The Great Outdoors

Get back to basics this summer by going on a family camping adventure.
Give your children the opportunity to explore America's parks.

Parents and kids alike will enjoy the sounds of a crackling campfire at dusk and of birds calling as the sun rises. Our guide has advice for building a safe blaze, telling a spooky fireside take, making tasty s'mores, and much more. Start packing because nature is calling.

How To Build a Campfire

If your campsite has a designated area for fires, use it rather than creating a new one. If you must clear a new fire area, find a foundation of rock, dirt, or sand that extends below the surface several inches. Clean debris from the area for 3 feet beyond the fire's edge. Don't build the fire near tree trunks, exposed tree roots, or under branches lower than 30 feet.

A fire should be built with care and an eye toward safety and conservation, according to the Camp Fire Boys and Girls guidebook.

Collect or purchase wood, break it into usable 8-inch lengths, and stack it neatly in piles. Good campers don't chop off tree limbs; green wood won't burn well anyway. Dry, dead wood that snaps when broken burns best. Keep the woodpile far enough away from the fire so sparks and flames cannot reach it. You don't want to inadvertently start another blaze. A good, basic fire is the tepee shape. Place two handfuls of tinder in the center of the fire circle. Soft woods, such as pine and spruce, make good tinder because they burn fast. Next, stand pieces of kindling on end around the tinder. Pieces should overlap somewhat, but leave a space so your match can reach the tinder. Hardwoods, such as oak and maple, make good kindling because they burn long and hot. A steady small fire works much better than a large one, so build a fire no larger than necessary. Keep a bucket of water nearby at all times, and never leave a fire unattended. When the fire is out, cover the area with soil and leave no trace.

Taking pictures rather than items will keep Mother Nature looking beautiful and they'll last longer, too!

There's an old camping motto that says, "Take only photographs, leave only footprints." In that spirit, try this scavenger hunt game that leaves nature intact and provides a lasting memory of your family camp-out.

Before your trip, ask your parents to create a scavenger hunt list. As you find each item on the list during your camp-out, take a picture and check it off. When you return home, develop the photos and use them to create a memory album.

The Art of Stone Skipping

Finding the perfect rock will give you the best chance of making the perfect skip.

Skipping stones may be more art than science, but Jerdone Coleman-McGhee, author of The Secrets of Stone Skipping, says these basics are necessary for any good toss. 1. Pick a stone of uniform thickness that is about the size of your palm and that weighs about as much as a tennis ball.

2. Hold the stone with your thumb on top, middle finger on bottom, and your index finger hooked along the edges. 3. Face the water at a slight angle. Use a forehand pitch to throw the stone. The lower your hand is at release, the better. 4. Throw out and down at the same time, releasing the stone with a quick, sharp wrist snap to give it some spin. The stone should hit the water parallel to the ground.

America, The Beautiful

For a summer experience to remember, camp at one of America's many national parks, including:

  • Acadia National Park, ME
  • Everglades National Park, FL
  • Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
  • Glacier National Park, MT
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN and NC
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
  • Mount Ranier National Park, WA
  • Shenandoah National Park, VA
Hold a flashlight under your face as you tell your spooky story to give youself an eery glow.

Here's a campfire tale that's spooktacular fun for all ages. Personalize it by substituting your family member's names for the names here.

A sister and two brothers were walking home after playing in a valley. They had lost track of time and it was almost dark. "Let's take the shortcut through the woods," said Sarah. "The woods are kind of scary," said Eric. Little Jimmy, the youngest, just shrugged. He never said much; Eric and Sarah were always telling him to shut up. Sarah ended the argument. She marched down the forest trail and called back, "If you think the woods are bad, wait until you see how scary Mom and Dad will be if we don't get home before dark." It was dark in the woods. Trees loomed overhead, their branches dangling like arms ready to snatch someone. The kids sensed wild animals lurking. The children were happy to see the bridge that went over the creek. They were almost home. Suddenly a hideous Goblin appeared at the other end of the bridge. He had rotten teeth; clumpy, nasty hair; and scratchy long fingernails. He certainly needed a bath. "Wha...wha...what do you want?" Sarah stuttered. "I want you to be my prisoners and serve me for the rest of your lives," growled the Goblin. "I'm the most powerful goblin in the world, so it's no use running or resisting." Sarah pinched herself to see if she was dreaming. She wasn't. Eric chewed his lower lip. Jimmy shrugged. "You don't look so tough to me," Sarah finally said. "If we can think of something that you can't do, will you let us go then?" "Very well," the Goblin agreed. Sarah pointed to a pine tree. It was taller than her mom's office building and as big around as a merry-go-round. "Pull that tree out of the ground," she challenged. The Goblin wrapped his hairy arms around the tree and uprooted it like a weed. Eric pointed to a boulder. It was as big as a house, and weighed 5 tons. "Throw that boulder in the next county," he said. The Goblin picked it up and threw it like a baseball. Eric and Sarah cried. They didn't want to be prisoners. They looked at little Jimmy, but what could he do? Jimmy thought for a minute, gulped a few mouthfuls of air, then let out a mighty burp. "Catch that a paint it green," Jimmy said. Of course, the Goblin couldn't. So the children skipped home.

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