Fall is fleeting in Indiana but you can soak up every last moment by taking your kids on a camping trip! There are miles of trails to explore through woods that are exploding with fall foliage. You can enjoy cool nights huddled around a campfire enjoying s’mores and the stars. And thanks to many school districts switching to balanced calendars, more families are finding themselves with extra time to spend together in the fall.
My husband and I started camping together about 15 years ago when we were still dating. At the time, we had little more than a pup tent and a Styrofoam cooler. Through the years, we’ve acquired more camping supplies and upgraded from a tent to a 26-foot camper with bunk beds for our two sons—Tucker, 11 and Bryson, 8.
We love to camp as a family. Everyone has a job and every trip is an adventure. I recently heard someone say, “You only get 18 summers (or falls) with your kids,” and that really stuck with me. I want our kids to remember the hikes, campfires, and the memories that each trip brings. They always make new friends at the playground and it’s one of the few times they forget about Fortnite and their devices.
Fall is our favorite time to camp. The temperatures drop and you’re surrounded by a canopy of trees with leaves that are showing off the brightest colors of the season. We love to make chili and other soups during this time of year because they’re easy to make, you usually have leftovers, and they can warm you up quickly on a chilly evening. We also like to heat up some fresh apple cider in the crockpot to enjoy around the campfire (and we usually have a spiked version for the adults).
The biggest thing to remember about camping is that the early bird gets the worm and reservations (especially at the state parks) fill up fast for those precious weekends in the fall, sometimes up to a year in advance. But at last check, we found several sites available through the week at state parks or you can check out other campgrounds in Indiana that don’t fill up as quickly (KOA and Yogi Bear’s Jellystone have several campgrounds in Indiana).
Even if we haven’t talked you into taking a camping trip yet, you can still take a day trip to any of the parks below and enjoy the kid-friendly activities that they have to offer. So make this fall one to remember and embrace the outdoors!
Why We Love It
This is Indiana’s first state park and located in my hometown! The campgrounds are located in the forest so you’re surrounded by trees. The hike to wolf cave is on trail 5 and you can get to it from the campground by cutting through trail 8. This route is just shy of a 2-mile loop and is relatively easy to do with kids. If the cave isn’t flooded you can hike through it (as long as you’re not claustrophobic).The nature center is located next to the pool and is fun to check out on a rainy day. We like to stay on the camping sites closest to the playground in loop A so you can keep a close eye on your kids. We also try to eat breakfast at least once during our stay at the Canyon Inn. The food is great and there are tables on the enclosed deck where you can bird watch while you eat. Also, pack your bikes! There are lots of paved roads in the park to explore.
We suggest taking an evening hayride which departs from the Saddle Barn every weekend beginning at 5 pm. We recommend calling first to make a reservation and each ride must have at least 11 people. If the hayride reaches capacity, more rides will be added to accommodate everyone. Also, they only accept cash or check. On Saturday, October 26, you can put on Halloween costumes and trick-or-treat in the afternoon around the campground. Many sites get into the holiday spirit with decorations and even kid-friendly haunted houses.
Sugar Creek Campground and Canoe Rentals, Crawfordsville
Why We Love It
This family owned campground prides itself on just that. They offer full hookup sites and the amenities for the kids are endless. There is a nice playground, as well as basketball and volleyball courts, a GaGa ball pit, 9 square in the air, and a baseball and kickball diamond. We like to camp on the sites closest to the playground to keep an eye on the kids but the sites next to the river are also very nice. You’re less than five minutes from the town of Crawfordsville and you can enjoy some of the best hiking trails in the state at nearby Shades and Turkey Run State Parks. From the southwest side of Indy, it takes less than an hour to get to this park.
The campground offers tubing, kayaking, and canoeing for a 3-mile, 5-mile, or 11-mile trip down Sugar Creek. The distance we recommend depends on the age of your kids. This past weekend, we did the 3-mile trip but it only took about an hour and a half with our boys so next time we’ll check out the 5-mile trip. The owners offer free hayrides beginning around 7 pm near the basketball court. The kids also get treats at the end of the ride if they can answer questions from the campground tour.
Monroe Lake (Paynetown), Bloomington
Why We Love It
This campground is a haven for boaters in the summer but is still very popular for campers in the fall. We prefer staying on sites 1-8 which are electric and closest to the playground. The DNR at this park does an excellent job planning activities for the kids on the weekends. Our boys have made s’more necklaces, leaf art, and learned about nature through sensory activities that are recommended for kids of all ages. We’ve also found this awesome page on the Indiana DNR’s website that you can print out and take with you for your kids to do. They call it “rainy day” activities but we think you can do them anytime.
This area is absolutely gorgeous in the fall as the leaves change around the lake. You can select sites that are right on the water and enjoy nature right from you doorstep. They also offer trick-or-treating near Halloween and the campers get very festive with décor and are very generous with their candy amount! By the deadline of this article the date and time has not been released so please call (812) 837-9546 closer to the end of October for more information.