Connecting First Time Campers with Nature

Learning from the Great American Campouts in Seattle

Seeking to engage historically underserved Seattle families with nature and experience recreating outdoors, the National Wildlife Federation Seattle Office offered two Great American Campout this summer for 200 people. For six years, the NWF Seattle staff has worked with the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department at Camp Long in West Seattle and other local partners to connect people with nature and wildlife through camping.

Our primary goal of the Great American Campouts at Camp Long is to provide families who have never been camping and who may not be comfortable recreating in the outdoors with a nature immersion program where they can feel safe, explore nature and share their culture with others. Our Campouts are free overnight events that offer hiking and nature walks, rock climbing and ropes course activities, environmental learning opportunities, and campfire programs.

Seattle Great American Campout. Photo by Courtney Sullivan/ NWF

Seattle Great American Campout. Photo by Courtney Sullivan/ NWF

Over the six years families from a variety of cultures participated in the event: Latino, Somalian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, African American and Caucasian ethnicities were represented and supported with translation services. The families enjoyed and shared multicultural storytelling, drumming, and dancing around the campfire, learning about composting and recycling, making nature crafts, and night hikes to search for owls and stars in the forest. Families also learned about the health of Seattle’s urban forests and helped remove invasive plants. We also invited local nonprofits to host activity stations and share resources for participating in outdoor activities.

Our success has been measured by the number of families that engage in additional outdoor program offerings with Seattle Park and Recreation Department. Together, we encourage continued nature exploration by sending families home with materials and resources about city, state, and national parks as well as with information of ongoing opportunities for families in Seattle with other partners.

Seattle Great American Campout. Photo by Courtney Sullivan/ NWF

Seattle Great American Campout. Photo by Courtney Sullivan/ NWF

Camping as a large group was a great way to try camping for the first time. We all shared costs, responsibility, and opportunities to ask questions and build community.

Here are some tips for anyone first time camping:

  • Seattle Great American Campout. Photo by Courtney Sullivan/ NWF

    Seattle Great American Campout. Photo by Courtney Sullivan/ NWF

    You don’t always need a tent to camp. Try camping in a cabin! Using a public cabin allowed us to bring sheets and blankets from home. No need for tents and sleeping bags. They often can fit multiple families in one cabin, splitting the cost.

  • Most cabins have a cook fire ring or BBQ grill, so plan a menu that is easy, such as only cooking hot dogs and roasting marshmallows on the fire. Bring a pot from home to boil water and use sticks to cook, also sandwiches and pre-cut snack foods in the cooler. Hot cocoa and oatmeal are special when you eat them outside.
  • If you live in Washington state, here’s cabin information for local state parks and national parks.
  • Using a local city park allows easy access via public transportation.
  • Check out native plant and animal books from the library and see how many your family can find, or try other activities from the Great American Campout website.
  • Register your campout on the Great American Campout website, and show that your family and friends are taking the pledge to try camping!

Pledge NowPledge to camp as part of NWF’s Great American Campout!


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