Trail Games: Activities to Keep Kids Moving and Motivated While Hiking

Roving hide and seek lets kids make use of good hiding spots along the trail. Photo: Ethan Hipple
 By Ethan Hipple

Let’s face it: Sometimes kids just don’t want to hike. They may be tired; the hill might be steep; the weather may be hot. Remember that, for kids, hiking can be hard work and downright unenjoyable if they feel like they’re on a forced march. On occasion, the kids. Will. Just. Stop. That’s when you need games.

I don’t know how many miles, exactly, trail games have helped motivated our kids along, but it’s dozens, at least. Whereas, in the past, you would have decided to throw in the towel and head back to the car, trail games will enable your family to keep moving towards your destination. Below are a few of my family's favorites.

Roving Hide and Seek
One of our favorites, this is best played with slightly older kids who you aren’t worried about wandering off the trail on their own. Basically, this is hide and seek played while hiking. It's surprisingly fun and exciting—and, we think, better than the original! The hider runs ahead on the trail and finds a tree, rock, or object to hide behind (or under), ideally within 10 to 15 feet of the trail. The rest of the group keeps hiking while the hider hides. Rotate hiders so everyone gets a chance, adults included. Kids who used to whine and struggle will be running up the trail to find the perfect hiding spot!

Close-Ups 
Have someone with a camera or smartphone walk ahead on the trail and take a macro—or super close-up—shot of an object along the trail: a mushroom, a knot in a tree, a crack in a rock. The close-up should focus on part of the object rather than the whole thing. (If you take a picture of the entire object, it will be too easy to find!) When the rest of the group catches up to the photographer, define a small 10-by-10-foot area—and then it’s a race to see who can find the object first. It takes just minutes to play, but the fascination of finding hidden objects in the woods makes it fun and keeps you moving!

Hiking Scavenger Hunt
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! (Kids don't have to actually collect the objects; they can announce their finds to the group for a Leave-No-Trace-friendly approach.) Here’s a list to get you started—but get creative! (Stumped? Find more scavenger hunt tips.)

Essence
One person thinks of someone whom everyone in the group knows. It could be a friend, a teacher, a family member, or a celebrity. The players try to guess the identity of the person, but unlike 20 questions, you can only ask rhetorical questions rather than yes or no questions. All questions must follow the format: “If this person were a _______, what type of ______ would they be?” Fill in the blanks, asking what type of car, food, weather, city, geographic feature, animal, et cetera the person would be. The first couple of answers sometimes reveal the identity of the person, so we have a rule that you must ask at least five questions before guessing. The real fun of the game is figuring out the “essence” of the person you are trying to guess.

Twenty Questions
The classic. The one that started it all. One person thinks of a person or a place; the others get 20 yes-or-no questions to guess what or who it is.

Tree Huggers
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. Last one to hug an oak is out. Continue until only one person remains. That’s your new Tree Master. We can play this for miles.

Trail Bingo
Everyone picks one object you're likely to spot on the trail; for example, a stream, a hiker with blue shorts, a squirrel, and a red backpack. After everyone has chosen an object, play begins.

ABCs
This is great for kids who are learning their alphabet. Starting with the letter "A," everyone has to find something along the trail that begins with "A" before moving through the rest of the alphabet.

Categories

Think of a specific category, such as state capitals, foods, countries that begin with "M," sports teams, et cetera. Everyone takes turns naming something that fits into that category. Play rotates through the group until a player can’t think of something within a 5-second time limit or an answer gets repeated.

This post is adapted from Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Get more advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find trip ideas in AMC's community for families, Kids Outdoors.

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