Camping: A Timeless Pastime

This Week in NWF History

Since 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has worked to conserve the nation’s wildlife and wild places. As part of our 80th anniversary celebration, we are recognizing important moments in our history that continue to make an impact today.

As we start to move into the lazy days of summer, countless Americans begin to unpack their camping gear and prepare for a night (or more) under the stars with nature. No matter how you camp or who joins in, camping is timeless fun. But how did this pastime begin?

Organized camping in the United States began in the mid-1800s at Gunnery Camp in Connecticut. Founded in 1861, this camping trip brought a class of home-schooled boys into the woods for two weeks. In 1874, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) organized a camp solely for women, known as Sea Rest, in New Jersey.

Camping quickly gained momentum in the early 1900s with the establishment of the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service, the emergence of boy scouts and girl scouts, and the growing popularity of organizations like the YMCA. The growing popularity and prevalence of cars also allowed more people to travel longer distances to campgrounds.

Trailer camping is one fun way to camp

Camping in alternative structures like trailers also began in the early 1900s and have expanded to incorporate other camping methods, such as yurts, which first arrived in the U.S. in the 1960s. Outdoor equipment, including tents, sleeping bags, lanterns, and cookware have seen continual refinement and improvement over the last several decades, and improvements in technology continue to allow common tools to change and adapt to campers’ demands today.

Fun Fact: The first recipe for s’mores was documented in 1927 in a Girl Scouts manual

To promote camping in a time where children increasingly spend more and more time indoors staring at screens, the National Wildlife Federation launched the Great American Backyard Campout in 2004. This program, now known simply as the Great American Campout, encourages families and individuals to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors through a night of camping. In 2015, over 122,000 campers pledged to camp for wildlife, and a pledge was taken in all 50 states including D.C. Campers pledged to camp in a wide array of places including backyards, local or national parks, cabins, churches, minor league sports arenas – you name it!

The National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Campout is a signature event of Great Outdoors Month® in June, a month designated to highlight the many kinds of outdoor activities that strengthen our bonds with nature. The 2016 Great American Campout kicks off on Saturday, June 25th and to help celebrate, groups across the country are hosting public campouts for folks to attend. Last year, 34 states hosted public campout events with the largest campout occurring in Iowa with over 10,000 people biking and camping in the area. See if there’s a public campout near you or contact your local park today to see if they’d be willing to host one!

Join this summer-long celebration of camping and pledge to camp as part of the Great American Campout!  The body, mind, and spirit benefits of being outdoors are well-documented and numerous. Create a lasting connection to nature and wildlife by camping — it will help you have a happier, healthier family and self.

Pledge to Camp Today