Gone Camping

By Ranger Rick Staff

Dust off your hiking boots. Air out your sleeping bag. It’s time for a Great American Campout!

Click image for a closer view.

No matter where you live, there’s bound to be a good place to camp that’s not very far from home. Maybe it’s at a campground in a local park or national forest. Or maybe it’s in a grassy corner of your own backyard. You can have fun camping almost anywhere!

This summer, be part of a nationwide camping celebration called the Great American Campout. The event is sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, the group that publishes Ranger Rick. To participate, go online at rangerrick.org/campout and take a pledge to camp out sometime this summer—under the stars or in a tent, a cabin, an RV, a tree house, you name it! More than a million people are expected to sign up.

Are you a first-time camper? On the Great American Campout website, you’ll find lots of helpful tips for beginners, including how to pick a good camping site and what to pack for your adventure. To make your campout extra memorable, hike on over to the next few pages for some nature-friendly activities.

No tent? No problem! Build this simple shelter with just a rope, an old blanket, a sheet, a few rocks, and two trees!

  1. Tie a rope as high as your shoulders from one tree to another.
  2. Lay an old blanket on the ground under the rope as shown.
  3. Drape a sheet over the rope. Make half of the sheet fall on each side.
  4. On each side, pull the edge of the sheet to the edge of the blanket. Place rocks along both edges to hold down the sheet.
Click image for a closer view.


While you’re camping, be sure to explore the animals, plants, rocks, and waterways around you. Try some of these activities in broad daylight!

Divide into two groups: Trailblazers and Trackers. The Trailblazers use the trail signs (above) to lay a trail and hide at the end of it.

About 15 minutes after the Trailblazers leave camp to blaze their trail, the Trackers set off to follow it. When they find the Trailblazers, the groups switch roles.

1. Wake up with a splash!
2. Make playing cards out of leaves.
3. Scope out the local birds. Go online at rangerrick.org/birdlist to print out a list of common birds to look for in some areas.
4. Anybody up for a sleeping bag race?
5. Get in a quick swim before the sun sets.

If you camp near a pond, stream, or other body of water, explore some local water life. Grab a fishing net (or strainer) and a few empty containers and walk to the edge of the water. (Go with an adult for safety.)

  1. Fill the containers with water and set them aside.
  2. Use your net to catch small fish, insects, and other tiny creatures in the water.
  3. Empty whatever you catch into the containers.
  4. Observe your creatures closely. See if you’ve captured something that . . .
    • has no legs
    • has six legs
    • has claws
    • has a tail
    • wiggles
    • swims sideways
    • stays on the bottom of the container
    • stays at the top of the water
  5. Lower the containers into the water and let the creatures swim or float out.

Take time out to write in a journal or notebook about the natural wonders you encounter. Playful chipmunks? Raccoon tracks? Poison ivy? Take note of things you hear, as well. Twittering birds? Wind rustling through the treetops? A babbling brook? Document your findings with photos and recordings.

Click image for a closer view.


Camping gives you lots of opportunities to connect with nature at night, too. Check out these activities.

Nighttime is a great time to create your own bug movie. Tie a rope between two trees and drape a white sheet (or pillow case) over the rope. Then place a camp lantern a foot or so from the sheet and shine the light on the sheet. After about 10 minutes, all sorts of insects will land on your homemade “movie screen” to entertain you!

Here’s how to toast a marshmallow with a yummy surprise inside:

  1. Use a knife to poke a slit in the top of a marshmallow. Press two chocolate, butterscotch, caramel, pumpkin, or carob chips into the slit.
  2. Slide a stick through the marshmallow. Toast your stuffed marshmallow, chip side up, over the campfire.
  3. When it has turned brown, place it between two graham crackers

You’ve probably played tag many times. But have you ever played tag in the dark? Agree on a hiding area for the game, using bushes, trees, and other structures as the borders. Choose a nearby spot as home base. Then select one person to be “it” and follow these basic rules:

  • “It” waits at home base with a flashlight and counts to 20, while everyone else hides somewhere in the hiding area.
  • Then “it” sets out hunting for the other players.
  • Once “tagged” by the light from the flashlight, players return to home base and wait until everyone is caught.
  • The first person caught is “it” in the next round.

Put on a scary mask and spotlight your face with a flashlight!

At dusk, watch for fireflies. If you spot one flashing, try blinking a flashlight in the same pattern of flashes. Will the firefly blink back? Or maybe come closer?

Give each of your campmates a pencil and a copy of this unfinished story. Ask everyone to fill in the blanks and return their copies to you. At night around the campfire, read the stories back to the group in a deep, serious voice.

In the story below, fill in each blank with an interesting word or phrase. Try to make the story as entertaining as you can.

Late last night, I went for a hike in ______________ . I wore my new ___________ and took along ____________ . I also took some ___________ .  When I got to __________ , it was very dark and kind of scary. I saw a little __________ playing with _____________ , so I gave it some ___________ . The farther I hiked, the darker and scarier things got. I quietly snuck along ______________ , hoping to find _____________ . Everything was going OK until—YIKES!—I came face to face with _____________ ! I reached into my  ___________ for _____________ . Then I heard _______________ . The _______________ heard it, too, and ran away. It was probably headed toward ____________ . I sure wasn’t going to follow it there, so I turned around and ran back to camp. As far as I know, the _______________ is still out there!

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