Keeping kids happy and motivated while hiking can sometimes be a tall task. Try any or all of these seven activities when a meltdown is soon to happen or trail boredom sets in.
Assign Trail Jobs
Give each hiker a job or two while out on the trail. Little hikers may enjoy being in charge of relaying what hazards may be along the trail (a cactus, biker, etc.) or being in charge of letting everyone know it is time for a snack and/or water break. Older explorers can take the lead from time to time along the trail or be in charge of map or compass reading. Other jobs may include reminders to start and stop the GPS, taking photos or maybe they can be in charge of carrying the water, snacks and first-aid kit.
Create A Nature Journal
While on your hike, stop and write down what you see. There are many different things you can keep track of, from the birds and other animals you see to the plants you pass by. Little ones may want to just draw pictures of what they see or trace rocks or leaves that they find. Print photos you have taken from the trail and add them to the pages to complete the journal.
Earn A Junior Ranger Badge
At most national parks and monuments, as well as some state parks and forest lands, young explorers can participate in the Junior Ranger Program or become Nature Detectives. Pick up an age-appropriate book and/or ask if the park has a program at the visitor center. Activities will range from finding specific animals, landmarks or other objects along the trails, drawing and/or writing about what your hiker(s) sees, completing a crossword puzzle and more. Be sure to bring your completed book back to the ranger station/visitor center to receive your Junior Ranger pin, patch or other recognition.
Participate In A Ranger-Led Hike
Park Rangers have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the history of the park you are visiting. Ranger-led hikes are a great way to get a personal experience allowing an in-depth view into ecology, geology and more. Kids are naturally curious. Ranger-led hikes give them the opportunity to ask specific questions to expand their knowledge.
Play The Miles Away
Unstructured creative play along the trail brings out the imagination. Build fairy houses or search for animal tracks. Take some time to skip stones or have stick races. No kid can resist scrambling on the rocks. Enhance the experience by packing binoculars, a compass, or other items that are lightweight but can add to play and wonder. Bring a buddy along on the trail to join in the play. We suggest a plastic animal, doll or stuffed animal.
Trail Games For The Win
Play games along the trail and you’ll be back at the trailhead before you know it. Scavenger hunts are always a hit whether you focus on finding objects that start with a certain letter or use the senses for more tactile, colorful or noisy hunts. Another fun game is to mimic the trail leader by waddling like a penguin down the trail. Singing a favorite song can make the time go by. Another way to make the miles go by fast is to tell and/or build your own stories. Have one hiker begin a story and each hiker takes turns adding on to the story. It’s amazing where a story can go and how the imagination can soar. Geocaching is also a recommended game along the trail.
Put technology to good use along the trail. Consider using apps to track mileage like Gaia GPS
. Older kids can let everyone know the distance tackled and about the elevation changes coming up when using AllTrails
or specific apps for the places you are hiking including The National Park Service App
or Oh, Ranger
! Nature apps allow you to track birds and other animals you see. Try iNaturalist
to identify plants or My Nature
for tree and animal track and scat identification. The Merlin Bird ID
will help you identify birds and allow you to participate in helping keep bird populations healthy. Use the Geocaching
app to find caches along the trail. If hiking in the evening, consider using the SkyView
app to check out the night sky.