It can be one of the most fun indoor activities for kids: Camping at home can have that vacation and adventure feeling with these indoor camping ideas – even a safe, smoky, indoor campfire scent. For all ages but especially great for families with kids aged 4 to 10.
Some of the ideas for indoor camping here can be indoor fun for kids only, but others are for families with adult supervision and continual participation because they involve heated pots and real fire if you don’t have a real fireplace or woodstove.
Set up the main camping area
As an indoor activity for kids and their families, you don’t need a tent to set up indoors, although they really add to the atmosphere. A makeshift camping fort can also be built by draping old sheets or blankets over the edges of furniture. Be sure to let kids be part of the tent or fort setup. If simply sleeping “in the great outdoors” without a shelter, move furniture out of the way for a nice open space. Then gather and lay out sleeping bags, pillows and flashlights. Place extra blankets, air mattresses or other padding down if you don’t have soft carpet. The rest of your gear will depend on which other indoor camping activities you choose from below.
Indoor camping must have the scent and “fresh air feel” of the woods and mountains
Artificial scents can have a detrimental effect on the air, while scents coming purely from nature can have an uplifting effect on us and the atmosphere. So for this indoor camping activity, we’re aiming for bringing authentic plant scents from the outdoors inside while avoiding artificial ones. Here are some ideas:
Our tea light idea below can be another way of adding the scent of outdoor camping to your activity.
Indoor camping must have nature exploration adventures
Polished stones, beautiful feathers and seashells can often be purchased cheaply from craft stores. Hide the items to be found like an indoor Easter egg hunt once the camping has officially begun. Count the items first and either set a limit as to how many each child can find, or give them each their own indoor territory, to make sure it’s not a competition of who gets the most the fastest, but rather a thoughtful and satisfying exploration.
Budget or additional version: Buy a bag of unshelled nuts such as filberts (which really do grow wild in the woods.) Hide those instead or in addition to. They’re usually less expensive than the craft items above. Crack and eat them as part of your camping meal after they’ve been found and gathered. It's a satisfying “hunting and gathering” activity.
Another version: If you can find many flat stones outdoors on your own ahead of time, wash, dry, then hide those instead. Promise the kids they’ll get a rock painting session the next day for all the stones they find. Something that could happen with real camping… finding items in nature, then making something with them after getting back home. Although the rocks will be free, kids acrylic paints aren’t as cheap as a kids’ watercolor set, and acrylics are needed to be thick enough to cover the stone.
Play campfire games
Play some of the usual campfire games: playing cards, puzzles, telling ghost stories, singing folk camp songs.
The outdoors at night
Once the lights are out, it’s flashlights only, even for trips to the indoor outhouse. For the first hour after it’s officially time to go to sleep, play a CD of outdoor nightime nature sounds (free from libraries) or find an online streaming source that won’t be interrupted with ads or a phone ringing. But do hide the e-devise to where you can hear it but not see it’s artificial light or be tempted to use it for other reasons.
If possible, turn off heat, even crack a couple of windows unless it’s far too cold for that. This can also be a night to save electricity and add fresh air to a winter home. A brave adult can close the windows and turn on the heat later in the night or towards morning.
Indoor camping must have a campfire
The incense described above can mimic a campfire. You can also place a few tea light candles not touching each other in a flat fireproof pan or dish such as a large cast iron skillet. Don’t let the candles touch each other to avoid overheating. Be careful of surrounding them with just any natural stones because some stones explode near heat, and even tea candles can get pretty hot. If you know rocks and stones well, and have granite stones or others that you know are dry, clean and heat safe, pile them around the candles to mimic a low outdoor fire with a stone fire ring. Make sure the stones are dry and don’t pile any over the top of the candles to lessen the chance of stones overheating and exploding.
Other options are natural stone tea light candle holders found at some department stores, specifically made to be safe with the candles. Or, decorative ceramic “logs” that are heat safe, usually found at craft stores, piled around the candles. Always keep tools for putting out fires nearby and never leave the candles unattended or left going while falling to sleep.
Use either beeswax, sustainably harvested palm wax, or soy tea candles to keep your indoor camping air clean. These tea lights sometimes come with natural essential oil scents such as pine and cedar to scent your camping experience. (Avoid the many commercial candles with artificial scents). If you can find these, it will save you the cost of buying entire bottles of essential oils. (The essential oils are nice in homemade house cleaning liquids, though, so they do have other uses.)
For a non-fire no heat version, bury a few battery operated flickering tea candles with preferably orange/gold bulbs up to the bulbs’ edges with any dry, clean rocks and stones to mimic fire rings, and dry clean sticks laying over them as campfire wood.
Campfire cooking is a must for indoor camping
Everyone knows how life-threateningly dangerous it is to light camp stoves or bbq charcoal inside, right? (RIGHT?)
To create the feel of cooking and eating away from a regular kitchen, here are ways to set up a camp kitchen in the camping area.
Place a waterproof tablecloth on the floor, and a large heat proof tray (such as a baking pan) on top of that. Then…