- Go to a National Forest. They are much cheaper than most National Parks and State Parks/Forests. The downside is that they usually have fewer amenities and vaulted toilets. Although, last year we stayed at a NF campground that had a swimming area.
- Simple meals. We generally keep our meals very simple when camping. This helps contain costs and allows us to spend more time enjoying the outdoors instead of cooking.
- Cook over the fire. No extra equipment required. There are a surprising number of things that can be cooked over a fire.
- Take advantage of free activities at the campground. Hiking, swimming and the like are generally included in the cost of a campground, if there is any cost at all. Bonus: most of these require little or no extra equipment.
- Take friends. You can't share the cost of a campground, but friends provide cheap entertainment for the kids. Bonus: you can also take turns preparing meals.
- Borrow or buy used/inexpensive gear. The first tent I owned as an adult was from Walmart and I took it on every camping and backpacking trip for 5 years. I even survived a thunderstorm in the Everglades, staying completely dry. There are plenty of inexpensive gear options.
- Make your own equipment. The best DIY project I found this past year was a hand washing station using only a old laundry detergent bottle. The handle was a perfect place for hanging a towel. Check out my DIY Outdoor Gear Pinterest Board at the bottom of this post.
DIY hand washing station from a laundry detergent bottle.
- Camp close to home. Last year we lived in southern Indiana, pretty boring geographically. But we were only a couple hours from the Garden of the Gods. You can always find something interesting close to home. Plus, for my family, a large part of camping is just being able to spend time together.
- Buy a year pass to your local state parks or forests. They generally include a discount on campsites plus you can get onto the property as often as you like. If you go regularly enough this can save you money.
- Do without. While there is a lot of gear that makes camping more convenient, you really only need the basics.
How do you cut costs when you are car camping as a family?