The effects of technology and digital media on children is well-documented, and parents are keenly aware of how too much tech use can lead to developmental problems, physical inactivity (potentially leading to obesity), sleep issues… and the list goes on.

Many parents jump for joy at the mention of a tech-free vacation for their kids. Their kids, however, are often less enthusiastic about replacing their iPads and handheld game systems for an outdoors-based RV vacation.

How can parents entice their kids to give up the tech and actually get excited for a national parks vacation? We have a few ideas below to make sure your kids don’t feel like unplugging is a punishment!

Ease into it

Both adolescents and adults can become addicted to technology. Rather than making your kids go cold-turkey when taking away their tech habits, ease them into it. Feel free to bring along the iPad on your RV vacation…just disable cellular and WiFi access and delete apps like SnapChat, TikTok, and Candy Crush (these can be re-installed after the vacation). Download family-friendly movies that everyone will enjoy. That way, during a long drive to the next national park or after dinner on a rainy evening, everyone can enjoy some (rationed) digital media!

young boy playing scrabbleGet back to basics with games

Has your family lost interest in old-fashioned games over the years? An electronics-free RV trip is the perfect time to reignite the enthusiasm! A few outdoor games that require some space:

1. Cornhole
2. Ladder golf
3. Bocce ball
4. Frisbee
5. Geocaching
6. Spike ball
7. Giant Jenga

And some tried-and-true “picnic table” games that you can play anywhere:

1. Card games
2. Yahtzee
3. Apples to Apples
4. Scrabble
5. Pictionary
6. Heads Up

The-boy-is-sitting-at-the-camp-fire-and-eating-a-fried-sausageGet your kids more excited about mealtimes

Does your family struggle to put phones away and enjoy dinner together without distractions? A huge bonus to a national parks trip is that many areas don’t have cell phone service—making constant social media notifications nonexistent for a night.

This is a fantastic time to get your kids and teens involved in the planning, making, and cleaning up of meals—and it doesn’t have to feel like a chore:

1. Bring a couple cookbooks on your trip, and browse through recipes with your kids, allowing them to dog-ear their favorites. Or have them browse recipes on line.
2. When shopping at the grocery store, let them pick out a few new items of their choice—the more ownership they have, the more they’ll care about the outcome! It’s fun to ask them to pick out exotic fruits or veggies they’ve never tried before. Who can resist a mystery food?
3. Do the culinary experts in your family like using fresh ingredients? Small potted herbs like basil or mint can brighten up both the RV and a meal, and kids can be in charge of caring for them.

One of the best parts of an RV trip is getting to cook over a camp grill or fire. It’s fun and easy to get daring with meals, especially because you can get a little messier than you would inside. Normally kid-friendly meals are made even more enjoyable by the addition of some flames. Try skillet nachos, for example: Have your kids pile black beans, shredded cheese, cooked ground meat, and diced veggies on top of tortilla chips in a cast-iron skillet. Stick that over the fire, heat things up, and let your kids pile on the toppings. These non-traditional meals allow kids to express their originality and creativity, and they’ll be so busy that they won’t even miss Minecraft.

milky way night sky stars over a bonfirePush back bedtime

Most families know that an actual “bedtime” gets thrown out the window on vacations. On an RV trip, take advantage of your kids staying up late and have some nighttime fun outside. The only tech you’ll need is a flashlight (not the ones on your phones!) or a lantern. Below are some of Tracks & Trails’ families favorite evening activities while at an RV campground.

1. Take a night hike. National parks mark their trails well, and many are conducive to a nighttime stroll. (Just bring a map to avoid getting lost.)
2. Teach your kids how to build and light a fire (safely) and make s’mores.
3. Play nighttime hide and seek or sardines around the campground (just be conscious of your neighbors…).

Spend some time stargazing

As many of us live in cities where light pollution drowns out the night sky, stargazing in national parks is a huge treat. Grab a star chart, telescope, flashlight (red lights won’t impact your night vision as much), and comfy blanket for the recommended areas below!

1. Yellowstone: Hike along the bike path from the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center to Upper Geyser Basin.
2. Arches: Attend a ranger program (typically beginning in mid-July) at Panorama Point (a high point with unobstructed views).
3. Canyonlands: Drive to Island in the Sky mesa; if you get there before the sun goes down, hike to Mesa Arch!
4. Rocky Mountain: Take the easy hiking trail to Bear Lake; the lake’s reflection of the stars adds to the wow factor.
5. Devils Tower: Walk to the Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture and Picnic Area, with few trees around to block the view.
6. Banff and Lake Louise: Drive up the Icefields Parkway and stop at Bow Lake, where a short hike awaits you.
7. Grand Teton: Every July or August, Colter Bay Visitor Center hosts an Astronomy Day. If you’re visiting another time, the light pollution in GTNP is so low that you can stargaze pretty much anywhere!
8. Zion: Kolob Canyon is a lesser-visited region of the park, and many pull-offs along the main road offer uninhibited night-sky views.

Committing to a tech-free vacation will lead to deeper, more meaningful conversations between your family members and allow both parents and kids to form memories that last a lifetime. Want a few more ideas to get your kids excited about the outdoors? Check out the link below!

3 Easy Ways to Grow Your Kids’ Love for National Parks