How many times have you tried to take the kids out for a fun little hike only to hear complaints at the first small hill or to hear whining before you’ve even walked a kilometre? Even the most experienced outdoor enthusiasts struggle with motivating children on the trail and have to get extremely creative at times. The hiking games and activities below have all been born out of necessity to make hiking more interesting at those times when you just have to get back to the car and can’t listen to another complaint! They have been pulled out time and time again – with repeated success, and are now staples in my hiking “tool kit.” These games can even be adapted to suit longer urban walks when you just want to see the best of a city on foot!

Trail Game One Trail Hide-and-Seek. The most popular trail game for all age groups is definitely hide-and-seek.  It can be played anywhere and requires as few as two people to play.  The only rule with trail hide-and-seek is that you have to run to hide in the same direction you are moving down or up the trail and you can’t hide more than a couple of metres off the trail.

Hide-and-Seek is  a simple game if there is no wildlife danger and you can send one child running a few hundred metres down the trail to hide while a second child (or parent) counts.  In bear country however, it’s highly recommended that an adult and child hide together and that you don’t send children off alone into the woods.  Also pay attention to where you are hiking and obey all signs asking you to stay on the trail.  This game works best outside the national parks where you have more freedom to play off trail.

Trail Hide-and-Seek keeps the kids running

Trail Hide-and-Seek keeps the kids running as the kilometres fly by

Trail Game TwoI Spy. This game doesn’t require much explanation but it can be a lot of fun with some creativity. You’ll start with colors, “I spy something green or something yellow…,” and move on to textures (something hard, something soft…) getting more creative as you go. Examples could be “I spy something that climbs a tree” to “I spy something that sings” or even “I spy something that starts with the letter A.” Possibilities are endless.

Trail Game ThreeAlphabet Games. I’ve gotten my son up a lot of mountains with alphabet games. We start with animals, naming an animal that begins with the letter A ( every member in your group has to name a different animal) and work our way through the alphabet. (And it’s ok to skip a letter if you honestly can’t think of an animal that starts with X for example.) From animals we move on to food (name a food that you like that begins with A, B, C…) and go on to sports, activities, movies, etc. It’s a great game to take the mind off of the walking when feet get tired.

Hiking games get you to viewpoints like this

Hiking games get you to viewpoints like this


Trail Game FourStory Telling. Another favourite, we create stories as we hike and each person has to take turns adding a sentence or two while we fabricate the craziest of tales about dinosaurs, dragons, or alien invasions! This is my son’s favourite game and if we parents take turns playing the game, the other adult can take a mental break until it’s their turn to play.

Trail Game FiveScavenger Hunts. Prepare scavenger hunt sheets in advance with items the children should look for.  Many downloadable templates can be found on the internet to make your job easier if you don’t want to create one yourself. If you’re short on energy, you can just bring  one sheet along and call out items the kids should look for rather than printing a sheet for each person. To get started, follow this link to hundreds of scavenger hunt ideas.

Armed with a butterfly net and ready to conquer the forest

Armed with a butterfly net and ready to conquer the forest

Bonus Trail Game – Geocaching. This is a good activity to keep kids motivated while hiking in the city when you have cell coverage. Download a geocaching app and then simply search for caches in the area you plan to hike. Don’t forget to bring along some small toys or trade-able objects so that you can exchange with items you’ll find in the cache. For more information on geocaching, visit the official geocaching website.

If you’re outside cell coverage, you can still try geocaching but you’ll have to write down the coordinates for the caches ahead of time and use a GPS to find them.