Camping is a popular way for families to get out and live in the great outdoors, and the Black Hills are full of great places to camp. From lakeside views to forest covered solitude, there’s no doubt your family will find their place to bond in nature.

While camping trailers offer amenities closer to what we have at home, they can come with a pretty big price tag. A more affordable option for families just getting started is to car camp. This doesn’t mean you’re sleeping in the car; it simply means you’re driving to a campsite and setting up there, rather than hiking in or pulling a trailer. 

Comfort is key

The key to knowing what kind of gear to buy is thinking about what will make you and your kids the most comfortable. The last thing you want is to be cold or uncomfortable all night, which means nobody will get any sleep and you’re likely to call the trip quits early. To prevent this, make sure everyone has a cozy place to sleep. A warm sleeping bag rated for cold temperatures is key, but also look into a pad to put underneath. Having the extra layer of insulation between you and the ground makes a big difference. Finally, make sure everyone has clothes appropriate for the weather, with extra just in case you get wet or dirty and need to change. It’s also not a bad idea to test out all of your gear at home before heading out for the first time so you can just head back inside rather than ruin an entire trip.

Perhaps the best part of camping has nothing to do with sleeping arrangements, however. Some of our most vivid childhood memories are tied to food, and this is especially true with camping. Who doesn’t love s’mores fresh off the fire? Or the distinct taste of biscuits and gravy cooked over an open flame? Keep camp recipes simple, like hot dogs and a side of chips or macaroni and cheese. Simple means fewer coolers to pack, and your kids will love the novelty of the experience either way.

Ready to get out and revel in nature? With 22 lakes and reservoirs around the Black Hills, we have plenty of amazing waterfront camping spots to try. Angostura Reservoir near Hot Springs is a local favorite due to its large swimming beach and amenities, but also check out Sylvan Lake’s great views or the pristine wilderness of Pactola Reservoir. There are plenty of campgrounds in the hills that don’t have water nearby that are worth checking out, as well.

Ask the expert

Matt Harrelson is an Assistant Store Leader at Scheels, and his goal is to make sure families enjoy their first camping trip so much they want to keep going. His biggest tip for parents is to make sure everyone has somewhere comfortable to sleep: “I recommend families start with a tent, but I also tell them to be willing to spend a little more. The base model might do the job on a nice night, but if it rains or gets a little windy, a higher-quality tent will make sure everyone stays warm and dry.” If camping is something you want to do more than once, making the first trip a success will make your kids more likely to want to go again in the future. Many base model tents aren’t built to survive more than a light rainstorm, so you may find yourself coming back to buy a new one should you experience any weather. 

Matt Harrelson with his daughter on a family camping trip.
Photo courtesy of Scheels.

Protection from the elements isn’t the only thing to consider, however. There may be times your family wants to be together in your tent, such as telling stories or playing cards. To accommodate this, Matt recommends, “Families should also get a tent a little bigger than their family — such as a 5-person tent for a family of 4. This way if you have to spend a lot of time inside, you have space to really live in the tent, rather than everyone being squished together.” Having space to store your extra clothes and gear is helpful as well, especially if you aren’t car camping.

Beyond just having a place to sleep, Matt loves having hammocks to lounge in during the day. “I go camping because I want to relax, and a hammock is the perfect place to do it,” he says. Another big part of camping is the food your family makes, and there are a lot of fun new tools your family can take. Scheels carries the basic utensils like plates, cups and bowls, but also newer things like a hot dog roaster with an extendable arm or a cast iron sandwich press you can heat over a campfire. 

At the end of the day, Matt says, “I love having a direct impact on whether people enjoy the outdoors. If your family has a great time the first time out and it becomes a lifelong passion for you, and for your kids, that’s something I can have a hand in, and it makes me love my job and the outdoors even more.”

WORDS: ASHLEY JOHNSON
PHOTO: JESSE BROWN NELSON