Monday, May 19, 2014

Family Camping Made Easy - Wilderness Games for Camp and the Trail

When it comes to outdoor play, children are generally pretty good at creating their own games and will surprise you with how little adult interaction they need to keep themselves occupied and engaged. A thicket of trees quickly transforms into a fortress or secret hide-out, a stick becomes a sword, and a creek with mud and rocks will entertain children all day!

Tigers and butterflies can hike all day
I still find though, that I like to have a few games in my back pocket for moments when the troops get bored, hikes get longer than expected, or energy levels start to drop on an outing. Never underestimate the power of a game of hide-and-seek to push tired hikers another 3km down the trail at the end of the day – long after your child has reached his last step.

Below are some suggestions for games that you can play outside this summer when camping, hiking, or just playing in your favourite natural area.

Send the kids off together to hide - and then chase them down the trail


The most popular game for all age groups is definitely hide-and-seek.  It can be played anywhere and requires as few as two people to play.  To make the most of this game, try it while hiking and watch the kilometres fly by!  The only rule with hiking hide-and-seek is that you have to run to hide in the same direction you are moving down the trail and you can’t hide more than a few metres off the trail.

 It’s a simple game if there is no wildlife danger and you can send one person running a few hundred metres down the trail to hide while the other waits and counts. In bear country however, it’s highly recommended that an adult and child hide together and that you don’t send children off alone into the woods.

Also pay attention to where you are hiking and obey all signs asking you to stay on the trail.  This game works best outside the national parks where you have more freedom to play off trail.

Note, it’s also a great winter game when snowshoeing and you won’t have to worry about running into wild animals as much.

A great hiding spot!

Trail Games for Younger Kids

  • I Spy – I spy something green, something yellow…, I spy something that climbs a tree, I spy something that sings…

  • Animal Hiking – Hike as a butterfly, a snake, a tiger, a lion…

  • Nature Exploring - Explore with magnifying glasses, butterfly nets, bug houses and bags to collect treasures (Just remember that you can’t take anything with you in a national park.)

Find more games here from the Born to Be Adventurous blog:  Hiking Games for Toddlers 

Mud and a Butterfly Net - Success!

Trail Games for school-aged Kids

  • Alphabet I Spy – I spy something that starts with the letter A…

  • Nature Bracelets – Wrap a piece of duct tape sticky side up around the child’s wrist.  The child then decorates the bracelet with items found on their hike.

  • Scavenger Hunts – Prepare scavenger hunt cards in advance with items the children should look for.  Many downloadable templates can be found on the internet and for some creative ideas for scavenger hunts with younger kids check out this story: 6 ideas for nature hunts with young explorers.

  • Nature Bingo – Kids can make their own bingo cards with items they’d like to find on their hike.  Bring pencils or crayons to mark off their findings on the trail.

  • Nature ABCs – Starting with the letter A, find something on the trail that begins with this letter.  When you find something – move on to B and continue through the alphabet.  (This is a good game for tired adults too and really does engage the mind.)

  • Alphabet Food and Animal Game - I think we may have created this one, and my son still loves this game (even at age 10!) Start with an animal and a food that start with the letter A (example: I'd like to eat alligator apple pie.) Continue through the alphabet (Baboon bacon, cat crackers...) - This game has nothing to do with nature, but keeps the mind active so kids will hike further!

  • We're going to... and I forgot my... - This has become another favourite game for us while hiking to pass the time. "I'm going to... and I forgot my apples." or "I forgot my big baboon." - You get bonus points if you can link more than one word together, all starting with the same letter as your work through the alphabet. (Ex. I forgot my creepy crazy caterpillar.) And with all alphabet games, each member of the group has to finish the letter A before you move on to B, and so on.

  • Trail Jesus - We've affectionately named the person with all the candy "Trail Jesus." This person runs up the trail ahead of the kids (so you need to bring a fast person along.) They wait until each child has passed, handing out a candy to each kid as they hike by, and then they run ahead again to set themselves up for the next round of candy.

    Bribery goes a long ways and kids love this game!!! - and it's a great way to get kids up steep trails to the top of a mountain. 

Kids will hike long distances if they're having fun and their minds are engaged

Other Popular Wilderness Activities

  • Geocaching – We LOVE this activity and all you need is a cell phone with the app loaded on it (as long as you have cell coverage.) More information about this popular outside activity can be found on the official geocaching website.

  • Drawing and journaling – Bring along notebooks, pencils and art supplies.  Have children sketch what they see during a rest stop, draw pictures of the flowers they find, and write about what they observe.  
Geocaching is a fun way to get outside and have fun around city parks or on the trails

Other Resources:

The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids by Helen Olsson (this book has a whole chapter on campsite boredom busters and a chapter on camp arts and crafts.)

Hikes with Tykes: Games and Activities by Rob Bignell (This book features over 100 different activities to do with children of all ages when outside camping, hiking, or playing in nature.)

Check out my Pinterest Board on Outdoor Play.  It's full of fun ideas, links to printable scavenger hunts, and pins from popular outdoor blogs.

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