We have a little family tradition in Pennsylvania: every summer we get together with friends and head into the wild. Of course, you understand that by “head into the wild” I mean that we go camping, in a campground, with running water.
I am as adventurous as the next person, but running water (i.e. toilets) is where I draw my line. Wherever I go, I must have access to a real toilet. That is all I need to be happy. I’ve learned through the years to deal with the lack of space and be ok with not showering for three days- but a real toilet is a must.
And so, every summer for the past four years, we have gathered with a group of friends, researched the best campground options, and taken off into the wilds of manicured campsites, nearby toilet houses, and family-friendly activity choices. It’s awesome!
We were a bit worried the first year, but we loved it so much it’s become a tradition we look forward to year after year.
In our search for the right combination of rustic and fun, we found the three best family-friendly campgrounds in Pennsylvania: Otter Lake Camp Resort, Buttonwood Campground, and Adventure Bound Eagles Peak Campground.
Each of these campgrounds offers something unique, family-friendly, and fun enough to fulfill the requirements that anyone would have of a campground. Each of these camping experiences has filled us with summer memories that will last a lifetime.
Why are these three campgrounds special?
Otter Lake Camp Resort
Otter Lake Camp Resort is a great place to “rough” it. With reservations for three sites, side by side, we set up our own little world. Each family sets up individual tents and circles the communal campfire. We set up a large canopy over the picnic tables to cover us from the sun or rain. Admittedly, we want to make sure we can play our card game at night. The fact that the kids can eat without the sun in their face is just a bonus.
Check-in was a breeze, and we found our way to our tent sites- complete with water and electricity. Our friend Natalia promptly hooked up her (camping) coffee maker– we all have a weakness. Steps away we saw the bathrooms, lake, swingsets, and the outdoor pool.
One of the many amenities we love at Otter Lake Camp Resort is their indoor, heated pool. With rain in the forecast, that indoor pool provided much-needed fun and space for our families. The kids could swim and play while the adults had more than a tent in which to socialize. Once the weather got nice, we went fishing, swam in the lake, and played in the outdoor pool section.
I would highly recommend Otter Lake Camp Resort to large families who like a variety of activities– you can easily have a kid in the lake, another fishing, one playing on the swingset, and others playing in the grass or baseball field while still keeping a watchful eye on all of them.
We love camping! And, by camping, I mean this:
We start by packing everything we own (or what feels like it) into the minivan. No curated pictures here- this is the reality.
We set up for comfort- the canopy travels with us whenever we go outdoors!
I’d love to say that we sleep under the stars… but the truth is that, just like our friends, we take a less sleeping bag and more inflatable bed route.
Camping, for some reason, always inspires the men to cook.
And the kids to collect bugs and play in the dirt in a way that they never quite do at home.
But in the end, THIS is our camping: sitting around the fire together, hanging out, talking, playing, and enjoying the wonderful places that make it all possible.
We discovered Buttonwood Campground during a bout of creek tubing obsession and never looked back! With its own creek and tubing transportation, Buttonwood was THE choice for the summer we went.
The creek is a great opportunity to go tubing and allow the kids to splash around. It’s a short walk from the tent sites and incredibly child-friendly. Our two sites were ten steps from the indoor toilets and close to everything.
A short walk away from the creek you access the general store and check-in desk. You will also find a complete list of scheduled activities to enjoy.
And next to that: a complete family fun center- the camping edition of course.
Buttonwood Campground has a mini-golf course, an inflatable jumping area, race carts, old-time games, laser tag, and more. The price for all this entertainment? A $20 wristband. To say that it is entirely worth it would be an understatement. The kids had a blast trying out all the games and fun activities, swimming in the pool, and going in the creek.
All of this when we weren’t busy roasting marshmallows or playing with flashlights in the darkness of night.
Our circle of friends is known for overpacking, and we took more than enough wood and food into Buttonwood. But, on our second day, there was an old-fashioned picnic on site. Buttonwood guests could buy hot dogs and fries for a dollar each. Needless to say, the moms opted NOT cook lunch that day. No one complained, we all ate, and there was more time to have fun, play, and relax.
With no need to cook, fed and active children, the parents could get down to the business of having fun too!
Buttonwood is an all-inclusive type of campground and a great one for anyone with active children. If you like tubing then this is THE campground to book. We enjoy our tent sites with water and electricity, but we did walk by the cabins and notice how comfortable they look. We’re definitely trying them out next time.
Adventure Bound Eagles Peak Campground
Our final selection is Adventure Bound Eagles Peak Campground. Adventure Bound has a pool and water park to enjoy, mini-golf, swingsets, a ga-ga pit, and old-fashioned games. Themed weekend activities take place indoors and outdoors and the on-site store has supplies AND cooked-to-order food.
For this camping trip, we got a cabin- and we were not disappointed. To be honest, I’m going to have a hard time setting up the tent again. Our “small, rustic cabin” had more than enough space for a family of four. Two sets of bunk beds and a table create a comfortable environment in the cabin. Additionally, a mini-fridge and microwave make cooking over the fire optional.
Of course, we still use the fire pit as the center of activity for our trip, and the kids love cooking their food outdoors. Our site was a few steps away from the bathrooms, a three-minute walk from the lake to fish, and within walking distance of the pool and play areas.
One of our favorite activities at Adventure Bound Campground is the “Medieval weekend” themed Highland games. The active games, pottery (for a fee) and “horse races”, where the kids get to be the horse, were a hit. It was a great weekend.
Are there more flashy, modern, and amenity-rich campgrounds in Pennsylvania? Yes. But, these three campgrounds have hit the sweet spot of being comfortable yet rustic, equipped with modern conveniences while not enslaving us to them, and with weekly activity programs that keep the kids entertained while letting them use their imaginations and enjoy getting back to nature. Isn’t that the goal of camping?
If you are looking for more suggestions on fun things to do in and around Central Pennsylvania I highly recommend the following:
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