Camping may not be your idea of a getaway, but kids sure do LOVE it! Why not plan a camping adventure for your family? It just might be one of your family's highlights of the fall!
First things first
• Do a practice run first! A child’s first camping trip (or an adult’s first camping trip with kids) is an exciting and sometimes overwhelming thing. Don’t drive for hours to find out that your little one has a hard time sleeping in a tent and is up all night. Do a few practice runs in the backyard so that your kids know a little of what to expect.
• When you’re ready, reserve a campsite, cabin or lodge at one of Tennessee’s State Parks and make use of handy the handy mobile app. Scroll down for our section on "Campsite to Love." Camping rates are standardized according to the facilities available. The standardized rates range from $8 (four people) per night for primitive sites up to $25 (four people) for premium sites.
Typical campsites with water and electric are $20 per night for four people; $1 each additional person. Some Tennessee State Parks have self-registration procedures where the campers register themselves upon entry to the campground. Rates for self-registration camping may be slightly higher than the above rates but they all have base rates that include up to four people.
• When you arrive at your site, walk the boundaries with the kids so they won’t wander out of site. Give them landmarks to look for, as in, “You can go from that group of rocks to this tree, and stay away from the road.” If they know their boundaries from the beginning, you can go about preparing your campsite.
• Take advantage of the family fun things to do in the parks like hiking, fishing, swimming, geocaching, boating and more.
Make it Do-Able
• Think simple. One or two things a day will suffice. Trying to do too much can easily overwhelm everyone.
• Just let them play. Plan lots of downtime in your day so that your kids can just enjoy being outside. Kids require very few things to make them happy. Usually rocks, sticks and dirt suffice and if there’s water, even better. A few toys that are great to have in the camping arsenal are buckets, shovels, Frisbees and balls.
• Don’t stress. Camping with kids almost never goes exactly as planned – relax. Your attitude will rub off on the kids.
• Go for a nature walks. Children can have fun pointing out the different leaves, insects, tracks on the ground, vegetation, etc.
• Use a sling and a pack-n-play for infants. Use a sheet or blanket on the ground as a place for all toys.
• Stuff all of your family’s dirty laundry into one large bag, so you can just toss it in your laundry room when you get home.
• Consider bringing a potty seat for toddlers.
• Pack fun food items, too — (kids love those mini boxes of cereal).
You sort of need to be like a production director when it comes to camping gear!
• Tent (single-room, double-room, rooms that split off, etc.)
• Tent poles, stakes
• Tarps (to lay under the tent or create a canopy for shade) & roll of paracord
• Portable stove, fuel
• Grate for campfire cooking
• Pots and pans
• Portable coffee maker
• Cases of bottled water
• Roasting sticks for marshmallows and hot dogs
• Food-storage containers/bags
• Trash bags
• Separate coolers for ice and food
• Plates, bowls, forks, spoons, knives, cups and mugs
• Cooking utensils & cutting board
• Soap, sponge, dish cloth, dish towel
• Paper towels
• Extra bin for washing dishes
• Sleeping bags/sheets and blankets
• Sleeping pads/air mattresses
• Extra batteries
• Lantern and fuel
• Decorative lights to hang from tree to tree
• Baby carriers
• Extra bins to organize gear
• Pepper spray (in case of a bear encounter)
Out in the elements
Anything can happen with the kids outdoors for extended periods of time. From too much sun to a surprise bite, be diligent about covering your bases by bringing along your mom-approved First-Aid Kit and being ready for anything.
Be sure to bring sunscreen and follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) guidelines: Use at least an SPF 15 and apply it at least 30 minutes to exposure. Reapply every two to three hours. Keep babies out of direct sunlight — an extra pop-up tent is handy for keeping Baby in the shade.
Guard against insect bites by using repellents containing DEET. The AAP says to only apply it once a day on older kids — do not use on ages 2 months and younger. Apply it after the sunscreen. You can also use insect-repelling bracelets. Wear long pants and light, long-sleeved shirts when hiking.
Know toxic plants. Poison ivy, oak and sumac are prevalent in spring, summer and fall. As the old adage says, “Leaves of three, leave them be.” If you brush against them, wash the skin with soap and water for 10 minutes. Wash clothes and shoes, too.
Always have your child’s allergy medication on hand and be aware of the seasonal swings of allergens in the outdoors. Grass pollen kicks up in February/March, tree pollen starts early April. Ragweed surfaces in July/August, and a second season of grass allergens can arise October through early November.
It’s important to have at least one parent who knows CPR. Bring all prescription medications along with extra pain and allergy medications.
Choose a campsite with higher elevation in case it rains. Protect the bottom of your tent by laying a tarp on the ground. Keep all items away from the walls of your tent on the inside to prevent water pulling through the fabric. Keep extra tarps on hand and erect a canopy over your eating area. Hang a clothes line (away from where the kids play) for hanging wet items. Sleep with your next day’s clothing inside your sleeping bag. This makes them warm and ready for cold mornings. Plastic storage totes are great for keeping items dry.
