These activities will pique your child's interest in hiking.
By Trent Jonas
Fall is a fantastic time for hiking: the weather’s cooler, the foliage is beautiful, and wildlife sighting opportunities abound. This makes autumn a perfect time to get your kids out on the trail and show them all that nature has to offer. Although hiking simply for the sake of hiking may not be every child’s idea of a fun time, there are plenty of things you can do to keep them engaged while on the trail. Here are a handful of hiking activities you can try with your kids this fall.
Kids of all ages love to collect leaves in the fall! Their bright colors, brittle textures, and crisp smells engage all sorts of senses. Going on a hike with your kids to collect leaves for their colors and shapes is a wonderful way to get them outside and moving around while piquing their interest in the natural world. When your child finds a leaf, encourage them to tell you why they chose it and what they like about it. Take a picture of it with your phone—or let them—so they have a visual souvenir, then put the leaf back for other hikers to enjoy.
While collecting leaves is a fun activity on its own, you can make it even more engaging by teaching your kids to use leaves—and other signs like bark, nuts, and fruit—to identify tree species. A smartphone app, like iNaturalist app, developed by the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic, is a tremendous tool to identify specific kinds of trees (as well as other plants, animals, and birds). And tree identification is a skill that will come in handy for your kids as they grow older and hit the trails on their own.
Another fun fall activity that brings reward in the form of flavor is foraging for wild edibles. From acorns to rose hips, black walnuts to wild grapes, much of nature’s bounty becomes ready for harvesting during the autumn months—and kids will love finding their own snacks! Do some research to familiarize yourself with the wild edibles in your area, and make sure you’re able to correctly identify the species in the field. A forager’s guidebook is a great resource to have in your daypack, as in an app like iNaturalist (as mentioned above) to help you correctly identify edibles. If you have any doubt about a species, though, don’t risk eating it and don’t identify it as edible to your children.
Fall is a time of year when many types of animals are on the move as they search for a mate, migrate, prepare for the winter by storing food or eat their fill before settling into hibernation. This makes autumn a great time to look for animal tracks and other signs on your local trails and try to identify them. A book like “Pocket Guide to Animals/Tracks” or an app like iTrack Wildlife will help kids learn to identify tracks themselves when you’re out on your hike and make hiking even more fun for them. A pair of binoculars will help to magnify the fun!
Geocaching—using GPS to find hidden caches and recording your experiences—is a popular hiking activity and a fantastic way to engage kids in hiking and nature. Many state parks and local parks offer geocaching activities, including loaner GPS units, but you can find plenty of geocaches all over the place. TrailLink offers lists of geocaching trails by region. Or you can find individual geocaches and design your own scavenger hunt on Geocaching.com and its smartphone app.