The USA put Halloween on the map all over the world through movies and TV shows, but the origins of this pagan festival are in pre-Christian Ireland…. It was then known as Samhain, a period that marked the end of summer harvest and the start of a new year. Indeed, Halloween might not ever have reached America, and the rest of the world, were it not for the millions of Irish who brought the tradition with them to the USA when emigrating there.
It’s a wonderful spooky time and children and adults alike love the opportunity to ghost-hunt, don costumes, marvel at bonfires and get up to other night-time escapades. It’s a perfect time for taking the family or a group of friends camping, as there is no better place to tell a scary story than around a campfire in the great outdoors! Many of the Halloween traditions we continue today date from times before technology, which makes for an even better fit with the stripped-away, simplified style of living embodied by camping.
Planning a perfect Halloween camping trip is easy and inexpensive. You can find most things you need in any local area, plus lots of campsites put on Halloween scare fests with staff acting as ghosts and ghouls to entertain your kids. Plan props and costumes so you have all the necessary materials to make them as part of your camping experience, look up some good ghost stories, pack tasty treats, warm clothes and bedding and upgrade your fire-building skills and tools before you go. That way you can have a safe and exciting time without damaging the environment and build some really positive memories for your family or group of friends. Here’s our guide to Halloween camping ideas for having a perfect spooky camping festival of your own.
Fright-night camping style
Grab a marshmallow on a fork and a zombie’s hand and follow the dark trail through the woods to the Halloween campsite of our imagination… Here are some ideas for your Halloween camping trip packing!
Light a fire
When the Irish started Halloween (or Samhain) it was because they believed that this was the night that spirits could come back to the mortal world. They built bonfires to scare them away. Remember that this was pre-electricity, so the night time was very, very dark! That tradition continues today and where better to build a fire than at a campsite? Bring tinder and wood for burning, marshmallows and sausages for toasting and throw a few potatoes wrapped in foil into the flames and watch them cook. It’s a wonderful treat on Halloween night.
Turnips or pumpkins?
These days we use pumpkins to carve spooky heads and light them with a candle. Originally, they were turnips and you could still use one of those if needs be, but the pumpkin is much easier to work with. Using a knife, cut off the top and spoon out the seeds and pulp. Then cut some eyes, nose and mouth into the shell and pop a candle inside for instant atmosphere.
Eat into your future
Traditionally, the Barn Brack cake was baked at Halloween. This was a heavy fruit cake that was used to predict the future. Inside it were hidden a ring, a coin and a rag. The person who found the ring in their slice of cake would get married in the coming year, the person who got the coin could expect riches and the unfortunate person who got the rag would have trouble ahead; beware!
Peel an apple
Another game designed to tell the future is for a person to peel the skin of an apple in one piece and then throw it over their left shoulder… If they are successful, it is said that it will land in the shape of the first initial letter of the person they will marry. The spirits are said to be behind you catching it and shaping the letter, so be careful where you throw it.
This is where you get to really show off – prepare some spooky stories to tell around the campfire and involve the location you are in as being the site of a famous ghost or scary spirit. Be careful with these, you might end up with kids up all night afraid to sleep. There are lots of sites online that will give you inspiration depending on the age of the kids (or adult friends!).
Take a walk
A really spooky camping adventure is to take a walk in the woods or on a country lane with torches. Parents bringing their kids really have to be on guard here, but it’s a great experience to be in the woods or countryside together at night. It’s so dark, the stars are so much brighter and the sounds of birds and animals are very different. Another option is to leave a trail of lights through a small woodland and have kids follow it together and find a prize at the end. Parents need to watch them secretly though.
Sign up for scares
Lots of campsites will have organised activities on the campsite, so do some research and find out which sites are doing what. These might include bonfires, haunted castle visits, fireworks or organised storytelling sessions round the fire. They’re a lot of fun as the staff work really hard to give you a great time and they are usually family friendly.
Everyone loves a fancy-dress party and these days there’s no limits to what characters you can come dressed as. Encourage everyone in your group to have a costume and come dressed and acting as that person. It can run all day – you don’t have to wait for nightfall.
There’s a science to why we scare each other and it has a lot to teach us about the meaning of family and friendship. It’s said that we learn lessons on how to protect ourselves every time we are scared, so plan for teaching your kids without going too far. A little spooky fun is a lot better than having them find a fake severed head in their tent!
Trick or treat
You can’t have Halloween with kids without trick-or-treating, but with no houses around what do you do? Why not hide treats around the campsite with clues as to how to find them? Hang sweets in socks from trees and put pots and pans around the campsite with treats hidden inside. Use your imagination and you’ll keep them occupied for ages.
Toasted marshmallows and baked potatoes are wonderful treats that can’t really be conjured up in any other environment. Until you’ve tried sitting round a fire with your loved ones eating sweet toasted treats you can’t understand why it’s so attractive and memory forming.
Storytelling roots us
Telling stories is in our DNA – we’ve been doing it forever but these days it’s almost impossible for children to stay off their phones long enough for a good story. Getting them around the campfire is a great way to focus their attention, at least for a while.
Bond for life
A good ghost-hunting trip is a great way to bond. Walking through a pretend “haunted forest” or visiting the grounds of an old ruin at night is a great way to feel closer to your family unit and protected by it.
Watch the sun rise
When camping we are very aware of the sun and light. It’s a great experience to get the kids up to watch the sunrise the morning after Halloween to remind them that better times are always just ahead – the sun always rises. It’s a great family camping experience.
Quick questions to get the best of your camping Halloween
Still wondering if a Halloween camping trip is for you? Try our frequently asked questions to see if they help.
Do children enjoy being scared?
According to some researchers, being scared is a natural experience and helping children through it in a controlled way like Halloween can be healthy. But the advice is not to be too scary. It should be fun first and more spooky than bloody.
Are campfires and bonfires safe?
Campfires, when done properly, are very safe, but you need to know what you are doing. You should use a metal ring guard, which keeps the fire from spreading and also do some research around how to build a fire safely. If in doubt, visit a campsite that has an organised bonfire so you can enjoy it without the worry of building it.
Is it not too cold at Halloween for camping?
The October holidays are a colder time of year but the good thing about camping is that with modern technology and equipment our tents, sleeping bags, and clothing can make it a really cosy time to camp. You will need hats, gloves, and scarves, as well as warm coats to sit out at Halloween but you will be snug in your tent at night. Do some research to make sure you have the right equipment for the season.
Do Halloween activities have to happen at night?
Traditionally Halloween activities start at dusk, just as the sun begins to set, but you can start any time that suits you. Younger children will love getting dressed up in the daytime and stay in that costume all day. Don’t worry too much about tradition – it’s simply a day to celebrate the passing of time and family fun and that can happen in the daytime too.
Will my pets enjoy Halloween?
Animals don’t enjoy Halloween too much and they definitely don’t like fireworks and loud bangs. Make sure and plan for your pet’s safety and comfort if you are bringing them with you.
Celebrate fright night with a Halloween camping trip!