Not everyone enjoys hiking. I’ve heard many complaints from kids at camp during long hikes over the years. Occasionally, hiking will be the activity itself, but usually it’s just a way to get to the next activity or special spot via trails. Either way, it pays to make the hike something campers will enjoy. Here are 10 ways to do that.
1. ANIMAL HUNT
One of my favorite activities for an entertaining hike is the Animal Hunt. Send a staff person or two ahead of your group with a box of small plastic animals. You could also used small stuffed animals. Have them hide place the animals along the trail. Challenge the campers to collect as many of the animals as they can during the hike.If you want to make the hunt more organized check out this post I wrote on the Animal Hunt. The other nine ideas below come from a variety of camp pros who have participated in my email round tables.
2. STORY TRAIL
Cut out pages of a book and laminate them to make a story trail. The staff leader reads each page as the campers find them. My favorite book for young campers is Dirt Boy by Erik Jon Slangerup. It is about a little boy who is tired of being clean, runs off into the woods, and finds a giant. The book could change every week.
3. FAIRY TRAIL
Pick out a trail that has fascinating stumps, unusual tree trunks and moss for a fairy trail. Have campers construct homes, dishes, furniture, and paths for fairies out of natural materials they find on the forest floor. Campers will have fun walking along the trail to see what other campers have done. Hang tinkling wind chimes out of sight. As the village grows, future campers who hike that trail will be entertained by the sight of them.
Thanks to Paula DeTellis for the two wonderful ideas above.
4. UNNATURE HIKE
This is a scavenger hunt for “unnatural” items.
Along the trail, place a number of “unnature” items, such as a birdhouse, a pool noodle, a statue of a squirrel, a gnome, a pine cone bird feeder, etc. They shouldn’t be obvious – hidden, but not too much, still somewhat in sight.Tell campers that you are proceeding on an unnature hike. Have each camper (or group/team) quietly write down what they see. At end of the hike, discuss items that were found and those not found. Ask what could be left in nature, and what cannot be left in nature. The longer the trail, the better. It is also fun to add funny items – it could be something from a theme like a plastic Harry Potter wand or something like the camp director’s hat.
Thanks to Patty Bennett for this terrific idea.
5. ROCK AND SEASHELL PAINTING
We live by the ocean but have plenty of nature hiking trails as well. Before we start off on our hike, I instruct the campers to think of something they want to paint or create using a rock, that way they know what shape and size of rock they are looking for. For the hunt, we go for a hike allowing them plenty of time to find their “perfect” rock and whatever else they might need (i.e. acorn, moss, leaf, pebbles, etc.) for what they’re envisioning creating with it. After everyone in the group, including the counselors, collects what they need, we head back to camp to do our artistic creating. When we return to camp we first wash off our rocks and set them out to dry. While they are drying we take a break and get a drink and snack. Now let the creativity begin! After everyone is through with their works of nature art, we set them out to dry on a piece of paper labeled with their name on it. After they’re dry, we have a roundtable and let each person describe what they made with their rock, what it stands for, and what was their favorite thing they saw on the nature hike. Now they also have a great memento that they created to take home and keep.
List of art supplies:
- Non-toxic paints
- Paint brushes
- Liquid glue
- Wiggly eyes (different sizes)
- Pipe cleaners (assorted colors)
- Assorted other natural items: twigs, leaves, pebbles, acorns, sand, moss, pinecones, etc.
Thanks to Terri Fisher for this inspirational idea.
6. BINOCULAR SCAVENGER HUNT
One very simple idea that we have implemented is to make small wooden animals, paint them nicely and then screw them to trees in the woods along a hiking trail. We have tucked them back off the trail a bit, but they still can be seen if you are looking for them. So we take a regular hike to the top of our mountain and along the way, cabins are given a card with various animals to find as they hike. They get more points for finding live animals along the way. So they are checking off these animals as they spot them in the woods. It is helpful to make some very colorful (like a bright red cardinal) so some are easy to spot. Others are more difficult, yet closer to the trail. We have a green iguana on a branch 2 feet from the trail, and almost everyone walks right by it. Once we reach the top of the mountain, we use the binoculars to find items that are listed on the paper. For example…Find a pond, a wooden fence, or a mountain with a tower on it, or a green pasture. Some are much more difficult to spot and can only be seen with the binoculars.
Thanks to Philip Drake for this awesome idea.
7. RANDOM ROCKS OF KINDNESS
This activity has 2 parts. During your hike have the campers collect rocks. Every camper can pick as many as they want, and as big as they want, the only rule is that they have to be able to carry the rocks themselves for the duration of the hike. When you’ve returned from the hike, break out the acrylic paint. Allow the campers to paint whatever their hearts desire, but inform them that they won’t be able to keep the rocks, they are for someone special. After the rocks have been painted, spray them with a sealer.
A few days later, take the campers on the same hike. Bring the rocks with you, but this time instead of picking up rocks, put them down. Some of the campers will hide them, some of them will put them right in the middle of the trail for other hikers to find.
We think it’s a nice idea for someone to find a hidden treasure along their walk, a random act of kindness.
Thanks to Kori Stevens for this inspirational idea.
8. COLOR HIKE
At the beginning of a hike, have the campers select a crayon or color paint swatch out of the bag, and tell them to hold onto it until later. Early in the hike, explain to them that on this hike they’re going to look for natural items that are the same color as the color they picked. When they see something corresponding to their color they can yell out “I see my color”. If campers are hiking and in a middle of a song, just tell the nearest counselor so they can have the other campers stop. Then, everyone can gather around to see what they found. Sometimes it’s something a person would have never noticed if they weren’t challenged to look for it.
Thanks to Sarah Megyesi for this fun idea.
Wanda is a simple game where the counselors at any time can say the name “Wanda” and everyone in the group needs to quickly find somewhere to stand that is at least 6 inches off the ground (i.e. a log or rock). Start the activity off by telling a story about something like a volcano that is “spirited”. They call the volcano “Wanda”, and whenever she is angry her lava flows. So, whenever I see lava flowing our way, I’ll warn you all so that you have time to get up off the ground away from the lava.
Thanks to Sarah Megyesi for this fantastic idea.
10. SECRET MESSAGE
Spell out a secret message on clothes pins (one letter per pin). Then hide the clothes pins along the trail between point A and point B. Challenge the campers to find all of the clothes pins and solve the secret. You can hide them in order to make it easier or hide them out of order for more of a challenge.
Thanks to Lisa Hoffman for this great idea.
If you would like more “activities and information to help staff create the kind of hiking experience that leaves campers begging for more” take a look at Mary Pope’s downloadable resource Happy Trails – Large Group Hiking.