Wilderness experiences can have a profound impact on children. Spotting a moose in the woods, viewing an awe-inspiring scene – these experiences can create unforgettable memories that kids cherish their whole lives.
Where to go for family-friendly recreation
National parks offer wilderness recreation along with family-friendly amenities.
- The Park Service’s find a park feature helps you locate places to visit by activity or recreation type.
- Many national parks offer Junior Ranger programs that assign children fun educational activities to do while visiting. Just stop by the visitor center to learn what’s offered.
The video below shows two children making the Junior Ranger pledge at Bryce Canyon National Park:
(Video: flickr, Phillie Casablanca)
Make the most of family recreation
Children are natural explorers, but their timetables may be different than yours. Just remember that it’s the journey not the destination that counts. Use these tips to help ensure the whole family has a great time:
- Start small. Most kids aren’t ready to take on a ten-miler their first hike. Set reasonable goals for first trips, then gradually build up to longer trips.
- Expect to take frequent snack and rest breaks.
- Let kids satisfy their natural curiosity. Give them time to stop and explore the nature. If your child would rather explore the banks of stream than hike to the next peak, then consider that the experience for the day. There will always be a next time.
- Create games that kids can play on the trail or at the camp site. For example, play I spy for wildflowers, or tree species.
- Demonstrate and teach good land stewardship on every outing.
Plan for safety
- Always teach children fundamental safety tips before heading out into nature. This includes never separating from the group and storing food properly when camping.
- Bring safety whistles for each child and teach them to use them in emergencies.
- As you head out onto the trail, place children in the middle of your hiking group, never at the back of the line where they can meander off-trail without being noticed.
- Teach children what poison oak, poison ivy and other toxic plants look like. Make sure they know not to touch questionable plants.