Remember those beloved childhood camping trips? The ones where you’d hike and fish all day, then stay up late giggling and telling ghost stories around the campfire? For lots of outdoorsy types, those are among your most cherished memories, but they are long gone. But they don’t have to be relegated to old photo albums—now that you’re an adult, you can recreate those memorable camping trips. With the peak of summer just around the corner, it’s time to get going on planning your next big camping trip with friends.
One of the best parts of being an adult is not having to do homework anymore, but this is a fun assignment. It’ll take some research to pull off a picture-perfect weekend in the mountains. Sure, those candid moments are all part of the fun, but you don’t want to head to your campsite in the middle of the mosquito hatch or a notoriously rainy season. Read on for our best tips to pull off your best trip in years.
Who’s on the List
The beauty of frontcountry camping—and especially car camping—is that it’s a blast for those with just about any level of camping experience. Friends with more outdoors experience can still set up their lightweight tents and cook on backcountry stoves, while camping newbies can bring some of the comforts of home with them. With that in mind, base your roster more on friends’ compatibility and what they bring to the shared group experience than on their camping chops. Don’t worry about whether they’ll need help pitching a tent, consider whether they’ll happily jump in to make make killer s’mores or have everyone in stitches around the campfire.
Where to Go
If your group is mostly novice campers, check out nearby state parks, where you’ll often find rustic accommodations like yurts or cabins alongside tent sites. Restroom facilities, particularly those with running water, are often a game changer for reluctant campers, so consider finding a campground with a place to wash up.
With a more experienced crew, dispersed camping is the way to go. In many national forests, you can drive right up a dusty dirt road to a primitive campsite (meaning it’s got a fire ring, but no picnic table or other facilities) and camp for free—no permit required. If your group is comfortable in a more remote setting, dispersed camping often makes for a more intimate experience, since you’re less likely to have nearby neighbors.
Regardless of where you go, make sure to check ahead of time for fees or any required permits. If you do need to make a reservation, chances are it will need to be done ahead of time, so the earlier you can start planning for your trip, the better.
What’s on the Menu
Just like planning for a backyard barbecue, shopping and cooking for a big group of friends on a camping trip is totally doable—and even fun—as long as you plan ahead. If you’re only staying for one night, take a page out of your summer BBQ playbook and arrange a potluck. You can grill proteins and veggies on the charcoal grill at most developed campsites or on a grate over the fire pit, and the group can fill out the table with shared side dishes made ahead of time—bonus points if they don’t require any reheating. Then, all you have to do is and simply serve at the campsite.
Planning to camp a little longer? You’re not necessarily stuck with freeze-dried meals, especially if you’re at a frontcountry campground. Put together a taco bar with flour or corn tortillas, cooked meat or veggies, cheese, and other easily prepped toppings. This one’s well-suited for a crew with various dietary restrictions, since it can easily be made vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free. A big pasta dinner with marinara or pesto is another option to feed a crowd—pre-cook your pasta at home—and and it’ll leave you with plenty of energy to get after it in the morning.
Soaking Up the Sun
The thought of camping conjures up images of crackling fires and cozy tents, but you’ll still need activities to keep everyone entertained during the day. Check out trailheads near your chosen campground and get the group on an out-and-back hike where folks can turn around as needed, making it possible for your whole crew to enjoy a hike at their own pace.
If everyone’s set on a particular activity—renting boats to paddle on a lake, getting out for a trail run, checking out the mountain bike scene—consider making plans in advance. Outdoors newbies, especially, are more likely to make the most of their time in the woods if they know about options ahead of time, rather than leaving everyone to fend for themselves—possibly in a place with spotty cell phone coverage—once the sun’s up.
Making Campfire Memories
The campfire is, of course, a highlight of every camping trip. That means yours needs to be on point, so practice the art of building a perfect campfire before you go. Start by arranging some little twigs in a pyramid shape in the center of the fire ring, then light and add larger sticks on top. (Stack them so they’re not suffocating the fire.) Feed the flame with bigger logs, which you can usually purchase by the bundle at convenience stores on the way to the campground. If you’re not 100 percent confident in your ability to light a fire, consider bringing along a few cotton balls dabbed with petroleum jelly, which is a convenient fire starter.
Once the fire is going, the fun really gets going, too. Surprise your friends with a signature camp cocktail (whiskey-gingers are an easy go-to). If you know your campsite will have a picnic table, bring along an easily packable crowd favorite like Scrabble or LCR to keep everyone entertained while dinner’s going and the campfire’s being started. Folks will start to gravitate toward the fire as it gets darker, at which point you can prompt your group’s best storyteller to get things going with a rousing tale. Then sit back, relax, and let the magic happen.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated.