Mormons and Camping

Mormons are big campers. It’s in our DNA. I suppose it comes from trekking to the Great Basin (when I’m sure they would just as soon have not been camping, but it’s not as if they had a lot of choice in the matter). By Mormon standards, I’m not a big camper; in my old age, I kind of like being able to take a shower in the morning. But even I have had my share of camping experiences:

Family camping. When I was young, my father bought a family-size tent, and after that we would often go camping as part of our vacations. The thing was made of canvas and was big, heavy and really old school. And I remember that my poor mother was just as in charge of cooking the food while we camped as she was at home. But we all enjoyed it.

Boy Scouts. As a boy, I loved camping so much that I would have dreams where I owned a two-man tent, and I was always disappointed to wake up and realize it wasn’t really true. Scout camping taught me the basics, which was very useful knowledge to have. In the summers I would go to scout camp at Chin-Be-Gota near Wausau, Wisconsin and mostly work on merit badges. We also did Klondike Derbies where we camped out in the snow in January. (One year we put our tent on a bed of straw, and having that insulation made all the difference in the world; we slept well that year.)

Girl’s Camp. I’ve never been to girl’s camp, but my wife has often gone. Usually she has gone as a cook. The girls have all their meals cooked for them by sisters from the stake. Now that’s my idea of camping!

Camping with Friends. My friends and I liked to drive down to Champaign-Urbana (about a three-hour drive) and camp down there.

Solo Camping. My wife, who is a loner type, every year goes camping by herself in Wisconsin, and spends the days biking and kayaking. She’s fearless that way.

Father-Son Campouts. The last ward I was in had a tradition of doing a father-son campout every May in honor of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood. I always enjoyed these. When there was rain in the forecast I would bitch and moan about having to go, but I would go anyway. If it was really raining, my son and I would sleep in the back of our Explorer. As long as I had a poncho, I would get used to the rain and it wouldn’t bother me. I enjoyed watching the boys play capture the flag, or our budding engineering student create this pyromaniac’s dream of a bonfire.

Seminary/Youth Conference Campouts. When I was a teen our seminary class went on a camping trip to Nauvoo that was terrific and really brought us together as a group. As an adult, my wife and I went camping to Nauvoo as group parents for a youth conference. At the end of the trip arrangements had been made for us to each get a three-minute shower at a local school. That was the best shower I’ve ever had in my life!

Ward Campouts. When I was young, my ward would sometimes hold a camput at Nauvoo State Park. And some years, instead of the father-son configuration (or the daddy-daughter version they held one year), we’ve substituted an entire ward campout concept. I actually prefer the ward campouts, because I like it when the whole ward family is together.

Tell us about your Mormon camping experiences.


  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    “And I remember that my poor mother was just as in charge of cooking the food while we camped as she was at home.”

    Homer trying to convince Marge to go on vacation: “And just think about it . . . you’ll get to clean up after us in a whole different time zone!”


  2. Jonathan Green says:

    Kevin, you drove to Champaign-Urbana to camp? Where? When we were there and looking for a bit of outdoor recreation, people told us how beautiful Indiana was.

  3. When I was a kid (-10) my family liked to drive up into Little? Big? Cottonwood Canyon south of Salt Lake to cook breakfast over a fire, and watch the creeks, and enjoy the trees. We’d be home before lunchtime so maybe it doesn’t count as camping, but it was a great taste of the outdoors and I loved it.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Jonathan, camping at Champaign was a distant secondary motivation to our real reason for going down there–girls, girls, girls.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    You’re a big camper, Kev. But are you a happy camper?

  6. Family Camping (growing up): My mom was not a camper, but my dad loved it. I’m glad that the girls were significantly older than the boys, because if the boys had come first camping might have just been a boy thing, but as it was my dad was really excited when the girls were old enough to go camping with him (and wanted to). I remember a couple of camping trips, sharing a tent with my dad and younger sister. My dad slept in between us, and after getting woken up a few times during the night by my sister punching or kicking him, he had a lot more sympathy for me when I complained about how rough a sleeper she was (the two of us shared a bed at that point).

    Extended Family Camping: We once tried to go on a campout with my grandmother’s (dad’s mother) ward in SLC. It was my dad, my younger sister, one of my younger brothers, and me. I got a horrible migraine soon after we got to the campground, and wanted to go back to my other grandma’s house where my mom was (about an hour away). My dad tried to convince me I could go home with his mom so he could stay at the campout with my sibs. Then as we were setting up the tent my younger brother threw up. My dad said “forget it”, packed everything back up and headed back to my mom’s mom’s house. My sister threw up in the car on the drive back. We never tried that again.

    Family camping (married): When we were married but didn’t have kids yet DH and his sister did a couple of long bike rides together in TX. We camped with his sister and her family (4 little kids at that point, I think). We had a good time, and my brother-in-law thanked me profusely for the assistance with the children while our spouses were cycling.

    Stake camping: When I was in college (in Champaign-Urbana, actually) our stake had an annual campout that I attended (every year, I think) with various friends from the singles branch. It was a blast. We stayed up late talking and playing with fire, and got up and helped cook breakfast for everyone (since we didn’t have any small children to try to keep track of).

    Ward camping: We’ve considered going on ward campouts a couple of times since we’ve had kids, but have always been deterred by the fact that our oldest doesn’t sleep at all well, and we’d like to stay on good terms with the rest of the ward (who would not appreciate being kept up all night by our small children). We do occasionally go to the morning stuff after the camping. We’ve considered going to the evening stuff as well (the ward usually camps about 5-10 minutes from our house, so this wouldn’t be hard), but have thus far been deterred by the fact that I’m pretty sure the oldest would end up _in_ the fire (and then in the ER).

    Girls camp: When I went to girls camp we camped in tents and cooked our own food over fires we built ourselves. It was awesome. Staying in cabins and having someone else cook the food is just not as fun (for me, at least).

    Other camping: The only non-Mormon camping I’ve done was at some Society for Creative Anachronism events. They were quite fun. One year I went to an event in PA where about 10,000 people all camp out for a couple of weeks, and it was an absolute blast. Someone in our camp did bring a solar portable shower, which I’m sure made me like the experience a lot more than I would have otherwise.

    I look forward to someday sharing the joys of camping with my own kids, but at the rate my oldest is going it’s going to be some time before I’m at all comfortable doing that. Hopefully they’ll enjoy it as much as my husband and I do.

  7. Left Field says:

    I’m too old and decrepit to enjoy camping as much as I used to, but my 9-year-old son quite likes it. I’ve always believed in eating well when camping and pride myself on a well-cooked camp meal. The last time we went on the stake father and son outing, I was cooking burgers when a member of the stake presidency approached.

    “When it’s brown, it’s cooking; when it’s black it’s done!” he said. He then made the rounds of the campsite and used the same lame “joke” with everyone.

    If he ever tries that again, I’m going to give him some advice: It’s never, NEVER a good idea to insult the chef.

  8. The idea of camping with small children makes me twitch uncontrollably. Add diapers and all the cooking and clean-up, and I would rather… rather…. well, I can’t think of anything bad enough.

    When I was a girl and a young woman, I loved camping. I camped with my dad a lot, and learned a ton about survival and outdoor living. Someday, when my kids are older, maybe we’ll go.

    But not until Beanie doesn’t have to be tied to a tree to keep him from killing himself on a cliff. Or in the water. Or wandering off… *shiver* Nope.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Many years ago we had a HTer who was a real outdoorsman. When he came over to our house, we spent about 15 minutes outside as he identified all the plants in my wife’s wildflower garden. He and his wife went camping *on their honeymoon.* Now that’s a camper!

    On the girls camp thing, we had a sister in our stake who grew up in Utah, and always complained about how easy the girls had it here, not doing the real camping they do at girls camp back in Utah.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    One of the tricks of enjoying a ward campout is to know who the snorers are and position your tent as far away from them as possible.

  11. Molly Bennion says:

    Our most memorable extended family camping trip, along the Idaho/Montana border ended with a day of huckleberry picking, bear stories that left the younger children terrified, and a hole in the pan of an old station wagon. I was 6 months pregnant, the older boys were exhausted from hauling huge packs (one sister in law saddled them with giant tubes of toothpaste and jars of lotion!), and my husband was unanimously elected to run down the mountain alone in the dark. Fortunately about 3 miles down, he was picked up by a woman who promised to pick up her kids and boyfriend and take him back up the hill with a case of oil. The gas station attendants were encouraging. Sure, she’d be back. She was the original whore with a heart of gold. And she was. Smoking a joint, drinking whiskey from a paper cup and singing to Emmy Lou Harris, she miraculously negotiated the narrow, winding roads up the moonless mountain from Wallace and made our day. My husband arrived somewhat surprised to be alive but with a great story to tell. We’ve all loved Emmy Lou since.

  12. Scott B says:

    Man I hate camping.

  13. But not until Beanie doesn’t have to be tied to a tree to keep him from killing himself on a cliff. Or in the water. Or wandering off… *shiver* Nope.

    Substitute Spencer for Beanie and those are my feelings exactly.

    On the girls camp thing, we had a sister in our stake who grew up in Utah, and always complained about how easy the girls had it here, not doing the real camping they do at girls camp back in Utah.

    We actually did the real camping thing in IL, but I know it varies by stake (and I think our stake stopped doing it soon after I stopped going).

  14. Rebecca says:

    I don’t stay anywhere that is less than 2 stars. And camping doesn’t even get half a star in my book.

    What about father-daughter camp outs? I went on them growing up and my daughters enjoy going on them now. Is this not common in the church?

  15. “Mormons are big campers. It’s in our DNA. I suppose it comes from trekking to the Great Basin”

    No. no, no. It goes back even further: Zion’s Camp. I think it’s time for a re-enactment. Any takers?

  16. Except this time, when we get to Missouri, we kick some ass.

  17. My idea of roughing it is the business suite at the Marriott.

  18. Naismith says:

    I don’t know how much DNA has to do with it, since 66% of the church are first-generation LDS.

  19. I loved camping with my kids when we were a young family. The last time I camped was with the YW about 3 years ago. The BP was our priesthood rep and must have seen that I wasn’t having quite as much fun as the girls, took pity on me a couple of weeks later and I was released.

  20. During my short stint in Idaho, I noticed that the father and sons camp out was more of an RV/ATV convention. I did see one tent.

  21. Man, I need to go camping. As soon as it stops raining and the semester is over, of course. But I love it.

    My girls camp experiences were all in tents at campgrounds with port-a-potties. Since I’ve been married my husband and I have gone camping for a few nights every summer, and we really enjoy it.

    My ward here in VA is having some of the Young Women go on a 12 mile, overnight, backpacking trip as part of girls camp. I’m jealous. My 16 year old sister in AZ will be at Lo-Mia in cabins with showers and electricity. I feel sorry for her.

  22. Kevin, I have camped all my life (A LOT!). Enough to wondered, while reading your post, if I would even be the same person today without having done so.
    Now (older) on big family “camps”, my wife and I rent a motel near the site. During the day: we camp. Come night, we take the youngest kids with us to the motel, so all (hopfully), gets a good night’s sleep, then return when the cell phone says: “breakfast is ready”.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Ooo, Bob, I love your motel-near-the-campsite idea!

  24. annegb says:

    I really don’t think it’s safe for your wife to go kayaking and camping alone.

  25. Bob- sounds like what our family would do. Growing up in central phoenix, our ward would frequently go to a campground in Sedona, Az. Which happened to be right next to a resort with an ironic name. Yep – Dad & I would camp out – mom would stay in the hotel, and we would walk across the golf course to get the campsite.

  26. Hey, Naismith! Being baptized, not biology, gives a person Mormon DNA.

  27. Nameless says:

    My best camping experiences were in Michigan. We had an informal ward camp out every year up at Sleeping Bear dunes and a week of our family only at Ocqueoc Falls.

    Invariably on the Sleeping Bear Dunes trip, a new family who had just moved into the ward from out west would pitch their tent next to a patch of poison ivy.

  28. As each of my 5 children turned 8, they would be outfitted with a backpack to join my annual backpack trek to the Uintahs. They learned to fish, and I taught them to waltz in grassy meadows. We watched the Perseid meteor showers and saw eagles in flight. Only the eldest is a boy, but my daughters enjoyed it every bit as much. Even today, over 20 years later, they are incredulous when they meet someone who cannot start a fire or pitch a tent. It’s in their blood.

  29. #23: The only hard part, is keeping the teenagers in camp….. You have the TV and maybe a pool!

  30. Greetings to all:

    Just a short message. This is the link to my new b ook, it’s a lot about young folks and later in live the grandfather taking all of the children on a camping trip.

    Thank you.

  31. queuno says:

    One of the tricks to ward campouts is to realize that when everyone goes to bed, that’s time for you and your family to go HOME. :)

  32. Do you know why camping is so exciting! Because it’s IN-TENTS!

    Where to begin? Every ward I can remember attending as a child and youth has held a fathers & sons outings. The earliest one I remember was in Panamá while my dad was stationed at Howard AFB. I remember we had to use a canoe or something to get to camp, since it was across a lake (on an island?) from wherever we parked. I remember swimming in the lake and playing in my dad’s inflatable rowboat. My then-baby brother was with us, and it was magical. We went every year wherever we lived, and soon enough there were four of us sons. My junior and senior years of high school I couldn’t go on the fathers & sons outings, and I missed them badly.

    I took my wife and infant daughter on our Provo ward’s fathers & sons outing to the sand dunes near Jericho, and I took first one daughter and later both of them to the Seattle North Stake fathers & sons outings at Ensign Ranch. A couple of little boys were confused to see girls there, but everyone else just thought it was great.

    Camping with my LDS BSA troop was a lot of fun for me, even when I fell through the ice of a small lake trying to get another boy out and had to wear Brother Hales’ pants with a rope for a belt, and when I sprained my ankle (the worst the doctor had seen) in Hieroglyphic Canyon descending from the peak of the Superstition Mountains. Later two other guys from my ward repeated that latter hike with me, and although that time I was sprain-free, while horsing around on the peak I fell hard back onto my rear and start sliding backward in this gravelly stuff. We thought it was funny until I saw that my butt-print ended not a couple of feet from a 200-foot dropoff.

    We got rained and hailed on that night, saw some mysterious UFO-like lights in the distance to the north-northeast, and I called a buddy using my dad’s cell phone that I had borrowed. I haven’t considered until right now how unexpected it is that I could get cell phone service 4000 feet above and 7 miles to the east of Apache Junction in January 1997.

    We woke up with the sun shining on us and the entire Valley of the Sun in shadow before us. We watched the terminator move toward us all the way across the valley. Due to the recent rain, the skies were incredibly clear, such that we could easily make out the White Tank Mountains some 70 miles to the west. It was unforgettable.

    I have also watched the sun rise from the (pseudo-) peak of Mt. Baldy in eastern Arizona and from the peak of Mt. Timpanogos in Utah. The former was the pinnacle of a stake young men’s camp. We read the last chapter of Moroni up there and had a testimony meeting. It was striking.

  33. John Mansfield says:

    Ben Pratt, as the father of five sons but no daughters (perhaps the last chance I get to so identify myself), I promise to never crash a daddy-daughter dinner with one of my boys.

  34. John, you are surely a gentleman of the finest caliber.

  35. Joe Puckett says:

    My last Father/Son campout was with my oldest stepson who was killed several years later in a work accident. I’ll always remember the great time we had together on that campout. Though he wasn’t an active church member, he enjoyed spending time with the other campers. We talked late into the night and racked up hours of what we liked to call “male bondage.” It was a wonderful experience and one which I will cherish forever.

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