Don’t frighten your kids about wild animal encounters — educate them. Wild animals don’t like being around people, but it can happen. Be prepared for black bear encounters in the Smokies by visiting nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/black-bears.htm. Always store your food items in tightly fitting plastic bins when you’re away from your campsite. Store in your vehicle for the best results.
Campsites to love
BLEDSOE CREEK: TN State Park. Fifty-seven level campsites and six miles of scenic trails. $25 - $35 a night.
CADES COVE: Great Smoky Mountains. Easy access to nature trail. More than 160 sites. A popular camping destination in the Smokies (especially for cyclists). $40 - $75 a night.
CEDARS OF LEBANON: TN State Park. More than 87 campsites. $25 - $35 a night.
COSBY CAMPGROUND: Great Smoky Mountains. More than 100 campsites available on a first-come basis and 42 available to reserve. $17.50 a night.
EDGAR EVINS: TN State Park. On the shores of Center Hill Lake, find 60 tent and trailer campsites. $11 - $35 a night.
FROZEN HEAD: TN State Park. Twenty rustic campsites in addition to backcountry camping. $15 - $35 a night.
HENRY HORTON: TN State Park. Located near the Duck River, find 19 tent-specific sites and 56 RV sites. Wi-Fi is a recent addition. $11 - $35 a night.
FALL CREEK FALLS: TN State Park. One of Tennessee’s largest and most popular state parks. Hundreds of standard and premium camp sites. $11 - $25 a night.
MONTGOMERY BELL: TN State Park. Tent and RV sites. $15 - $35 a night.
SOUTH CUMBERLAND: TN State Park. Great hiking and 26 rustic campsites for tents or small trailers.$18 - $35 a night.
Get more Tennessee State Parks info HERE.
Get more Great Smoky Mountains National Park info HERE.
ANDERSON ROAD REC AREA Opens in May. Percy Priest Lake; $16 - $40.
BUFFALO RIVER RESORT Tent camping $8 per person a night; RVs $39.50.
CAGES BEND In Gallatin on Old Hickory Lake. Camping loops with sites; $30 - $35.
CEDAR CREEK In Mt. Juliet on Old Hickory Lake. Sixty sites; $30 - $50.
DEFEATED CREEK PARK On the banks of Cordell Hull Lake on the Cumberland River; 155 sites; $22 - $100.
HORSESHOE BEND MARINA On Center Hill Lake; $20 a night for tent camping; Glamping $75 a night; RV sites $25.
LORETTA LYNN RANCH Located in Hurricane Mills; tent camping $20; RVs $40.
NASHVILLE EAST/LEBANON KOA For info, call 615-449-5527; to reserve call 800-562-7028.
NASHVILLE KOA Near Opry Mills. To reserve, call 615-889-0282. Tents, RVs, extended stays.
NASHVILLE SHORES On Percy Priest Lake, some waterfront sites. RVs only; $55 - $70. Discounts for water park.
NORTH NASHVILLE KOA Goodlettsville. For info, call 615-859-0348. To reserve call 800-562-7624.
POOLE KNOBS Opens May 1. Eighty-seven campsites around Percy Priest Lake; $16 - $50.
SAFE HARBOR RV RESORT At Elm Hill on Percy Priest Lake; $95 a night; two-night minimum.
SEVEN POINTS CAMPGROUND In Hermitage on Percy Priest Lake, 59 campsites; $22 - $120.
TWO RIVERS CAMPGROUND Near Opry Mills. Cost per night based on requested amenities.
TIMS FORD STATE PARK Located in Winchester. Fifty-two RV and tent sites. $25 - $27.
Rent campers and RVs. They’re parked in specific locations to make the experience that much more easy on you.
Search and book campsites on ranches, farms, vineyards and beyond with tents, tree houses, yurts, Airstreams, RVs and more.
The rural version of Airbnb, book private land and fully-equipped campsites including a set-up canvas tent.
Glamping in the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and more.
Rent a variety of towable or drivable RVs directly from a local owner — even pop-up campers.
Rent an RV and pick it up from a local retailer. Large, standard, compact or truck models available.
The home of Nashville RV, rental options include small travel trailers and towable or drivable motorhomes.
Rent a mini trailer; three different styles to choose from with free delivery to numerous local camping areas listed on website.
Cook over an open fire or on a portable gas grill — or both! The key to successful campsite cooking is planning ahead. Sit down and schedule out each meal before you go so you can shop & pack. Foil packet meals make fast and easy options; prepare them in advance & pack in your cooler before leaving home. Do as much food prep as possible before heading out (dicing onions, boiling pasta, etc.).
Click HERE for tasty, easy, kid-friendly campfire recipes.
Glamping in Middle TN
Click HERE for "Southern Glamping to Sigh For."
READ MORE: Backyard Camping with Mom & Dad