Sleeping Under the Stars: Camping in New JerseyWith unreliable gas prices going up and down, and tighter household budgets cutting into vacation funds, a getaway to a local campground becomes a fun and inexpensive summer activity for the family. Besides saving a few bucks and getting the kids to log off of their electronic devices, camping trips can also be a chance to teach outdoor skills and encourage exercise. Make it an annual tradition and you might instill a deeper appreciation for nature and the local environment, too.

In New Jersey, the options for camping range from private campgrounds like Cape May’s Beachcomber Camping Resort to county parkland such as Turkey Swamp in Freehold, NJ. Do your kids like to swim? Pick a spot near a lake or a beach. Are they energetic and full of curiosity? Then maybe a location with a network of hiking trails would be a better bet. Keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to tents, either. A number of state parks rent rustic shelters, cabins, and even yurts (tents built with wooden frames and wood floors) to families looking to ease their way into camping.

Once you’ve decided where to go (here's a short list of suggestions), it’s time to make a packing list, plot your driving route, and pick up any food or supplies that you’ll need at your chosen campsite. Be sure to include the kids in this step; they’ll have fun helping to make decisions and will be far more excited about the trip if they’re involved in the planning. And think of it this way: by bringing a few things for them, you’ll be that much more likely to have a good time yourself.

Mike Podlesny, a frequent camper and father of two young boys from Burlington, NJ, packs three items on every outing. “We never leave home without some of the kids’ toys. Extra clothes, and plenty of snacks are added in as well.” If this is your child’s first camping experience, consider allowing him to invite a friend along. You’ll give them yet another reason to look forward to the trip just by doing so.

Exploration and Discovery

A successful camping trip with kids should allow for exploration and discovery; don’t start off with a checklist of restrictions and mandatory recreation. As Cathy Dold, author of, a website intended to help teach kids outdoor ethics, explains, “kids need to get outdoors, to explore the woods, or wade in a tide pool. Today, kids don’t get as much freedom to run amok, but they certainly can develop a love of the outdoors through hiking.” The same is true of camping, and kids will find a great introduction to the joys of nature by sleeping under the stars in the Garden State.

Ben Keene is the author of Best Hikes Near New York City (FalconGuides, 2011).