Aside from being fun and good for you, hiking can also be a fantastic family activity. But, let's face it, many kids these days would rather dwell in the digital realm than go out into nature (or even go outside).
So, what's the quickest way to change their attitude from "Do we really have to?" to "Yay! We're going hiking!"? Try a hiking scavenger hunt.
A hiking scavenger hunt is arguably the best way to make your little ones fall in love with the outdoors and realize just how amazing nature is. The game makes them engage with their immediate surroundings through light problem solving, turning the entire experience into a mini-adventure.
It'll also help you bond more as a family, and we're sure that you'll love it as much as the kids will!
In today's article, we'll elaborate further on this topic. We will walk you through everything there is to know about scavenger hunts, how to find a good printable for the activity, and provide you with some actionable tips and ideas.
We can feel you're already getting excited! The hunt is on - let's get scavenging!
What Is A Hiking Scavenger Hunt?
A hiking scavenger hunt is, well, a scavenger hunt while hiking!
This gamelike activity involves a list of items to be found (e.g., tree, bug, animal) and then setting out to check all the points on that list. That's all there is to it, and we feel like it's one of the greatest outdoor family activities out there!
The hunt can be as easy or as difficult as you wish to make it and can be tailored to the kids' ages, interests, the season, and the area that you plan to walk in.
The nature scavenger hunt is free (as in it won't cost you anything), and you can do it pretty much anywhere there are trees (park, woods, backyard, etc.). It's a great way to make your family camping trip more fun. People like to do many types of entertainment games on long hiking sessions, especially thru-hiking ones.
Summer, spring, and autumn are perhaps the best seasons for these types of activities but don't be afraid to try them in the winter too (if the weather allows it).
How To Get Started?
The very first thing you'll need to do is get a scavenger hunt list. You can either make it yourself or, if you're not feeling inspired, Google a free PDF printable online. The latter are plentiful, and you can easily download a new printable for every single hike to keep things fun.
The next step would be to select a hiking/camping area or trail, and it is advisable that you head out to a place that you already know well. The reasons for this are:
1) You can find (or make) a nature scavenger hunt sheet with items that match the flora and fauna of the area.
2) If some of the kids happen to wander off while hiking, it'll be easier for you to find them.
3) If the children already know and love the place, they'll feel more excited about going there.
Types of Scavenger Hunt Lists
In this section, we'd like to talk about the different types of pre-made PDF printables or scavenger hunt lists that you can use for your family hike.
A Printable With Pictures
This is the basic and by far the most common type of nature scavenger hunt list. The sheet contains pictures of items that are to be found on the hike, like a certain type of tree, leaf, bug, etc. The seeker can check a picture each time he sees one of the objects of the search. Once there is a checkmark under all the items, the hunt is completed.
Using this kind of sheet is an excellent choice for first-time scavenger hunters and younger kids as they can clearly see all the goals. Of course, the level of difficulty can be increased by using lists with more elusive items of the search, i.e., a rare bird or flower.
The other kind of scavenger hunt list includes riddles instead of pictures. The riddle is comprised of a hint and search guidelines. Here's an example:
I am small and brown, and squirrels like to eat me.
Where you can find me:
Around oak trees. P.S. Look under the leaves.
This riddle, of course, refers to an acorn.
Just like picture scavenger hunts, you can find many types of lists with riddles using Google and then print them out. The people who make this stuff seem to never fall short on ideas!
Mixed Vs. Single Category Scavenger Hunts
By now, we believe it's clear that you can do pretty much whatever you want with your scavenger hunts. Your imagination is the limit and there are many ideas to explore, so feel free to get creative.
However, it's essential that the search has some kind of a structure as it'll make kids focus better and make the entire activity more fun for them. With that being said, you should decide whether you'd like to do a mixed or a single category scavenger hunt.
Mixed scavenger hunt
A mixed hunt means that you and the kids will be looking for all kinds of things - leaves, flowers, bugs, birds, mammals - you name it. This kind of scavenging is great because your options are practically limitless. Also, it is easier to customize the printables or the lists according to what can be found in the area.
Single category scavenger hunt
A single category hunt, on the other hand, focuses on a single type of plant, animal, or insect. For instance, you can just look for birds, which is a great idea for spring or summer camping trips. Of course, many types of birds can be featured in the nature scavenger hunt, but no animals outside the category.
