Hiking with Kids – Trail Games

We are learning more each day the importance of getting kids outside and hiking with kids for not only their physical and mental health but also to develop their love of natural places. It will be their generation that could tip the scale away conservation if we do not help them understand and develop a love for wild, undeveloped places.
Hiking with family can bring memories you will cherish for years to come. We want those memories to be full of laughter and joy. If your 4-5 year old hiking buddy looses attention and gets “bored” or too tired, you may not enjoy carrying them back to the trail head. Even young adults, whom have not been shown how to enjoy each step and to yearn for what might be around the next bend, can make a hike not so pleasant. These hiking games will help develop observation skills, species identification, and teamwork.

After year of hiking with families of all ages our guides have found that keeping things interesting is the key to long and happier hikes. For younger kids setting an alarm on watch or cell phone for every 15 minutes to stop and take a break for a snack or a drink is a good idea (actually we set the alarm 5 min longer than what is decided). This can also encourage your child to help pack the snacks, providing you another teaching opportunity on energy foods verses sugary snacks. Pre-portioning small mini snacks at home is great way to prepare.

Scavenger Hunt – This traditional standby is perfect for young hikers. You can print out a list of items they may find along the trail and check them off as you find them. Discourage collecting these items, but instead let the child take a photo of each item found to show a family member upon returning home. This will also fulfill their desire towards electronic devices. If you have multiple kids on the trail team them up.

Activity Hunt – This variation of a scavenger hunt is great for middle school ages and challenges them physically as well as helping them focus. For example some of the items on your list can include hugging a tree you can’t reach your arms all the way around, finding your reflection in a pond / puddle / raindrop, walk a natural balance beam, count insects seen doing 5 push-ups, or imitate the activity of animals seen on the trail. The list ideas are nearly endless!

Keep a Journal – Have each child take a writing utensil and a small pocket size notepad. They can record the statistics of your hike by checking # of birds, butterflies, or yellow flowers they have seen as they hike along. Another idea is to have them trace 5 different leaves they find along the way (at least 100 big steps apart so they do not do all at once). Maybe have them start thinking of writing a Haiku, as they go along they can write down words that bring them inspiration. To encourage paying attention to trail signs they can log each left and right turn or different trails they walk on that day. Keeping track of plant, animals, and other interesting things seen on the trail is a good way to get together after the hike to review their adventure and get them looking forward to the next one.

Nature I Spy – This can be a fun challenging game for older youth and adults! One person walks a short distance ahead of the group and takes a close up photo of an item while everyone is facing the opposite direction or around a turn in the trail. This photo can be a leaf on the trail, bark on a tree, petal from a flower, etc. When the group reaches them, the nature photographer shows the photo to the group and points out a general area in which they can find the photographed image. It is fun to watch them all rush to be the first to find each item! Though this game takes time away from a hike (it can also be played while camping) it does teach observation skills. You can take time after each find to ask the photographer what about the item sparked their interest, or use a nature ID app such as iNaturalist, Leafsnap, Project Noah, Nature Guides on a smart phone to properly identify the object.

I Spy Alphabet – A simple way to increase observation skills is to play the alphabet game on the trail. Nature can show you the entire alphabet in tree limbs, shadows, etc. Start with “A” and work your way through the entire alphabet. Once that letter is found move on to the next. Game can be played as a group or individuals can take a photo of each “letter” and first to complete wins (after confirming done in order of course). Another variation would be to identify natural items or animals starting with each letter of the alphabet – this can be extremely challenging and would be more for your adults.

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