How to Start


Camping is a great activity to do as a family, and can happen anywhere there’s room for sleeping bags.

Step 1

Make sure you’re in a forest or greenspace that is open after dark, or try gazing from your own backyard. It will be cooler at night so remember to wear layers.

Step 2

Skies are darkest and stars are easiest to see during a “new moon”. Search online for a lunar calendar to find out when during the month you’ll have a new moon.

Step 3

You can use binoculars or simply look with your unaided eyes. Try counting the number of stars you see or locating the North Star.

Step 4

Being out after dark also means you can look and listen for animals that only come out at night like fireflies, moths, bats, and owls.

Step 5

For more detailed information and activity ideas, download the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Night Explorer Activity Book.
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Activity Ideas

  • Go backyard camping

    If you and your kids aren’t quite ready to head off into the woods, try starting off with a night of camping in the backyard. Pitch a tent, and if you have a grill or fire pit, roast some marshmallows and hot dogs. Just like camping in the woods, be sure that you have plenty of bug spray, sunscreen, snacks, and water. You’ll also want to have a bucket of water handy whenever you have an open fire going.
  • Create a maze

    A great campsite activity is creating a maze using long branches. Start by helping your kids draw out the maze on a piece of paper. Then nominate someone to direct the placement of the branches. Use the map to guide you — but it’s okay if you wind up adjusting the arrangement of the branches as you go.

What to Bring

Plenty of water, even for short hikes — a gallon per person per day is a good guide
Snacks such as fruit or trail mix and empty bags to collect any garbage
Sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen
Insect repellent
Warm layers and a lightweight rain jacket
Travel size first aid kit
Map of the area you’ll be exploring and your emergency contact numbers
A small flashlight and batteries

Safety Tips

Before you get on the trail make sure you have the local Forest Service Ranger District’s or Supervisor’s Office phone number with you. If someone gets hurt this should be the first number you call.
Always let someone know where you're going and what time you expect to be back.
Avoid going if a thunderstorm is in the forecast. Seek shelter in a car or house if you’re caught in a thunderstorm. If you're caught outside, the safest place to be is crouching in a cluster of trees — not in a clearing, out on water, or next to a lone tree.
Be mindful of the sun. Use sunscreen, seek shade, and drink plenty of water — even in the winter.
Animals have their own natural food supply so please don’t feed them.
Fruits and mushrooms can look tasty, but some are poisonous. To be safe, do not eat anything you find growing in the forest.
Railroad tracks are for trains only. Keep to the side and stay off the tracks.
Set a turnaround time when heading out that gives you plenty of time to get back before it gets dark. Expect to spend at least the same amount of time hiking back as you did hiking out.
Bring a small flashlight or another source of light with you if you'll be out close to sunset.