15 Best Family Camping Movies That Capture the Spirit of the Great Outdoors
Planning a family trip into the wild or sending your children to camp this summer? Use these kid-friendly, parent-approved camping films to get your brood excited to go off the grid.
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Whether you’re looking for inspiration on campfire games or camping activities—or need a primer on camping for beginners—family camping movies can give you a great assist. Classic family camping movies span the decades, from Disney originals with fun camping songs to dramas with a high-profile cast. Camping movies can also be eye candy for nature and animal lovers, and many of them are hilarious camping stories about what can go awry when you step away from civilization. Most are perfect for the whole family, although a few are rated R and probably more appropriate for households with teenagers.
Our choices make critical best-of lists and have high user reviews, and many of them feature Oscar winners and are directed by respected filmmakers. Although we hope you use your vacation to unplug from your devices, make it a point to watch at least some of these 15 movies before you head out on your next outdoor adventure.
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The Great Outdoors
Director: Howard Deutch
In The Great Outdoors, Chicagoan Chet Ripley takes his family for some rustic R&R in fictional Pechoggin, Wisconsin. All’s well until his slick investment banker brother-in-law arrives uninvited with his wife and kids and immediately starts flaunting his wealth. Between the tense family dynamics, scary run-ins with wildlife and outrageous interactions with weird locals, it’s the most relatable and hilarious of the family camping movies. It’s also written by John Hughes (Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and headlined by two of the most brilliant comedians of all time, John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. (Bonus: You can use the film as a teachable moment regarding what to do if you see a bear while you’re in the woods.)
The Parent Trap
Rated: Passed (ratings were different in the ’60s)
Director: David Swift
Twin teens (both played by Hayley Mills) who have never met on account of their parents’ divorce run into each other at summer camp. In The Parent Trap, their fighting lands them in isolation together and they grow to like each other, realize they’re related and swap places in an attempt to get their parents back together. The plan is complicated by dad’s new fiancée, but the girls don’t give up that easily. It’s a wholesome Disney classic and a great early example of the trading places/twin swap trope. Your family can chat about the movie while you’re enjoying the best hiking trails in every state.
The Parent Trap
Director: Nancy Meyers
No, we didn’t just accidentally repeat ourselves. This version of The Parent Trap is a reboot of the 1961 classic. (And both movies are based on a book from 1949, a German novel called Lisa and Lottie.) This updated rom-com feels fresh, and it launched Lindsay Lohan’s career. As in the original, a pair of parents decide to go their separate ways shortly after the birth of their twins—who have no idea the other exists until they serendipitously wind up at the same summer camp. They exchange lives in hopes of reuniting their mom and dad, only to find a potential new stepmom at home.
Director: Matthew Diamond
Sure, the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato are household names and chart-toppers now, but that wasn’t the case when Disney sent them to band camp in the late aughts for Camp Rock, a Disney Channel original movie. Mitchie Torres (Lovato), a shy high-schooler with a great set of pipes, longs to go to a music camp her family can’t afford. When her mom scores a job camp cooking in the kitchen, Mitchie gets to attend at a discounted rate if she helps cook and clean in off hours. Joe Jonas is the arrogant lead singer of a pop band who returns to camp to rehab his image. Ashamed of her family’s arrangement, Mitchie struggles to fit in with the rich and well-connected industry kids, lies about her mom’s job and betrays her one true friend. But this being a Mouse House family camping movie, you’ll probably pick up a few campfire songs to sing while roasting s’mores.
Director: Steven Brill
In Heavyweights, Gerry (Aaron Schwartz, whom you might recognize as Vanya the doorman on one of the best teen shows of all time, Gossip Girl) wasn’t happy about being sent to “fat camp.” But upon arrival, he meets a sympathetic counselor and makes friends with other campers who have brought enough junk food to last the summer. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when Camp Hope is purchased by militant fitness fanatic Tony Perkis Jr. (Ben Stiller), who confiscates their provisions, cancels fun activities like go-karts and institutes punishing workouts and humiliating challenges. They have no choice but to band together and take back the camp. This camp classic comes from the creator of The Mighty Ducks, was co-written by Judd Apatow and stars several comics with chops, like Kenan Thompson, Paul Feig, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.
It Takes Two
Director: Andy Tennant
During the height of their fame, the Olsen Twins starred in It Takes Two, a Trading Places-meets-The Parent Trap romp about doppelgangers who decide after accidentally meeting to switch places to experience the other’s lifestyle—and to fool their respective guardians. Amanda is an orphan who wants to be adopted by her social worker, while Alyssa is a rich boarding school student who longs to attend the summer camp her dad owns and get rid of her dad’s new self-centered socialite fiancée. If you’re into funny family movies—and can drum up a hefty suspension of disbelief—this is the family camping flick for you.
Director: Ivan Reitman
Despite being slightly more responsible than the misfits attending the budget camp he oversees, Meatballs‘s wacky counselor Tripper Harrison (Bill Murray in his first leading film role) manages to inspire and encourage both his child charges and the motley crew of counselors in training. (And if you’re on a budget yourself, here’s where to find discounted camping gear.) He takes a grieving loner named Rudy under his wing, and in turn, Rudy helps him pursue a relationship with the girls’ head counselor. They’ll have to all work together to take down their rival, the top-notch Camp Mohawk, at the annual Olympiad. Word of warning: Light sexual innuendo and scantily clad gals make this more suitable for homes with teenagers and might provoke some uncomfortable follow-up questions.
