Camping 101: a Brilliant Program from Camptown for Rookie Campers

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Camping Gothic.

Earlier this week I wrote about how we checked yet another adventure off the list of 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). This time around it was “Sleep in the Wild.”

Some of you may scoff at the idea that of all the things we do, such as ziplining, climbing trees, or letting our tween go to the store by herself, we’d find camping to be the riskiest things we’ve tried yet. But if you’ve never camped before, and especially if you’ve never camped with kids, it can seem both daunting and decidedly risky. What to pack? What gear is essential and what gear is silly? What do we eat? How do we cook it? What do you do with a tent once you unpack it?

Mike and I did not grow up in camping families and it was never something we felt called to try as adults before we had kids. The allure of camping is so appealing to children, though, and with each passing summer the kids lobbied passionately to include a camping trip in our summer plans. It wasn’t that Mike and I didn’t want to, we just didn’t know where to start. I’m sure there are a lot of you who feel like we did – wanting to try camping on for size, but not wanting to go it alone and risk the experience being an epic failure. Or maybe you kind of figure it out on your own, but decide camping just isn’t for you, the pile of gear you invested in for one weekend of camping now a source of frustration instead of fun.

Earlier this summer the answer to our camping conundrum came in the form of an email from a local organization called Camptown. Camptown is a not-for-profit that works with youth in central Indiana. Their mission is to challenge, mentor and teach youth through outdoor adventure and nature programs. While the majority of their programs cater to at-risk youth, they also offer programs that encourage youth and families to explore and become comfortable in the great outdoors.

Through the email, I learned about one such program: Camping for Rookies. The idea behind Camping for Rookies is to give families who want to try camping a chance to do so without having to worry about the gear, how to start a fire, how to pitch a tent … all the details that keep families from trying camping in the first place. Camptown collaborates with Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs to reserve campsites and provide families with everything they need for a weekend of camping.

Camping for Rookies via The Risky Kids

For a completely reasonable cost of $50, we were provided with tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and 3 meals. To ensure that the experience is as encouraging and fun as possible, volunteers are available the entire weekend, helping you set up camp, showing you how to start, maintain, and cook over a fire, and hosting programs and hikes. All we had to bring were our clothes, some bug spray, and an open mind.  We spent Eli’s birthday weekend at Paynetown State Recreation Area, on the shores of beautiful Lake Monroe.

Family Camping at Lake Monroe

We swam, we hiked, we feasted on s’mores, and we learned that we are, indeed, a camping family.

Camping 101 via The Risky Kids

Camping 101 via The Risky Kids

I can’t think of a better way to set families up for success … and some amazing memories. We knew we’d met kindred souls when the volunteers busted out the slackline! We had a blast and we now have the confidence to know that we can invest in some gear and plan our own great camping adventures.

Camping 101 via The Risky Kids

If you live in Indiana, you can take advantage of this wonderful program, too! Camptown and Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs have two more Camping for Rookies programs coming up at various locations this year:

They are also offering a Day Hike at Shades State Park on November 16.  Spaces are filling up, so I encourage you to call Camptown at 317-471-8277 and make your reservation soon.  I have no affiliation with Camptown and wasn’t asked to post on their behalf – we just had an amazing experience that I want to share with as many people as possible!

In the near future I will share a few other resources that I think are invaluable to families who are new to camping but want to learn how to make it part of their family’s tradition.  If you know of any other similar programs where you live, or have some great camping resources to share with rookie campers, please let us know in the comments!



  1. This is brilliant! We don’t have Anna with us for either of the remaining weekends or else I would sign us up. I have bookmarked the Camptown website so that (should memory serve me well) we can go next year.

    LOVE this idea—thanks for sharing!

    • I skipped out on my 20th high school reunion to make sure we could go that weekend! I just couldn’t believe something so perfect for our family would fall in our laps, on Eli’s birthday no less. It didn’t disappoint!

  2. Thoughts on a minimum age for camping? We’re not huge campers, but went once a year or so pre-kids. Our oldest is almost 4 and we’ve considered trying it sometime this month (probably without our 6 month old), but I’m not sure if he would enjoy it enough to outweigh the hassle.

    • That sounds like a Good Question for our new series! I think 4 (or close to 4) would be fun, especially if it’s just for one night. I’d say a lot depends on his flexibility. If he enjoys mucking about in nature and he’s fairly easy to get to sleep in a strange place I’d say go for it. I’m not sure I’d be up for bringing the baby … but lots of people do! One of our Camptown volunteers brought along his two young children (I’d say 4 and 2ish?) and they did great.


  1. […] like our camping experience a few weeks ago, this is an excellent program for families who like the idea of trying some new […]