A hunt like this may be a bit more challenging to organize (but it's no rocket science). If we stick to the bird example, you'll need to know precisely what bird species live in the area that you're going to hike in and how common or elusive they are. Without knowing this, it'll be hard to put together a good scavenging list. If the kids find the game too complicated and are unable to spot any of the target birds, it won't be fun.
Free-For-All Vs. Team Scavenger Hunts
Depending on how many people are playing, the game can be divided into:
Free-for-all scavenger hunt
A free-for-all scavenger hunt means that every individual is to head out and explore with his or her list and try to check all the points on it. Get everyone to write their name on the sheet before the hunt, so that you don't mix them up later. It goes without saying that these kinds of activities are not for a very young child as they may get hurt or lost in the forest. Don't play it this way unless your kids are 10+ years old.
Team scavenger hunt
Team scavenging is the variant where the family splits into two or three groups, depending on how many members there are. This "team effort" type mentality might make these activities more fun for some individuals.
Useful Hiking Scavenger Hunt Tips
If you've never taken your kids on a nature scavenger hunt before, then you don't have to start by going to the woods right away. Instead, try this game while in a park and see how they respond. It should feel as easy as a walk in the park!
You can even organize a little backyard scavenger hunt for your child's birthday party. Also, listen to the kids and see if they have some ideas or suggestions about what to include in the list. The quality of your scavenging list is really all that matters, and if you've got a good one, you'll have a fun adventure no matter where you are.
Don't make it overly educational
Education is a beneficial side effect of a hiking scavenger hunt, but not the main goal. This game, first and foremost, is to be viewed as a fun outdoor activity for families. Having an amazing time and being in nature are the sole objectives here. It should feel like play.
If you try to teach the children about each tree, leaf, bug, or other item on the list, you might bore them. This is the opposite of why you brought them on an outdoor scavenger hunt, remember? So, parents, don't turn the game into a biology or science class. However, if your kids want to make, say, a leaf collection after your autumn hike, don't stop them either!
Match the hunt with the season
The great thing about a nature scavenger hunt is that it can be done all year round - winter, spring, summer, and fall. The important thing to do here is to match the requirements of the hunt to the conditions of the season. Luckily, there are thousands of PDF printables out there so getting a suitable one shouldn't be an issue.
Speaking of what to avoid - don't go looking for flowers or migrating birds in the middle of the winter! Also, if you live in a colder climate, you may want to make the winter hikes a bit shorter than the spring ones. Hunting for leaves when it's too cold outside might not be very exciting!
Teach the kids what not to touch
If you're playing a free-for-all type scavenger hunt where everyone's going out for themselves, it means that you won't be able to supervise your children (or child) the entire time. That's why it is crucial to teach them about what plants or animals not to touch or come near if they happen to come across them.
Mushrooms are a great example. There are a lot of poisonous types out there, so it's best that kids avoid touching them altogether. Also, avoid any printable that includes mushrooms. Spiders and snakes are out of the question, too.
Make it into a competition
No matter whether you're playing in teams or not, you can turn the scavenger hunt into a competition. The one who checks off all the items on the list first wins. You may even consider giving a prize to the winner. They'll feel like it's their birthday every time they finish first! Doing these activities in this manner adds a level of fun and excitement that you wouldn't experience otherwise.
The only problem here is that some individuals may lie about spotting a certain tree or animal on the list. We believe that you know your kids well and can tell which one is inclined towards 'truth-bending.' A great way to solve this problem is to make the seeker take a photo of the listed item when they see it. Or, if they find the goal tree, they can bring a leaf as proof.
The Bottom Line
What more could be said about nature scavenger hunts that we haven't already covered? All that's left to do after reading this article is start planning your first hike. Summer is here and it's the perfect time to play outside (unless the weather is too hot, of course).
You, as a parent, have the biggest responsibility here, as the success of the adventure depends on how you organize the hunt. Focus on creating the best scavenging list that you can and take your little ones to a location (trail/park/camping ground) they know and love. Feel free to experiment until you find what you like best. We encourage you to Google around for more outdoor scavenger hunt ideas.
The main takeaways here should be:
a) don't make the activities too challenging as it'll kill the fun (find the right PDF printable)
b) make it as safe as possible
c) get a new printable for every hike
If you follow these simple guidelines, we're sure that your kids will quickly be falling in love with all things nature and outdoors!