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Pleasure or punishment? Four tips for taking teens camping in national parks

It’s Friday afternoon and you’re leaving the office when a text pings on your phone, ‘Mum buy food I’m starving’! And so begins your weekend of teen-wrangling—keeping them fed and ferried around their busy sporting and social schedules.

Ah, but not this weekend! Because last month you spotted an opening in the family calendar (sports team byes and party-free days) and locked in a family getaway—camping style in one of Queensland's parks and forests. Two days and two nights of glorious, unstructured time, reconnecting with your family in nature.

Reality check: When your teens were younger, a family camping trip was a big adventure. But now? Dragged away from friends (and Wi-Fi) to hang out with parents and siblings may feel more like punishment. This doesn’t bode well for your idea of family togetherness…

So how can you make camping with your teens more pleasure than punishment? We’ve asked the experts—here are our top four tips.

Group of young people sit on camp chairs on beach sand, near their dome tent, at sunset, with calm ocean waters in the background.
Moreton Island National Park | © Moreton Island Adventures

1. Location, location, location—choose a camp site ‘with extras’

Young kids love sleeping in the bush, playing around camp in their pyjamas and melting marshmallows over the camp fire. But not teens—they need more challenging activities. Think paddling a kayak around a tropical island, pedalling a mountain bike through the forest, swimming in a remote waterhole, trekking along a mountain ridge, canoe-fishing in a mangrove-lined creek, snorkelling over vibrant coral reefs…

The list of active adventures in Queensland's parks and forests is long! Make sure you choose a park with activities to match your teens’ interests or stretch their abilities. And involve them in the decision-making! Search our website for parks that offer camping as well as long distance walks, mountain biking and cycling, swimming, snorkelling, fishing, canoeing or boating.

When teenagers get active, they feel stronger, healthier and more empowered. And that will make your camping weekend more pleasurable…for everyone.

Hint: Never ask, ‘Do you want to do go for a bushwalk today?’ Instead, offer options: ‘Today, will we climb a mountain or paddle the rapids?’ Their choice.

Father and two teens in hiking boots stride across a concrete creek crossing, surrounded by lush green forest.
Green Mountains, Lamington National Park | Anna Osetroff © Queensland Government

2. Tent of their own—teens need their space

Like it or not, teens are getting ready to fly from the nest, so they need some independence.

When camping with the family it’s a good idea to give them their own space. Even if you have a family-sized tent or camper trailer, bring separate tents for the teens. Cheap pop-ups will do, or even just some swags on a groundsheet under a tarp.

Setting up a ‘teen retreat’ will keep everyone happy—they can stay up later than their siblings (teens do tend to be nocturnal) and you can get up for that early cuppa or dawn walk without waking them (you’ll have noticed they love to sleep in). After all, who wants a grumpy, tired teenager hanging around camp?

View of the beach and palm trees through a circular tent opening from which a pair of bare feet emerge.
Camping in North Queensland | © Tourism Events Queensland

3. Keep teens happy, not 'hangry'—sustaining snacks and nutritious meals ‘to go’

Fact: Teens need to eat, lots. Hunger can strike at any time and often does. And, when it does, they need to eat now!

Start your camping day the right way with a big breakfast cook-up. Oats or pancakes followed by eggs, bacon and toast—low GI and high protein foods will keep them going for longer than sugary cereals. And the smell of frying eggs is bound to entice your teens out of their cave!

Pack lots of ready-to-eat snacks to deal with the hunger pangs in between meals. Keep their health in mind though, and avoid high fat, low fibre foods like chocolate, chips and processed muesli bars. Instead, pack fresh fruit, zip-lock bags of dried fruit and nuts, vegetable dips, wholegrain crackers and cheese, rice cakes, air-popped popcorn, and home-cooked high-fibre muffins or health bars.

Lunches need to be ‘portable’ so you can carry them in your backpack on a day-long bushwalk, bike ride or kayak paddle. Bring bags of leafy greens, cheese slices and hummus to throw into wraps or bread rolls ‘on the run’.

For dinners, you don’t want to slave over a hot fire after a long, active day—and a burnt snag slathered in sauce and wrapped in bread just won’t cut it! So, before you leave home, prepare and freeze the ‘family faves’ such as bolognaise sauce and chicken curry, and pack dry pasta and rice to cook at camp. Protein and carbs—nutritious and satisfying to keep your teens happy!

Hint: Don’t rely on having a camp fire—some camping areas don’t allow fires so make sure you can cook everything on a fuel stove. Of course, if you can have a camp fire, remember to pack the marshmallows (a little sugar won’t hurt!) and bring your own clean-milled firewood.

A camp table is laden with plates piled high with pancakes, bacon and toast, and also stacks of empty plates, jars of spreads, bottle of orange juice and other food containers.
Camp breakfast cook-up | © Tourism Events Queensland

4. Digital dilemmas—how do you deal with devices or lack of them?

Banning phones from the camping trip could be seen as ‘teen torture’. Not a good way to start!

So, unless you’re adamant about a 'digital detox', it’s a good idea to compromise. Bring the devices but agree on some boundaries for use, just in case your teens plan to bury their noses against their screens day and night...

Of course, where you’re going will affect their connectivity. Not many of our parks and forests have Wi-Fi but you could choose one that does. Not all parks have mobile coverage either but, if you choose a park near a town centre, your teens may be in luck (that is, if they have any data left!).

Or, you could choose a park without connectivity at all...

Regardless of where you go, the teens will be ‘less connected’ than at home, which means the devices can be put to other uses. They can bring along a Bluetooth speaker or earphones to listen to their music. Challenge them to a ‘selfie scavenger hunt’ (google this and you’ll find hundreds of examples!) or encourage them to create short videos, make sound recordings and (this one won’t need any encouragement) play around with Instagram photo effects and GIF stickers! Puppy-ears, anyone?

Teenager checks phone while standing high on sand blow overlooking the blue ocean below, bathed in soft light of the late afternoon.
Carlo Sandblow, Cooloola Recreation Area, Great Sandy National Park | © Julie Swartz

So you don’t need to ditch the idea of camping with your teenagers! With a little planning, camping can still be a pleasurable activity for all the family. Start your search now. Check your calendar then jump online to find a park that ticks all your boxes!

Remember to book before you go!
Camping must be booked in advance.
Book now

Last updated: 31 October 2019

Acknowledgement of Country

The Department of Environment and Science acknowledges Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and custodians of the land. We recognise their connection to land, sea and community, and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

Design developed by Boyd Blackman, a Butchulla and Birri Birri man, featuring the artwork of Elaine Chambers, a Koa (Guwa) and Kuku Yalanji woman.