After a hectic school year of car pools, mommy-and-me classes, and soccer practices, chances are you're ready to welcome the sunshine and family downtime that summer brings. But while the warm weather is free, a vacation doesn't come cheap. With everyone looking to get away without going broke, it makes sense that camping is this season's hottest holiday trend. According to Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), the largest system of family-oriented campgrounds in the country, more people pitched a tent in 2009 than ever before.
The benefits of camping go way beyond the wallet, however. Studies show that outdoor experiences make children more environmentally conscious, help them manage stress, and reduce restlessness and boredom, even symptoms of ADHD. "Kids today are spending more time indoors and plugged into a screen, so camping is a great activity because it gets them outdoors, whether they're hiking or telling ghost stories by the fire," says Meri-Margaret Deoudes, spokesperson for the National Wildlife Federations's Be Out There initiative, which encourages kids to get outside. If a walk on the wild side isn't your idea of a relaxing vacation, there's some good news. Fresh facilities and programs make camping a convenient and comfortable experience for the whole family, even the baby, while still preserving classic traditions. Get packing with our guide to camping out (roughing it optional).