It’s so disappointing when a fire ban in place and you’re not allowed to have a campfire. I mean, the campfire is one of the main focuses of camping, right? Frustrated as you and your family are, there’s plenty of creative campfire alternatives to still enjoy camping during those burn restrictions.
Why are there fire restrictions and burn bans
There are several reasons why regulatory authorities issue burn bans. They may vary by municipality, county, state and even federally. Fire bans typically occur in the summer when droughts are common. Burn bans are put into place to help prevent forest fires and brush fires.
But also, air-quality fire restrictions are issued during the fall and winter. These fire safety measures help keep concentrations of harmful particulates and smoke under control during those air quality seasons.
We talked about campfire safety
How are burn ban conditions determined?
Burn bans are determined by the local or state Fire Marshall. There’s two stages of burn restrictions. Stage 1 fire bans are issued based on weather conditions and air quality standards. Stage 2 fire bans are issued when fine particle pollution levels reach a trigger value set by the state.
Before even consider lighting a match or your campfire, always check your municipal and local county website for more information.
How do we know if a burn ban has been lifted
Usually, when authorities cancel burn bans, they will alert the media news channels and radio stations. And at campgrounds, there may be a special notice at the entrance and/or visitor center. Again, always check before assuming you can start your campfire.
Now that you know how and why fire restrictions are put into place, that’s really no reason to pack up your tent or camper and head back home. There’s plenty of campfire alternatives that you and your family can do to make the most of your camping adventure.
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Fun and Creative Campfire Alternatives During Burn Bans
Propane Fire Pits
While a fire ban is in place, some campgrounds and locations may still allow you to use propane gas camp stoves and fire pits. They don’t produce flying embers that could start a brush or forest fire. And, propane fire pits also don’t emit smoke that causes air quality issues.
Our favorite propane fire pits are the Outland Fire Bowl, the Big Red Campfire and the Little Red Campfire.
Of course, you’re going to need a 5 pound, 11 pound or 20 pound propane canister and propane regulator hose.
However, getting back to burn bans, never assume you can just fire up your outdoor cook stove and propane fire pit as they may produce a spark upon lighting.
But, if you are permitted to use them, always err on the side of caution by consulting with the Ranger, Camp Host or your local government before using any gas appliances. And, always clear an ample size perimeter where no grass, leaves, twigs or anything could catch fire.
Read more: Top 10 Portable Fire Pits for RVs and Camping
There’s nothing like sitting under the stars while watching a movie while chomping on popcorn. If you’ve never done it, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Just like the old time drive-in movies, you can create your own outdoor movie theater. Not only is it fun for all but it keeps the kids at your campsite instead of running around in the dark.
So, spread out the blankets, plop down and watch all your favorite movies or binge watch your favorite shows. For some extra ambiance, throw in a few solar powered torch lights and flameless flicking candles and you have the perfect movie setting.
After Dark Cornhole
If you or you’re family enjoy playing corn hole, there’s nothing from stopping you from playing corn hole after dark. If you already own a set of corn hole boards, you can add a set of cornhole board lights that light up your boards in several unique light patterns. And they come with glow-in-the-dark cornhole bags too!
Flashlight tag is a game that can be played by kids of all ages from littles to as young as you feel! It’s one of the oldest and most fun outdoor games. It’s kind of like hide and seek but in the dark.
The basic game play is one person is “IT”. That player must count up to a predetermined number while the other players go hide and turn their flashlights off. Then once the IT player is finished counting, he or she must spot other players using their flashlight as a ‘tag’.
To play, all you need is darkness, a small flashlight for each person and of course, three or more players. Just be mindful of obstacles (tent stakes, rocks, logs, tree roots, etc.) or other tripping hazards.
We totally get how disappointing it is for the kids (young and old) not to be able to sit around a real campfire and roast marshmallows. But, don’t let those fire bans ruin your camping experience. Your fellow campers can still have some fun in the dark by having a glow party!
Glow parties are a fun nighttime activity for all ages and can last for as many hours that you want. You can actually preplan this fun camping activity even if there isn’t a fire ban.
So, load up on light Bars and light Strips, power banks to charge them and blacklight flashlights.
