Backyard Adventures Await: The Great American Campout & More Family Activities

April 19, 2016
Backyard Adventures
Maggie & Rick on Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0The annual Great American Campout is an easy and fun way to introduce kids to camping.

Getting outside with your kids doesn’t have to entail days of packing, exhaustive trip planning, and expensive gear. Some of the best outdoor adventures take place in local parks—or even in your own backyard.

Great American Campout

On June 25, some 125,000 Americans will pitch a tent for the Great American Campout. Hosted by the National Wildlife Federation, this annual event is an easy and fun way to introduce kids to camping. Joining in is simple: Just set up camp in your backyard or drag a sleeping bag up to your city rooftop. You can also find public campouts near you at

For newbies, a few strategies will make the night memorable. First, embrace your surroundings. If you’re in a park filled with kids, launch a game of capture the flag. If you’re in your backyard, organize a simple scavenger hunt, encouraging your kids to see this familiar environment in a new light. Either way, exercise will stoke appetites for the novelty of cooking and eating outside. (My kids love brownies baked in oranges.)

Once bellies are full and leftovers are safely stashed, spend some time under the stars, soaking up the sounds that surround you. Even in a less than silent city park, you’ll notice noises you might not usually take the time to hear. Ask your kids if they can identify crickets, birds, peepers—even the wind in the trees.

Game Night

Maybe your brood holds a family game night. Great! But what about skipping the board games in favor of a weekly outdoor game night?

We’ve spent many a summer evening playing Wiffle ball, horseshoes, bocce, and croquet. And why should college kids have a lock on cornhole? Little tykes are just as mesmerized by a round or 20 of beanbag toss. With enough hands to carry stuff, you can play these games in a park as easily as in your backyard. For fun with no gear required, try a round of hide-and-seek or, our family favorite, sardines. Just be sure to set boundaries ahead of time.

Bucket Suppers

Some folks call it a picnic. We call our moveable feasts “bucket suppers,” thanks to the sturdy, 5-gallon buckets that attach to the side of my bike. When our kids were toddlers, we had no yard to speak of and spent much of our time in city parks. In the summers, we had a weekly tradition of packing a bucket supper and heading to our local city beach as soon as I got home from work. We would hit the water, play in the sand, and graze as the sun lowered in the sky.

It doesn’t matter what you use to transport your food. Just pack it up and get out of the house! If you’re like most young parents, it’s hard to find the time or the money to eat out. This is a good, cheap way to get outside, dine alfresco, and let the kids run free.

Lawn Labyrinth

If you’ve got a decent-sized yard, consider creating a magical maze. I started doing this for my kids years ago, when I got sick of spending hours every week mowing our property. Instead, I would mow a small area behind our house and let a much larger section grow into a natural meadow of wildflowers, ferns, sedges, and high grasses.

When the meadow got to be 4 or 5 inches high, I would mow a web of interconnected pathways into it, creating a winding labyrinth. The pattern was different each year. As the summer progressed, I continued to mow, and eventually we’d end up with a waist-high network—an enchanted place for kids, as well as birds, butterflies, and deer. Now, go take a peek outside your own door!


Get Ethan’s brownie recipe and find more park-friendly group games in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog. For trip ideas farther afield, visit AMC’s community for families, Kids Outdoors



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Ethan Hipple

Along with Kim Foley MacKinnon, Ethan Hipple writes AMC's Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog. He fell in love with the outdoors as a teenager, when he worked on a Student Conservation Association (SCA) trail crew. He has directed the New Hampshire Conservation Corps and is currently the Parks Director for Portland, Me., where he lives with his wife, Sarah, and their two kids. His latest book for AMC is Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, cowritten with Yemaya St. Clair.