children hiking in woods

Hiking isn’t just good, healthy exercise, it’s a great opportunity for teaching your children about the natural world. And with a little advance planning, hiking with children can be a blast for the whole family. To keep them entertained during your outdoor adventure, plan fun activities that help them discover and appreciate the nature they observe.

Check out some of these ideas for your next hiking trip.

Nature Drawings

If you have younger kids on your hike, you’ll need to take frequent rest breaks for water and snacks. Bring along pencils and sketchbooks so they can draw the plants, trees, animals, or whatever they see around them during breaks. You might be surprised by what they focus on (did you notice how interesting that rock was?). And you can save their artwork for a scrapbook about your hiking adventures!

Scavenger Hunts for All Ages

Plan ahead and create a checklist of items you’re likely to find on your hike so you can have a scavenger hunt. There are a few ways that you can go about your scavenger hunt, depending on the age of your child.

  • For younger children, have them locate things of different colors and shapes.
  • With more mature kids, list specific items for them to identify.

Unfortunately, some of the items they find may include discarded water bottles or other litter. The good news is that you can include those items in your hunt and leave the trail cleaner than you found it! Be sure and bring a bag for any trash you find, and also caution your children to leave flowers, plants, and wildlife undisturbed.

kids hiking, Saguaro cacti
Hiking offers a great opportunity for teaching your children about the natural world. Image courtesy of Take A Hike Arizona.

Rainbow Hunt Game

While hiking, ask your children to find things in “rainbow order” — this is particularly good for younger children. Start with red, then orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. (You can also include white, black, grey, and brown if you wish.) If it’s spring and flowers are blooming, or fall and the leaves are changing, you may have a wider range of colors, but feel free to include non-natural items in the game (like the color of Daddy’s jacket!) Keep a checklist and mark off the colors as your children spot them.

Senses Hunt Game

In this game, you list the various smells, sounds, and textures your children identify — instead of focusing purely on what they see. Smells might include the scent of pine or water. Sounds could include the cry of a hawk, the burbling of a stream, or squeaks from ground squirrels. Textures might include something soft and velvety (like moss), something rough (like tree bark), and something squishy (like mud). One caution: Make sure your children can identify plants like poison ivy and poison oak, or keep a close eye on the kids so they don’t touch something that will harm them!

Keep a Hiking Journal

For older kids who might be bored identifying colors and textures, help them do some pre-hike research on the varieties of plants, trees, and animals you might encounter on your hike. Have them list the items in a journal and then keep track of what they spot on your hike. They can add notes and sketches and update the journal each time you go hiking. Take along binoculars so they can scan the skies and far distances when you’re taking breaks and enjoying scenic overlooks.

What activities do your kids love while hiking?

Feature image courtesy of Ann Fisher

Editor’s note: Originally published on June 8, 2015, this article was updated in August 2018.

By Chrystal Johnson

Chrystal Johnson, publisher of Happy Mothering, founder of Green Moms Media and essential oil fanatic, is a mother of two sweet girls who believes in living a simple, natural lifestyle. A former corporate marketing communication manager, Chrystal spends her time researching green and eco-friendly alternatives to improve her family's life.