Hiking doesn’t have to be just about walking from point A to point B. Make it more about the journey and not the destination by engaging in some activities during your hike.
Whether you’re looking to make the miles go by faster or savor every moment, these 13 ideas for hikers of all ages will enhance your experience on the trail.
While you stride amongst the trees and bushes, watch for feathered friends. A study in Scientific Reports states that birding is great for alleviating stress and depression. Get familiar with the birds that frequent the hiking area before you visit so you can know what to look for.
Binoculars are a great tool for finding birds from a distance or seeing them up close. Apps like Merlin Bird ID can also help you identify birds from their sound, habitat, coloring, and more. While you watch for birds, you might also spot other animals that frequent the area.
2. Play games
Playing games while you walk can be another fun activity to enhance a hike. This can be especially advantageous if you have younger hikers with you. Be respectful of others on the trail if you choose to play games, though. Some might not be a good fit if the trail is busy.
Some ideas are:
- Scavenger hunt
- Follow the leader
- Build a story (one hiker begins a story and each hiker takes turns adding on to the story)
- 20 questions
- Name that tune
- Alphabet game (try to find something in your surroundings that starts with each letter of the alphabet)
3. Forage for mushrooms or berries
Foraging for wild mushrooms and berries to eat along the trail (or take home for later) can be another way to enhance a hike. There is one golden rule of foraging—never eat or let anyone in your group eat something you can’t identify with 100% accuracy. Yes, apps like Seek can help you identify plants, but they aren’t always 100% reliable.
If you plan to forage, educate yourself first about what grows in the area you’re visiting. Books, field guides, and asking a ranger or local expert can help you forage safely. Start with local, easy-to-identify mushrooms and berries, and do your best to follow Leave No Trace principles.
4. Creative play
Allow time for creative play along the trail, especially if you have kids. Bring lightweight tools like a compass, magnifying glass, binoculars, net, or other items that can add to the wonder, exploration, and play.
Some ideas for creative play on the trail include:
- Searching for animal tracks
- Building fairy houses
- Scrambling on rocks
- Catching bugs
- Skipping stones
5. Go geocaching
Geocaches can be found anywhere, including trails, making geocaching a perfect add-on hiking activity. Use an app like geocaching.com to find caches on your next hiking adventure. You can also log your finds and give other seekers tips on their locations. Think about creating your own cache and hiding it next time you lace up your hiking boots.
Being out in the fresh air helps get the creative juices flowing. You’ll remember your hikes more if you engage your senses. Use details about the sounds you hear, how a flower feels, the smell of the pines, the taste of a wild berry, and what you saw in your journal entries.
Some more journaling ideas include:
- Drawing pictures
- Writing a poem
- Creating a detailed map
7. Become a Junior Ranger
At many state parks, national parks, and monuments, kids can fill out an age-appropriate ranger activity book to complete while they explore the trails. Turn in the book at a ranger station to receive your Junior Ranger patch or pin.
8. Meditate or do yoga
An open meadow, an outcrop on a mountain top, or an enclosure of trees—all of these are ideal places to take some deep breaths, center yourself, and practice mindfulness. Spend some quiet moments meditating, repeating a mantra, or even doing some sun salutations. Your body will appreciate the reset.
9. Use technology
Yes, we often choose to hike to unplug. However, there are some apps that can enhance a walk in the woods. Seek helps you track and identify animals, flowers, insects, and more, while Merlin Bird ID helps you learn about birds.
Oh, Ranger and the NPS app are great if visiting a state park, national park, or monument. Geocaching.com offers a free version of the app for occasional use. SkyView Lite helps you identify stars, constellations, and planets for Android or iPhone. Nature’s Notebook and Project Noah help you become citizen scientists.
10. Change your stride
Break up the hike by changing your stride along the way. When it’s safe to do so, throw in some skips, gallops, and shuffles. Lunge down the trail or even pick up the pace for some speed-walking or trail running. Kids will enjoy walking like animals you may see on a trail like a deer, bear, or bobcat.
11. Go on a group or ranger-led hike
Tap into the wealth of knowledge from a group leader or ranger as you learn about the trail, local wildlife, and history of an area on a guided excursion. Asking questions and listening to an expert can make the miles fly by. Many of these guided hikes are also kid-friendly.
12. Clean up trash
While the Leave No Trace principles are important to remember, trash on the trail is still a common sight. Carry a bag and gloves with you and pick up any snack wrappers, plastic bottles, or other rubbish you find along the trail. If you see a hazard you can move safely (like a branch), do so. You also have the NPS’s permission to knock over cairns, if you see them.
Consider volunteering for a hike clean up, trail maintenance, or other trail steward opportunities.
13. Have trail jobs
Assign trail jobs for adults and kids alike to help engage everyone in the hike. Let older hikers lead the hike. Have a trail photographer capture the experience. A map or app reader can keep everyone on the right track. The “danger advisor” points out hazards like roots and rocks. A “food and beverage director” can ensure everyone stays on top of their hydration and food intake. The medic can carry a first aid kit and help when someone needs it.
What activities do you enjoy on a hike besides walking? Let us know in the comments below.