Camping for Beginners

Parent and child camping in a state park

Don't be intimidated

Camping is a fun, rewarding experience and a perfect way to make sure the outdoor fun never ends! So don’t be intimidated if you’ve never spent the night outdoors before. We have many programs, like I Can Camp! that can teach you all the basics. We’ve also gathered some advice to help you start your camping journey:

Preparation is key

While there is some work that goes into planning a camping trip, there are many resources that will help your camping prep run smoothly:

  • Reserve and research - Make sure you reserve your campsite before you go. There's a variety of campsites you can choose from, so do some research and see what campsite would work best for you.
  • Make a list - Before you can pack, you have to know what to pack! There are many camping lists you can reference while you’re building your list. Don’t be shy! Write down everything you’ll need on your trip, from rain gear to the cheese for your grilled cheese sandwiches. Keep your list with you throughout your trip and make adjustments as you go. What gear works, what doesn’t, what did you forget, what do you wish you had? This will help you create the perfect camping list for you! Just be sure to always bring rain gear, even if the forecast says sun. No one wants to deal with wet clothes!
  • Plan your meals - Know what food you’re going to eat and keep it simple. There are plenty of delicious campfire meals out there that are filling and easy to make. Prep what you can before you head out, like chopping veggies or packing eggs in pourable containers.
  • Rent or borrow - Once you have an idea of the gear you need, see what equipment you can rent or borrow from friends and outfitters. That way, you can test what gear works for you without spending too much money.
  • Separate your gear - When you’re packing your gear, designate one tote to food, one to the tent, and so on. This will help you stay organized while you pack and when you get to your campsite.
  • Test run - It’s always wise to do a test run in your backyard before you go. That way you can practice pitching the tent, test out your sleeping pads, and see what you still need without going far from your house.
  • Try a camper cabin - If you’re not ready to make the leap to tents quite yet, consider renting a camper cabin. They’re a great way to ease your way into camping without worrying about tents.

Setting up camp

Once you get to your site, there’s a few tips you’ll want to follow as you set up your camp:

  • Avoid putting your tent at the bottom of a hill - Water runs downhill! The last thing you want is to deal with a soaked tent. You’ll also want to put a tarp inside and/or underneath your tent to avoid water seeping in.
  • Know your firewood - Make sure you have enough firewood for your meals and that you know the firewood restrictions. Many parks sell firewood at the park offices or you can use Firewood Scout to find alternative locations to buy approved firewood.
  • Keep your list handy - This is when you’ll start making those notes to edit your camping list!
  • Store your food - Make sure your food is located in a critter-proof container. You don’t want to leave your food out in the open when your camping or animals will get in and eat! There are food lockers at some campsites, however another alternative is storing the food in your car.

Enjoy the experience

Once you’ve prepped, packed, and set up camp, it’s time to enjoy all that camping has to offer!

  • Explore the trails or take a dip at the swimming beach.
  • Borrow equipment kits to fish, geocache, and more!
  • Attend a naturalist program to learn something new and make memories.
  • Check out our summer and winter guides for more adventure inspiration.
  • Keep your noise to a minimum. We want you to have fun while you camp, but be sure you stay respectful of your neighbors.
  • Take it easy! Things are bound to happen that you weren’t expecting or anticipating. Every camping trip is a learning experience, so don’t get discouraged if something goes wrong.

Leave no trace

Once you’ve had your fun and are ready to leave, make sure you take everything with you. Pack out what you pack in, from your tent to your trash. You want to leave your campsite the same (or better) than you found it so whoever visits after you can have their own enjoyable experience. If you want to add kids to the mix, consider checking out our parent’s guide to camping with kids.