points along the way or a reward at the end, such as rivers, waterfalls or great views.  Create some games to play along the way. And yes, stop and get out the snacks. Keeping your kids engaged in the middle of a hike can make the difference in their experience and will give them confidence that they (and you) can complete greater distances next time.

Getting Outside with Kids Tip 1: Start

Tip #1:  Start

It is good for kids to be outside. Ask most anyone and you would likely get an agreeing nod. We intrinsically understand that “outside” is a good place and that kids benefit from being there. So why are so few kids spending unstructured time outside? Where are the ideas of exploration, self-sufficiency and a sense of something greater than yourself that are keenly on display as kids interact with the natural world around them?

The reality is our modern world, for all its advancements, has become an impediment to these simple concepts. Many of us live in urban and highly built-out suburban areas, and the once abundant opportunities to explore have been replaced with structure, schedule and technology.

As we explore in this series, Getting Kid’s Outside takes an intentional effort by parents and other influencers in a child’s life to make it happen. For most of us though, it is a daunting task to pack stuff, the kids and ourselves and go “outside” somewhere without the distractions of crowds or electronic stimulation. However, from one parent to another, it is worth the investment. And the investment can be much smaller than you might believe.

How then do we start? Just start. Everyone knows a “place” where they have been in the past where they connected to the outdoors. Go there and let your kids have an opportunity to feel the same connection. If you do not know of a place, ask friends, family or even your local Alabama Outdoors staff.  The point is not what you do, what gear you have or even how long it is done.  The goal to provide your kids an opportunity to engage with nature. Skipping rocks in a river, a simple walk down a trail or sitting around a camp fire and telling stories all count. The specific activity or place is not import. The key is intentionally exposing kids to the natural world around them and allowing them to explore and gain confidence in it and respect for it.


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