Craving a bit of the great outdoors, but not prepared to commit to a full-on camping trip with the kids? Dip your toes in slowly and pitch a tent in your backyard for a night — or a whole weekend — for an easy way to get some fresh air and sleeping-under-the-stars time.

kids enjoying a backyard campout
Credit: Meredith

These tips and recipes ensure backyard camping success — and best of all, the kitchen and bathroom are just steps away!

Build Backyard Tents

The fun thing about being in the backyard is that while you can use a normal camping tent, you don't really need quite as much protection from the elements. (After all, if it rains, everyone's making a bee-line for their beds, right?) So, why not have a little fun with it and make some DIY tents? Check out these homemade DIY directions from Hoosier Homemade for a simple canvas A-frame type shelter. Liz from Hoosier Homemade says it's inexpensive and took less than an hour to complete.


And if you'd like to get a little more creative, check out how lifestyle blogger Kelli Murray painted these tent covers.


You could even hang a king-size sheet over a clothesline and secure the ends using stakes — done! A few more tips:

  • Sleep one or two beneath each tent, depending on how big you make them, then arrange them fanned out in a sunburst-like circle. Sleep with heads in toward each other for optimal ghost story-telling, obviously.
  • Lay tarps — or inflated pool floaters or yoga mats for more cushion — under sleeping bags for padding, and to keep them dry.
  • Since you have access to outlets, string tents up with some white twinkle lights!

Speaking of Lighting...

Keep the fun going even after the sun disappears with these ideas for making sure the party stays well-lit:

  • Put small candles in mason jars and set them on a nearby table (keep them a safe distance from the tents). Remember to get extra long matches that reach all the way in. Alternatively, use battery-powered candles to eliminate any concerns of fire.
  • String LED lights or white Christmas lights up in the trees and/or around a deck or fence. Use a remote control device to turn lights on and off so you don't have to leave the cozy confine of your tent.
  • Resurrect some old lamps from the garage and get a few extension cords to bring just a little of the inside, out. (It'll be charming, we promise!)

Set Up for Fun and Games

Since you have the whole "campsite" to yourself, you may as well make the most of it!

  • Turn your lawn into a Twister board with contractor's marking spray paint that washes off. Check out the tutorial from One Good Thing by Jillee.
  • Cornhole, anyone? If you put it out, they will come.
  • Create an obstacle course for young kids out of whatever you have lying around: hop scotch through watering hose rings, zig-zag around basketballs and volleyballs, tag the fence before crossing the finish line...get creative!
  • For after dark, get glow sticks that can be turned into rings and do a ring toss.
  • Chase fireflies. There are few things as magical as those minutes when dusk lingers and the fireflies come out to play. Let the kids stay up late enough to see, chase, and inspect the lightning bugs up close so they can experience a little of nature's magic, right at home.
  • Stargaze. Get our your star map (or check out apps like SkyView or Star Walk 2) and help the kids locate constellations and planets. And if your night sky isn't dark enough for stars? Use a telescope (or a good pair of binoculars) to look at the moon. It's probably been a while since you stopped and looked yourself!

Let the Kids Be Kids

Sure, you might not be able to re-create the endless summer days you spent roaming the neighborhood as a kid, but you can let the kids play on their own with intentional unstructured play. This will fuel their creative minds, inspire them to use what they find around them — no fancy inflatables required — and give you a chance to relax. (Yes!) Here's how you can do it.

  • Let the kids take charge. If the kids are in a safe place in the yard, park, or playground, let them take the lead on what they do, rather than giving them ideas or direction. In other words, try not to hover or helicopter.
  • Be ok with mess. If mud and dirt usually make you cringe, close your eyes and remember that this is why you have a bathtub. Letting the kids interact with their natural surroundings the way they want to will likely make them very happy...and very busy.
  • Take advantage of dusk. Replace the batteries in the flashlights and send the kids out back after dinner to see what they can find. Lightning bugs, interesting chirps and shadows, and emerging stars can fill them with insights and stories for days.
  • Share your stories. Whether you spent endless hours making mud castles, playing flashlight tag, catching frogs in the nearby stream, or building tree forts, your kids will love to hear tales from when you were their age. And it just might inspire them to follow in your footsteps!

Favorite Campout Recipes

Whether you want to keep it traditional or do something with a bit of a twist, we have some tasty camping food ideas for both. If you have a fire pit, by all means make good use of it, but most of these recipes can be cooked on your backyard grill.

Related: Browse our entire collection of camping recipes.

Pizza on the Grill

The heat of a hot grill makes for top-notch pizza. Check out tips to make the best grilled pizza, and give this recipe a try:

Campfire Foil Packs

Let's the kids choose their own adventure when they make up these packets (you might want to pre-chop the vegetables and handle the raw meats for the littlest kids).

Campfire Foil Packs
Photo by Allrecipes Magazine


Good old-fashioned s'mores are the perfect dessert for campers of all ages. You can help the younger kids toast their marshmallows at a safe distance from the flame.

Photo by ~*Morgan*~

Apples by the Fire

Let the kids help fill cored out apples with brown sugar and cinnamon, and seal them in foil packets. Cook the apples in the coals or on your grill for 5 to 10 minutes, or until they're soft and fragrant.

Apples by the Fire
Photo by Allrecipes

Campfire Skillet Breakfast

Wake them up the next morning with a hearty one-pan meal cooked over your grill or fire pit.

Campfire Skillet Breakfast
Photo by KGora
| Credit: KGora

Eggs on the Grill

Wow the kids with this clever way of making eggs in a muffin pan. You can let them customize their eggs with minced vegetables, herbs, and cheese.

Related: Explore our entire collection of summer recipes.

Portions of this article appeared in Allrecipes Magazine.