Studies show that introducing kids to the outdoors at an early age can help them build confidence, creativity, responsibility, and focus, all while keeping them physically active and providing a break from the ever-present screens. One of the very best ways to get kids excited about nature is to take them hiking.
And, as with any activity for little ones, hiking can be extra enjoyable when you add some fun and games. Here are some of our favorites.
- Geocaching — Geocaching, referred to as the “world’s biggest treasure hunt,” involves hunting for real-life treasures out in the wild. Using the Geocaching app, hunters navigate to “caches” hidden out in the world, often off hiking trails and within parks. Keep your eyes peeled for hard protective cases — they’re probably caches filled with fun things to discover! Don’t forget to add your name to the log.
- Scavenger Hunts for Plants and Wildlife — Kids love hunting for stuff, so anything you can do to get them searching is always a hit. Bust out your field guides, pack some special lenses in your camera backpack, and set out searching! Some of our favorite wilderness scavenger hunts include the following:
- Finding morel mushrooms. These delicious edible mushrooms pop up for a very short season, usually from mid-April to mid-June, depending on where you live. These rare ’shrooms are beloved among foodies and can fetch finders as much as $20 per pound. But, in our opinion, eating them (preferably sautéed in some butter) is always better than selling them! Just make sure you know your mushrooms, as the best-tasting mushrooms can have poisonous lookalikes.
- Finding wild edible plants, such as ramps and wild onions. One of the most popular and elusive edible plants to hunt is the wild asparagus, a delicious springtime treat that grows in wet areas all over the United States.
- Birdwatching for rare birds and birds of prey. Give your kids a list with pictures of birds to identify on your route. Some fun birds to hunt for include hawks, herons, eagles, pileated woodpeckers, cardinals, and blue jays.
- This fun hobby involves finding and identifying rocks, minerals, gems, and fossils. Be sure to bring along a rockhounding book for your area so you can identify what you’ve found.
*A note on scavenging:
Remember to always follow the Principles of Leave No Trace when scavenging in the wilderness. Principle Four is “leave what you find,” so make sure not to take anything out of the woods that could negatively affect the environment.
Also, be sure to check with the specific park rules, as many public lands do allow foraging but set specific limits that must be followed.
Hide and Seek —
Make sure to bring a cooler backpack full of snacks and water because this one tends to take it out of your little ones. Hide and seek out in the woods can be a fun activity that gets kids used to exploring nature on their own or in teams.
Just make sure you set the ground rules — i.e., don’t go past specific boundaries or venture too far off the trail — and limit this one to older kids.
Trail Bingo —
This is a super fun way to get your youngsters acquainted with the typical things you might see in nature in your specific area. It’s also especially engaging because it involves an element of competition!
Here’s a list of fun things to include in your trail bingo boxes: butterfly, moss, acorn, mushrooms, squirrel, chipmunk, bird’s nest, rabbit, snake, hawk, tree nut, and flat rock.
For older kids, you can play bingo with specific types of birds, tree species (or tree leaves), types of rocks, shapes of rocks, and insect species.
Gather and Build —
This game involves having your kids gather supplies from within nature to create something after the hike. For example, you can have them collect sticks and leaves to build a bird’s nest.
The important thing with this game is to emphasize the importance of not destructing nature or destroying any habitats while gathering supplies.
Teach kids what’s OK to collect and what is potentially disruptive to the natural land. If hiking on public lands, always make sure to reference (and abide by) the rules and regulations of the space.
Tree Huggers —
This game is perfect for keeping kids engaged and helping them learn about different trees in your area. To play, designate one person as the true master and the rest as tree huggers.
The tree master yells out a species of tree and the tree huggers must run to that kind of tree as fast as they can.
You can get as general or specific as you like with the tree species. Keep it general with broad classifications like oak, hickory, cherry, or elm, or get hyper-specific with precise types within those categories.
Twenty Questions —
What do you do when you need to keep bored kids occupied pretty much anywhere you are? Play Twenty Questions, of course!
This classic game involves one person thinking of a specific person, place, or thing and then the rest of the group asking yes or no questions until they can guess what it is.
Give your round of Twenty Questions a nature-themed twist by having everyone choose something you can find on your hike or out in nature.
Journaling or Sketching —
Though not technically a game, nature journaling is a fun and engaging activity that will help kids reflect on nature. At the same time, journaling can help youngsters process their emotions and sharpen their writing skills.
You can provide kids with a writing prompt or invite them to all draw something inspired by nature.
Let’s face it, even the most nature-loving little ones sometimes get bored out on the trail. Luckily, these games can help them stay mindful of the world around them.
Most importantly, trail games help kids forge a deep and long-lasting love of nature that they will carry with them for a lifetime.