And then get lots of glow in the dark face paints, tattoos, bubbles, party goodies, party supplies, and decorations. Let their creativity begin and see them glow well into the night! And, it will keep everyone occupied outside.
Glow Scavenger Hunt
Similar to the glow party above, you can send the kids out on a cool glow scavenger hunt!
All you need is a glow torch for each kid and a collection of glow in the dark dinosaurs, bugs, stars and squishy toys.
During the day, the adults and big kids can hide them and by night, the littles use their glow torches to find them! Just make certain not to put your campers in danger (ie. rattlesnakes, real scorpions, etc.)
And hey, don’t forget their bug bands that keep the skeeters away. They also glow in the dark!
If you’re camping where there’s tons of lightening bugs, this fun campfire alternative will surely make great memories, especially for the littles. You can even make it a contest to see who can catch the most fireflies (live) in 30 minutes to an hour.
All you need is a firefly catching kit for each kid. Pair the littles with an adult while the older kids can go out on their own.
Hike by Moon or Starlight
Hiking by moonlight or starlight is an amazing and exciting experience. It heightens your senses to new levels. You’ll get to experiences the sights and sounds of the wild in the dark.
But hiking also helps pass the time and keeps everyone outside instead of on their phones or tablets.
However, you’ll probably not want to go for a moonlight hike in bear country or where nocturnal wildlife like wild boar, big cats and hungry wolves come out at night. And of course, never go hiking alone.
Many State or National Parks will organize and host full moon hikes. All you need is your regular hiking gear, including a headlamp, flashlight and a good GPS.
Stargazing is such a natural thing to do while you’re camping. In fact, stargazing is on the up and up. Star Parties are happening everywhere. And, if you seek out dark sky communities, all the better.
But even if you’re not, you still can look up and study the constellations. And, just maybe you can get where you can see the Milky Way.
A few stargazing tips to get the best eye opening experience are to bring powerful stargazing binoculars, bring your reclining zero gravity chair or large ground blanket to lay on and of course a jacket or sweatshirt.
You’ll also want a star or constellation guide and red lens flashlights so your eyes can easily adjust to darkness. Also, a laser pointer to point to stars to your fellow stargazing campers.
Just be aware, according to U.S. federal law, it’s illegal to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, or the flight path of an aircraft. So, be responsible and keep them away from children.
PRO TIP: Where to Go Dark Sky Camping
While you’re stargazing, why not take your GoPro or your DSLR camera out and test your photography skills. You’ve no doubt seen those beautiful photos of the Milky Way, nearby planets and the moon? You too, can learn how to take your own magnificent photos of those diamonds in the sky!
PRO TIP: Smartphone Photography Tips for Beginners
Check out Abe Kislevitz’ video on How to Capture Stars and Milky Way Moving – Night Time-Lapse Tutorial:
Table Top Games by Lantern Light
Here’s some great camping theme game ideas to play at the picnic table or inside your tent:
PRO TIP: Check out our National Park Board Games for All Ages!
Check out our National Park Board Games
Storytelling & Shadow Puppets
Since any kind of fire is prohibited during a burn ban, you still can gather for a little storytelling inside a tent or around in the dark around a fake fire logs or torches.
You can also make your own or buy a set of shadow puppets and act them out inside your tent while your fellow campers are outside. All you need is creativity, a bright camping lantern and a tent.
You can also get creative with your children showing them how to make hand shadow puppets!
If you can’t make it, fake it!
Solar powered tree stump campfire lights are a great alternative to campfires! These fake burning logs are powered by solar energy which means no real fire embers that could start a wildfire. The distinctive dancing flame looks like the real deal but without the danger. While your campers can’t roast marshmallows over them, the warm light still creates a welcoming ambience.
PRO TIP: 10 Fun Things to Do Around the Campfire
For more solar light recommendations, check out our 10 Must-Have Solar Camping Lights for Outdoor Spaces
Final thoughts on campfire alternatives during burn bans
As you’ve just read, there’s other ways to still enjoy evenings without having a wood burning campfire. While the campfire is the major hub of camping, we have to respect the power of fire and what happens should a single ember escape into the wild.
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