Some people can hike for hours without losing interest in the sights and sounds of the trail. Some like to disconnect by listening to their favourite tunes, while others need something extra to keep them motivated. If you’ve ever been hiking with kids, you’ll know how important it is to keep them entertained while hiking, which is wear trail games come in!
Why trail games rock!
Trail games help to pass the time on boring or difficult sections of a hike. Even in fantastic scenery, there’s bound to be a couple of monotonous areas, particularly if you’re backpacking on a long-distance trail. This is when a hiking game comes in. It’s difficult to lose interest in a trail when you’re actively searching for a specific type of flower, and the miles fly by when you’re chatting with your hiking buddies.
The best hiking games for kids and adults aren’t just fun, but they’re educational too. You can use hiking games to teach and learn about plants, wildlife, and environmental responsibility, or to practice essential backpacking skills such as map reading. Trail games are useful ice-breakers too. As a hiking guide, I often use trail games and hiking activities to help groups develop a team spirit on day one, to motivate hikers on the toughest or dullest sections of the trail, or to distract anxious hikers when there’s bad weather on the horizon. Trail games can help you keep a group walking at the same pace too.
Ideally, trail games don’t require any props. Most of my favourite walking games don’t need any preparation either so you can play anytime and anywhere. Here you can get ideas for trail games and hiking activities to use on your next outdoor adventure.
17 trail games and hiking activities
Trail games for adults and kids
01Invite five people to a dinner party
Of all the games to play while walking, this is one of the best ice-breakers for hiking groups. It’s even more interesting, and even educational, when you’re hiking with a group of mixed nationalities and mixed demographics.
How to play:
- There are five spaces at the dinner party. Each person in the group will nominate five people to invite.
- These can be historical figures, celebrities, authors, activists, etc. If you’re playing with kids, you can also include cartoons or fictional characters.
- They can even be people who are not famous, but for each invitee, you should explain who they are and why they deserve a place at the dinner party.
- Once everyone has explained their invitations, you’ll need to start persuading. As a group, you’ll choose five people from the nominations to invite to your dinner party.
This is one of my favourite backpacking games; it’s also fun to play around the campfire because everyone needs to use their imagination. Depending on the content of the story, And Then can be a suitable hiking game for kids too. Playing with kids is extra fun because you never know which direction the story will take!
How to play:
- Nominate one person from your hiking group.
- They’ll start telling a story that leads to a cliff-hanger, it can be any topic, real or fantasy.
- When the narrator is ready, they’ll say ‘and then…’
- Someone else in the group will continue the story.
- If you’ve got a couple of creative minds in the group, this game can be endless.
03Word association game
This is one of the simplest trail games, but you need to think quick!
How to play:
- One person begins the game by saying a random word. (e.g. backpacking)
- The next person says a word that links to the first word. (e.g. hiking)
- The third person continues with a word associated with the second word. (e.g. exercise)
- The fourth, fifth, sixth person, and so on, continue in the same way.
- You cannot use a word that’s already been said.
- If a person is too slow, repeats a word, or says an unrelated word, they are either out of the game or have to complete a forfeit.
There’s a more advanced version of the Word Association Game that’s better to play with adults. This version follows the same rules as above, but, before beginning, each player must think of a secret word. While playing, you should try to make someone else say your secret word by steering the topic towards your word. If someone says your secret word, or you say someone else’s secret word, you/they are out or must complete a forfeit.
04Name that tune
If you’re confident enough to sing in front of your hiking buddies, and you’re not trying to spot wildlife, then name that tune provides a bit of light entertainment while hiking.
How to play:
- One person will sing or hum the beginning or section of a song or tune. Sing a verse instead of the chorus if it’s a well-known tune.
- Others in the groups will try to guess the name of the song/tune.
- Alternatively, someone in the group can name a song/tune, and members of the group should sing it.
05The alphabet game
This is another endless hiking game that’s child-friendly and fun for adults.
How to play:
- Choose a topic. (e.g. countries, cities, animals, famous people, cartoon characters, foods, types of plants)
- Start with the letter A. Everyone in the group must think of something from the chosen topic that begins with the letter A. (e.g. the topic is countries. For A you can say Argentina, Armenia, Afghanistan, etc.)
