For outdoor adventure seekers, we often find ourselves around a campfire in the evening rehashing the day and enjoying each other’s company. We love connecting with friends new and old, playing games, laughing, and sharing the simple joys of being in places we love. When you’re camping riverside on a multi-day river trip we love to bring beach games like bocce ball and others, but when the sun sets and we’re enjoying hot and cold beverages alike, we like to play these simple games that don’t involve a lot of stuff, or much light. With only the campfire and stars to light our evening, here are five of our favorite fun and simple games to play around a campfire:

Salad Bowl
Thumb Game
Tap the Stick
Make Me Laugh

1. Salad Bowl

This is a super fun game to play with larger groups. Ideally groups of 10 or more, but you can make it fun with fewer as well. The more people the more fun and challenging.

What you need:

  • A bowl (or anything to hold small pieces of paper; a hat, stuff sack, etc..(improvise with what you have)
  • Paper
  • Pencil/Pen
  • Timer
  • If it’s dark, headlamps on red mode are recommended

Game setup:

Have each person write a word or a short phrase on their piece of paper. Don’t show or tell anyone. Have each person fold their paper and put it into the bowl.
*If you have a smaller group have each person write 2 or 3 words or phrases on different pieces of paper.
Next, divide your group into two teams.

Time to Play:

Round 1: Describe it.

Pick a person to go first.
The player takes a piece of paper from the fishbowl. Start the 1-minute timer when they pick the first piece of paper from the bowl.
The player will then use words to describe the word or phrase that is on the paper to his/her team. They cannot use any other gestures — only words. They are not allowed to say any of the words written on the paper.
For example, if the word is “Cheese” they can say “A mouse loves to eat this”. The team guesses until they get the word correct and the player picks another paper from the bowl, this continues until the minute is up.
If the player thinks the word or phrase is too hard, they can “pass” and put the paper back into the fishbowl. However, players can only do this once per round.
If the team successfully guesses the word, they get to keep the piece of paper.
If the team hits the 1-minute mark and the word has not been guessed the paper goes back in the bowl.
After 1 minute has elapsed, the other team gets a turn. They also have 1-minute to guess as many words as possible.
Each team continues to take 1-minute turns until all of the pieces of paper have been removed from the bowl. When the bowl is empty, each team counts the pieces of paper they have gathered. Each piece adds 1 point to their score. After tallying both scores, place all the pieces of paper back into the bowl and move on to round 2.

Round 2: One word only.

This round is played in a similar way, each team has 1-minute to guess as many words or phrases as possible. The team that went second last time will get to go first this round. In this round, the player reading the paper can only use one word to describe the word or phrase. So, if the word is “Cheese” this time they may use a single word like “Mouse” to describe it. The teams continue to alternate with a 1-minute round each until the bowl is empty, again the pieces of paper are tallied and placed back into the bowl.

Round 3: Show it.

The next round of play continues in the same way, with each team taking their 1-minute turns and gathering as many correctly guessed pieces of paper. In this round, you aren’t allowed to use any words. You have to act it out or use gestures in order for your team to get the word or phrase. At the end of the round, the scores are tallied up once more. The team that has the most points from all three rounds is the winner.

2. Thumb Game

sitting in front of a campfire

We have to admit this is a great one to play with an adult beverage, but it works well for families as well. This is super simple and best played alongside storytelling and other activities. All you need is a group of people and your hands.

How to play:

Sitting in a circle. Someone (anyone) takes the initiative to start the game. They place their thumb where everyone can see it, placed simply on top of their knee (if you have a table they can place one thumb on the edge of the table). When you notice a person’s thumb on their knee, you discreetly place your thumb on your knee and leave it there. The last person without their thumb on their knee loses. We like to play with a fun “penalty” for the last person out. For example, they have to tell the group a story about their first time ever river rafting. You can start the next round as soon as the first one is over.
It’s a great way to learn more about old friends and new friends with a bit of fun and competition.

3. Telephone

Ok, we know this is basically from everyone’s childhood (well, everyone who was pre-internet). But it’s surprisingly fun as an adult as well.

How to Play:

In a circle have one person think of a phrase. Make sure you keep it appropriate to the audience you are playing with. The first person whispers the phrase to the person next to them. The second person then whispers what they heard to the person next to them. Continue in this way until you get to the last person. This person then says out loud what they hear. Did the phrase stay the same or did it change?
Simple and fun.

4. Tap the Stick

This is a fun campfire game to see how observant people are and how quickly they catch on to “the right way to tap the stick”.

How to Play:

The first person gets a stick, clears their throat, and says “I can tap the stick just right” and begins tapping the stick on the ground. They pass the stick to the person sitting next to them, so they can try to tap the stick “just right”. The object of the game is for a player to realize clearing their throat before tapping the stick is the key to tapping the stick just right and correctly copying the first player. The first player can let each player know if they are tapping the stick right as it is passed around the campfire with just a simple yes or no. Don’t reveal the secret until everyone has a chance to play. Players will try to hold the stick like the first player, tap the same rhythm, tune, or number of times, etc.
Feel free to use any object you have around and change the phrase. The key is for the first person to add a subtle “key” to doing it the correct way which is hard to notice right away. Bonus if you add some more obvious extras as a distraction from the real “key”.

5. Make Me Laugh

Simple, and hilarious! The beauty of this game comes from the fun group of people you are with.

How to Play:

Pick one person to start in the “hot seat”. You can choose by age, who’s been on the river the most times, or another fun selector. For 90 seconds the rest of the campers try to make that person laugh without laughing themselves. Rotate through all the campers so that everyone has a chance to be in the “hot seat”.

In the dark of the night, under a starlit sky, campfires become magical stages where laughter and camaraderie take center stage. These are some great ideas for campfire games that require little to no equipment and ignite endless fun and create unforgettable memories. These are a great starting point, don’t be afraid to make them yours and tailor them to the group you’re with. These games, and others like them, encourage creativity, bonding, and friendly competition among family and friends. As we gather around the flickering flames, let’s relish in the joy of togetherness. So grab a marshmallow, find a cozy spot by the fire, and let the night come alive with laughter and merriment.

If you’re looking for some amazing starry nights in peaceful solitude, a multi-day river trip could be just what you’re looking for. Our favorite summer trip is the Main Salmon in Idaho! If you like your fireside games with a glass of vino (after a gourmet meal), check out our Main Salmon trip with Elk Cove Vineyards.

Friends laughing at camp
Photo by Brie Molchan