Director: Ron Underwood
Dude-ranch vacations are having a moment, thanks to the immense popularity of Yellowstone and its spinoffs. But back when this Billy Crystal vehicle was made, City Slickers was a far more novel concept, with its portrayal of urbanites in the midst of a midlife crisis heading west to play cowboy. It’s a fairly standard “fish out of water” tale, enriched by high-caliber comedians and actors (Jack Palance even took home an Academy Award for his portrayal of the gruff, leathered cattle drive leader Curly). The breathtaking New Mexico and Colorado vistas are a feast for the eyes, and it’s chock-full of memorable one-liners. Adults will relate to the commentary on aging, worrying about not living life to the fullest or reaching your full potential, and the peaks and valleys of marriage. Kids, on the other hand, will be entertained by stampedes, animals and Curly’s macho bravado.
Directors: Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin
If there’s National Park camping in your family’s future, consider Free Solo, a nonfiction film that follows mountain climber Alex Honnold’s attempt to free solo El Capitan, a towering 900-meter vertical rock face in Yosemite National Park. Given it’s a dangerous feat that many people— including fellow pros—weren’t convinced he could pull off, this Oscar-winning documentary is packed equally with suspense, close calls, alpine eye candy and encouragement to face your fears and follow your dreams, whether you’re luxury camping or roughing it.
The River Wild
Director: Curtis Hanson
In The River Wild, former river guide Gail (Meryl Streep) and her workaholic husband (David Strathairn) decide to take their 10-year-old son on a rafting holiday in Idaho, partly to celebrate his birthday and partly to reconnect as a family and save their marriage. As they set off, they meet a trio of other paddlers (Kevin Bacon, John C. Reilly and William Lucking) who seem nice enough but turn out to be bank robbers trying to escape. After killing one of their own, they trick Gail into helping them down river, and once she figures out they’re up to no good, they force her at gunpoint to navigate them through a terrifying section of rapids—turning her dream vacation into a fast-paced nightmare. If you want to visit the filming locations in real life, book a ticket to Montana—not The Gem State—as the Kootenai and Flathead Rivers near Glacier National Park were used in this thriller. And yes, that’s Streep doing her own stunts. Would you expect anything less from the 21-time Oscar nominee?
Addams Family Values
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Before Jenna Ortega danced and smirked her way into Netflix subscribers‘ hearts, Christina Ricci was Wednesday Addams in this wickedly funny sequel, Addams Family Values. She and her brother Pugsley keep trying to kill their newborn brother, and to keep them from succeeding, Gomez and Morticia hire a nanny who, unbeknownst to them, is a gold-digging serial killer who marries and then kills men for their fortunes. When the siblings suspect her next victim is Uncle Fester, she convinces their parents to send them to summer camp. The macabre minors hate it, don’t fit in and vow to destroy the place.
Director: Wes Anderson
In Moonrise Kingdom, two 12-year-old oddballs, a young orphaned Khaki Scout named Sam and an adorable yet aggressive redheaded aspiring actress named Suzy, become pen pals and concoct a plan to run away together to a tidal inlet. They live on a New England island in 1965, so they can’t get far before other scouts, the troop leader, the police captain, Suzy’s parents and social services come looking. This coming-of-age tale comes from the master of intelligent quirk, Wes Anderson, and stars his usual band of players: Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. Note to parents: The kids dance in their underwear and share a first kiss.
Stand By Me
Director: Rob Reiner
Based on a novella by Stephen King, Stand By Me is an Oscar- and Golden Globe–nominated drama that’s widely considered one of the best coming-of-age films of all time. It stars some of the most talented child actors Hollywood has ever seen, including River Phoenix and Corey Feldman. After hearing some present-day bad news, a writer recounts the life-defining Labor Day weekend adventure he and three of his friends, all from homes troubled in different ways, took at age 12 in 1959. They wander the rural Oregon countryside trying to find the body of a missing boy in hopes of notoriety or a reward, and along the way, the quartet sleeps under the stars, battles bullies and unsubstantiated low expectations based on family reputations, and deepens their friendships while learning more about themselves.
Director: Matt Ross
This frank, funny, small-budget indie deserved far wider viewership, and it goes in the opposite direction of most of the family camping movies on this list. Captain Fantastic begins in the off-grid forest of the Pacific Northwest, where a brilliant papa (Viggo Mortensen) is idealistically raising six super-smart kids to prefer nature and reading to TV and consumerism, grow and hunt their own food, live sustainably and be kind. Their mom, who reluctantly returned to the real world for medical attention, ultimately loses her battle. After her parents forbid the children from attending their mother’s funeral, they hit the road on a mission for closure and wind up experiencing all the good, bad and ugly of the civilization their parents were shielding them from.
The Kings of Summer
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
The Kings of Summer features a trio of Ohio teens. Despite how much fun they have making their own rules and bonding, they quickly learn that finding food, dealing with the elements and playing grown-up isn’t as easy as they thought it would be. The Sundance standout realistically captures male friendship and the complicated time when kids simultaneously yearn to be older and fear growing up. This feel-good movie manages to be sweet but not sappy, off-kilter but not overly weird, and angsty and sarcastic while never drifting into mean-spirited territory.