What better way to spend quality time with your family and get in touch with nature than a fresh, invigorating walk in the Boise foothills, woods or along the river? Family hikes make for fun learning opportunities for kids and parents alike. So try some of these hiking activities with the whole family.
A stone is a stone is a…mineral?
Go on an excursion to learn about rocks and minerals. Learn which rocks and minerals are abundant in the area, and have each family member choose several to scout for. Take along a descriptive rock and mineral guide, and a magnifying glass for viewing the colors, layers, and details.
Sounds of nature
Wander through a forest and listen carefully for a variety of bird and animal sounds. Before you go, visit your library for a DVD or audio CD of birds and wild animal calls. Then download an audio recorder on your phone and carry it on your hike to record some of the sounds you hear.
Capture nature's splendor. Hiking trails provide plenty of photo opportunities, and kids will love snapping the shots. Discuss in advance what each family member wants to photograph, such as a huge tree, a butterfly, deer tracks, or a close-up of a nibbling squirrel. When you get home, print out the best photos, and create a nature scrapbook with them.
These giants of nature are not only intriguing because of their size but also because of their many variations. Borrow some books on trees from your library that describe the unique features of trees and their history. Use clues such as the shape of the leaves, texture of bark, and size of the trunk to identify the kind of tree.
Which way do we go?
Roam the countryside and teach your children directional skills such as how to read a map and use a compass or the sun to determine direction. Before setting out, choose a trail system that provides maps, or make up your own. Take a trail that branches off several times, allowing for plenty of skill-building opportunities. For even more fun, turn the excursion into a treasure hunt. Hide a small prize just off the trail under a bush or pile of leaves, mark the location on your map, and let the journey begin.
Animals all around
Take a quiet hike in a wooded area with grassy clearings, and see how many animals you meet. Watch for snakes, turtles, and geese if there's a nearby lake or stream. Also, look for chipmunks and squirrels playing chase or gathering food; birds of prey circling overhead; or grazing rabbits and deer. Discuss the animal's unique characteristics and how those qualities help or hinder the animal. Talk about what the animals eat, their shelters, and species they are related to. Also, keep eyes peeled for animal tracks to identify and determine how recently they were made.
Creepy crawly things
Scouting for insects is an all-time favorite among kids, and the variety of creepy-crawly creatures in the woods is remarkable. Carry an insect book and a magnifying glass for close examination of insects' fascinating features. Bring a journal and track the types of insects you find. Read about insects' defense behaviors and characteristics such as colors that indicate danger to predators.
Before you go
Plan your activities before you leave so you'll arrive prepared. For your comfort and convenience, carry a small daypack, extra clothing for cold air along trails, and don't forget hiking boots. For your protection, bring hats, sunglasses, sunblock, and insect repellant. Be prepared for emergencies by carrying a small flashlight and batteries, watch, map, bandages, and plenty of water and snacks. Make the most of your nature quest by carrying binoculars and a magnifying glass.
Trekkin' tips for tykes
When hiking with children, keep these suggestions in mind.
Allow small legs plenty of time for breaks and making the journey, and know your child's limitations.
Be familiar with potential dangers in the area and teach your children trail and animal safety.
Before you set out, inform your kids tthat there are rules against taking their nature finds home.
Where to Hike
Stack Rock Trail in Boise National Forest is a popular hike for the entire family. The 10-mile loop trailhead is accessible via a 13-mile drive on Bogus Basin Road.
The Elephant Rock Trail within Military Reserve is a half-mile trail featuring very minimal elevation gain perfect and practical for hikes with young children and strollers.
Hulls Gulch Nature Trail is a local favorite described as “peaceful and beautiful” with a lot of crickets and lizards to observe.