Sustainability made simple

The 9 Best Trail Games for Family Hikes

Trail games
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / stux

Trail games are a great way to encourage your children to learn and take an interest in nature. Here are a few games you can try to bond with your little ones.

Trail games are great ways to keep your family interested and motivated on family hikes. We all know kids get bored easily but adults can get bored too! Trail games that include the whole family are also a great way of bonding with your children in nature.

Trail Games 101

You can team up or have individual games. Some games need to be prepared before but others you can do on the trail. These games provide your children with valuable information on nature. For example:

  • Teaching them about plants, trees, and wildlife
  • Learning what you can eat and what is dangerous or poisonous
  • Orienteering skills 
  • Team building skills

Trail games can also be used to strengthen bonds between siblings and promote teamwork skills amongst the family. They are a great way to teach your children the importance of nature and the risks we pose as humans to the environment.

1. Spot the Plant

Spotting plants is a great way to learn about different species.
Spotting plants is a great way to learn about different species.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / _Alicja_)

These trail games will need to be prepared before starting your hike. They can be put together with your kids’ help. First, check what plants or flowers you are likely to find on your hike. You can choose as many as you like. Then, print out or draw pictures of the plant and give a brief description of the plant. If preferred and depending on the age of your kids, you can pick up great books in the local thrift store and use these. Or find them on Amazon**.

As you walk along the trail, the aim of the game is to find as many of the chosen plants as possible. Children can be awarded a point every time they find and identify the right plant. You can give out different rewards for the number of points or just play to pass the time. This game is educational and fun at the same time.

2. I Spy

This game teaches children about phonetics and spelling.
This game teaches children about phonetics and spelling.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / moshehar)

The “I spy” trail game can be a constant source of entertainment on your hike. It’s suitable for most ages and a relaxing, easy game to play together. Choose a family member to start. They will pick something on the trail (like plants, trees, animals, or anything they can see from where they are), then they’ll say:

  • I spy something beginning with (first letter of the word)”. 
  • For instance, “I spy something beginning with T” — this could be a tree, track, etc.

The ages of the children will need to be taken into account so adjust your game to suit everyone or team up younger kids with older siblings to assist them. For younger children, you can use colors or key features:

  • “I spy something brown, tall, and leafy” for a tree.

3. Follow the Leader

This is an easy game everyone can join.
This is an easy game everyone can join.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / manseok_Kim)

Follow the leader is a game that can be made up as you play. Someone is chosen to be the leader and everyone must follow doing exactly the same moves as the leader, like walking with your hands on your head or skipping. These trail games allow the whole family to make up some creative ways to enjoy the hike. Everyone can take turns being the leader. You can make it more challenging by adding more instructions along the trail. 

Simon Says

This is a slightly more advanced version of the game. In this case, the leader calls out their actions as they do them. For instance:

  • (Name) says: put your right hand up.
  • Sarah says put your right hand up.

However, if the leader doesn’t say their name accompanied by the action, then the followers aren’t supposed to copy. If anyone does, another member of the family has to catch them. 

4. Photo Challenges

Photography is a great way to involve older children in nature-based activities.
Photography is a great way to involve older children in nature-based activities.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / ELG21)

While maby young people are glued to their cell phones and would prefer to take them on a hike, you don’t want your kids to miss out on the beauty of nature with their heads stuck in a screen. Why not compromise with photography-based trail games? Allow your kids to bring an analog camera to take pictures of nature. Give them challenges such as a blue flower or a bird to take pictures of. After the hike you can get prints of the best pictures and display them at home.

5. Nature Bingo

You can create your own bingo sheet with items that you know can be found along the trail.
You can create your own bingo sheet with items that you know can be found along the trail.
(Foto: Utopia / Aisha Williams )

This trail game is a fun alternative to number-based bingo. For this games, you will need to do a little prep before your hike. You can involve the kids in the preparation. Check what plants or flowers you may find on your hike. Using cards and a pencil, divide the card into 9 or 16 sections. Next draw pictures of the plants or flowers you have chosen, one in each section. Bring the cards on your hike and don’t forget to bring a pencil to mark off the plants you find. To get bingo, they just need to get a complete row or diagonal and yell “Bingo!”

6. Guess the Animal

This game is nature-based take on charades.
This game is nature-based take on charades.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / hunt-er)

One person selects an animal they know and gives out hints regarding where they live, what they eat, their appearance, and their behavior. Everyone takes turns guessing after each hint is given. These trail games may be more suitable for older kids, so if you think the younger kids may struggle, you could pair them with parents or older siblings. You can take turns in teams to compete for who can guess the most animals.

7. Orienteering 

Teaching kids orienteering is an important life lesson this game helps to teach.
Teaching kids orienteering is an important life lesson this game helps to teach.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / maxmann)

This is an educational and fun way to teach kids about orientation. These skills can be used anywhere and will give your children confidence when they are out and about, and could even come in handy if they get lost. If you have a map of the area you are hiking, sit with the children and plan your journey together. They can also draw their own maps to help them to learn. You can use highlighters or markers to help them to identify their route and memorable waypoints. For instance, “turn left at the large boulder” or “at the dead oak tree, go north”. Markers can be anything that is permanently in a place you pass. This can be done with younger or older kids, just adjust to suit your kids.

8. Scavenger Hunt for Hikers

Turn your hike into a scavenger hunt adventure.
Turn your hike into a scavenger hunt adventure.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / JESHOOTS-com)

Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt? This one is really simple: make a list of items everyone has to find, and the first one to find them all wins! If you’re short on time, you can find ideas for kids’ scavenger hunts on Amazon**. Kids don’t have to actually collect the objects; they can announce their finds to the group for a Leave-No-Trace-friendly approach. For example:

  • 1 x willow tree
  • 2 x maple leafs
  • 3 x logs
  • 1 x snail

Or you can make it more interesting:

  • Four different shades of green
  • Something blue
  • A heart-shaped rock
  • A piece of litter (pick it up and carry it out!)
  • Something made by humans

Trail games can be great to get your kids’ imagination flowing. Each child can put forward an idea of something to be found.

9. Tree Huggers

Teach your kids to get in tune with nature with a little hug.
Teach your kids to get in tune with nature with a little hug.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Pezibear)

This is kind of like hiking musical chairs, with tree identification built in. One person serves as the Tree Master. As you are hiking, the Tree Master calls out the name of a tree (oak, for example). Everyone then has to run and hug an oak tree. The last one to hug an oak is out. Continue until only one person remains. That’s your new Tree Master. These trail games can be played for miles. A book on trees can be brought along to help. Thrift stores are a great place to pick up secondhand books.

Tips and Trail Game Takeaways 

The important thing to remember for hiking or any trip with your kids is to plan ahead. If you’re aware of the things that might go wrong, then you can make a backup plan and make adjustments. That’s why these trail games are perfect for your hiking trips. They give your children responsibilities on the trip and help them to stay engaged with little things like carrying the map or a bag with some snacks. Remember everyone may get tired at different times, so have short regular breaks and water stops.

Most important of all is to enjoy family time and nature together.

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