Whether you're gathering around your backyard firepit or pitching a tent at a campsite, make the night fun and engaging for everyone with these great ideas.

By Emily Popp
February 18, 2021
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These days, we're hard-pressed to find ways to keep the entire family entertained while also complying with COVID safety protocols. That's why camping is such a desirable option if you're looking for activities that take place outdoors and are safe and fun for the whole family. Studies show that camping accounted for 16 percent of leisure trips in 2020, up from 11 percent before the pandemic. There's something about gathering around a campfire and "unplugging" that makes us feel connected to those we love most, so we've rounded up the best campfire activities that will keep everyone (even your TikTok-loving teen) entertained. We tapped camping pros Amanda Daly, director of national outdoor strategy at the Girl Scouts of the USA, Allison Carter, entertaining expert for Allison Carter Celebrates, and Mary Monroe Brown, Wisconsin's director of outdoor recreation, for their expert advice.

But before we get to the activities, safety comes first. "Use rocks to form a boundary around your campfire," says Carter. "Kids can't cross that line. Explain there's no running and no playing anywhere near the fire without a grownup present." Also, we recommend reading the CDC's guidelines for visiting parks and recreational facilities. And know that you don't have to travel in order to enjoy many of these ideas; skip the schlep and just set up fire and a tent in your backyard.

Credit: Warchi / getty images

The Top Five Game

Sometimes the best campfire games only involve your imagination. For this fun activity, "everyone decides on a category, like 'best potato chip flavor,'" says Daly. "Then each person gives their opinion. If there are only five suggestions, the group comes to a consensus about what order they should be in. And if there are more than five, players must defend their choice until the group agrees on a top-five."

Knot Tying

Bring some rope for everyone and have them follow this Girl Scouts "Knots to Know" instructional video. "Knots can be used to tie tent flaps, dock a boat, hang up gear, and lots of other cool crafts," explains Daly. This is great for kids in fourth grade or older.

Build a Fairy House

Building "fairy houses" gained popularity during quarantine, and it's a great activity if you're out in nature. If you're on a hike or in your backyard, gather twigs, leaves, and grass and make a fairy home in front of your favorite tree. "Our family has years of experience, and we've built a fairy house subdivision," says Brown.

Wish Sticks

To make a wish stick, "burn the end of a larger stick until it has glowing embers," says Daly. "An adult takes the stick out of the fire, ensuring it has no flames, only embers. Pass it around the circle as each person says a wish (silently or aloud) and blows on the end to light up the embers. Then the stick goes into the fire and the wishes are released in the smoke and ash." This activity is best for older children or teens.

Storytime

"Ghost stories can be too spooky for the littlest campers," explains Carter. If you have young ones, she recommends bringing a chapter book, "one that's really captivating and full of adventure," and read it around the campfire. "Share reading responsibilities so different people can read in different voices," she suggests.

Geocaching

Geocaching is an activity where you hunt for treasures hidden by others using your GPS. Says Brown, "There are plenty of apps where you can find a geocache in your area." A treasure hunt is a great way to bring all the kids together (even the ones always at odds) and have them work toward a shared goal.

Stargazing

"Download a stargazing app and point it to the sky so kids can identify the different constellations and stars. If you don't have cellphone service, print out a constellation map ahead of time," suggests Carter. Brown adds, "Stargazing makes the outdoors seem less scary and helps everyone feel a part of this big, beautiful world."

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