Father and son camping in backyard

For some families, camping trips are a breeze: They have all the gear and they can practically set up a tent in their sleep. For others, the idea of scrambling to book a campsite and pack all the necessary equipment is overwhelming. Whichever category you fall into, a campout close to home can be a treat for everyone involved. Add a few creative backyard camping ideas and make incredible memories in your personal great outdoors.

1Play nature bingo around your neighbourhood.

Nature bingo card

Ahead of your camping night or weekend, create a bingo card of trees, flowers and animals you might see around your neighbourhood. Divide into pairs or teams and set out to spot each item on the bingo card, then mark it with a stamp or sticker. You can even take pictures as proof. The first team to complete a line wins. Switch up the teams and play a few rounds. Bonus: You can even ride your bikes and scooters around the neighbourhood for an even bigger bingo adventure! (Check out our 7 best bikes for the whole family).

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2Issue a topping challenge.

Hot dog covered with chili, cheese and onions

Hot dogs are the quintessential camping food. To level up your weenie roast, plan a friendly “cooking” showdown. Get each family member (or team) to come up with the ultimate hot dog dressed with a concoction of toppings, then give the hot dogs names and present the creations to an impartial family judge.

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3Go retro with a Slip ’N Slide session.

Boy on a slip ‘n slide

There’s a reason the Slip ’N Slide has been a childhood favourite since it was first introduced in 1961[1]—it’s easy to set up, super fun and helps to beat the heat on sweltering summer days. And even better, you can make one yourself. Grab a few plastic sheets or tarps, some tent pegs or landscape anchors and the garden hose and your brood will be slipping and sliding in no time.

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4Make an all-natural craft to repel bugs.

Plant and flower wreath to repel bugs

Lavender, rosemary and basil are natural insect repellants.[2] Tying together bundles of these herbs and hanging them around your campsite may help to keep pesky insects at bay. Want to make them pretty? Fashion them into wreaths and tie with ribbon.

Another craft-y option is to make old-school embroidery-floss friendship bracelets and douse them with bug spray. Let them dry fully before wearing. They’ll help to keep mosquitoes and other insects away.

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5Decorate the yard with homemade bunting.

Homemade bunting flags in a backyard

Make your backyard campsite festive by stringing up bunting. To prep, cut out triangles from construction paper or fabric. The triangles can be whatever size you like, but the bigger the triangles, the fewer you’ll need. Give everyone a handful of triangles to personalize with craft supplies, then staple or glue the triangles to string or twill tape and hang them across the backyard.

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6Paint large-scale games on the lawn.

Tic-tac-toe spray-painted on grass

Stock up on water-based spray paint (sometimes called marking paint) and make regular ol’ board games into huge lawn games! Your kids will love playing matches of giant tic-tac-toe, checkers or hopscotch. You can even try your hand at an outdoor Twister setup. The paint can either be washed away or grown out—whichever comes first.

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7Set up a gourmet s’mores bar.

Plate of s’mores

Classic s’mores are good, but you know what’s better? A s’mores bar with an assortment of toppings like chocolate chip or shortbread cookies, caramel-filled or truffle chocolates, jam or hazelnut spread and fresh fruit. Have you ever had a perfect strawberry with a warm, gooey marshmallow? Heaven!

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8Light the way with glow-stick lanterns.

Mason jar filled with glowsticks

Once the sun goes down, the path from the tent to the house might be a little spooky. Crack glow sticks and place them in Mason jars to make colourful, flameless lanterns that help guide kiddos in the dark. Glow sticks don’t stay lighted forever, though, so maybe save a few to add to the jars right before bed. That way, the path will stay lit until the wee hours.

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9Learn the night sky with a constellation app.

Hands holding a smartphone up to the sky to show a constellation app

Download an astronomy app like SkySafari. It tells you what constellations are in the sky directly above you and even works when there’s cloud cover or light pollution that make stargazing tricky. Cozy up on the lawn and see what you can discover.

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10Host an outdoor movie night.

A family watches a movie on a projector in the backyard

Give family movie night the backyard treatment with a white bedsheet and a home theatre projector. Set up lawn chairs or watch from your tent in sleeping bags and pass out portioned popcorn and candy so no one has to share. Looking for a flick the whole family will love? Try Camp Nowhere, Troop Beverley Hills or The Parent Trap—the original or the Lindsay Lohan version.

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