- Continue with the letter B (e.g. Bolivia, Botswana, Belgium, etc.)
- Keep going until you’ve completed the alphabet, then choose another topic.
- If there’s no word for a letter for your topic, you can skip it. (e.g. there are no countries that begin with the letter X). But if there is and your teammate can’t think of it, they are out of the game or should complete a forfeit to stay in the game.
This is another trail game that will distract your mind but leave your feet free to hike.
How to play:
- One person in the group thinks of a word; it can be a place, person, or item.
- Other hikers take turns to ask questions and guess what the person is thinking of.
- As a group, you have a total of twenty questions. Whoever guesses the word, has to think of a place, person, or thing for the next round.
- If playing with kids, you can make the game easier by deciding a category (e.g. cartoon characters, movies, foods, countries) and thinking of something from that category.
- To make it harder, you can allow abstract nouns and historical events or reduce the number of questions.
Think you’re a nature expert? If you know it, name it.
How to play:
- While hiking, try to name as many plants, grass types, trees, flowers, bugs, birds, and wildlife species as you can.
- You earn two points for every correct identification and lose one point for every incorrect identification.
- Whoever has the most points at the end of the hike is the winner.
NOTE: To avoid identification disputes it might help to bring along a reference book!
Trail games for kids
08When I went shopping, I bought…
This is a simple memory game that will keep your kids’ minds focused.
How to play:
- The first person says ‘When I went shopping, I bought… (any item)’
- The next person repeats what the first person says but adds a second item.
- The third person repeats what the second person said but adds a third item and so on.
- E.g. Person 1: When I went shopping I bought an apple. Person 2: When I went shopping I bought an apple and a backpack. Person 3: When I went shopping I bought an apple, a backpack, and roller-skates…
- The game ends when players can no longer repeat the list of items.
I Spy is a classic kid’s game that’s fun to play while walking.
How to play:
- One person says ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with (first letter of the word)’ or ‘I spy with my little eye something (colour)’.
- Everyone else should try to guess what the something is.
- Whoever guesses right begins the next round.
Hiking activities for adults and kids
Now that everyone has a GPS on a mobile phone, map reading is a challenge for adults as well as children. To practice navigation skills, head to an unmarked trail, switch off GPS, and practice using a map and compass instead. It’s extra rewarding when you can find your way without electronic guidance! You can either learn basic map and compass reading skills at home or make sure that at least one person in the group knows how to use a map and compass.
Even people who feel uncomfortable in front of the camera love taking photos. You can use your hiking trips to improve photography skills or set a photography challenge to slow down the fastest hikers in the group. (e.g. who can photograph the most colourful flower or the widest variety of plants). There’s no need to buy a rugged camera or DSLR for this hiking activity as most smartphones have a decent enough camera.
12Pick up litter
Although it’s not technically a backcountry game, outdoors lovers should take pride in cleaning up the countryside. Next time you go hiking with a group, bring some compostable trash bags and washable gloves so you can pick up trash on the way. Like photography, this hiking activity for adults and kids will slow down fast hikers and help you to keep a group at the same pace.
Hiking activities for kids
13Catch my shadow
Catch my shadow is a handy game for late afternoons when the kids are getting tired and losing interest in the hike. Walk ahead of your kids so that your shadow falls a couple of meters in front of them. Then challenge your kid to catch your shadow. The trick is to set a pace that slightly faster than theirs but not too tiring. Remember that this activity won’t work on shady trails.
14Follow the leader
If you’re on a well-marked trail or you already know the area well, ask your kids to lead the way. Allow them to take the wrong way if you have enough time and let them correct the mistake. Leading is more entertaining than following so they won’t get bored. It’ll help them develop a sense of direction too.
15Trail hide and seek
On trails where it’s safe to do so, let the kids run ahead and hide somewhere on the trail. Either give them a whistle or teach them a bird call to help you find each other and tell them not to go out of hearing distance.
16Hiking scavenger hunts
Scavenger hunts are one of the most fun things to do while walking. They’re also an excellent way to teach your kids about flora and fauna. For this hiking activity, you’ll need to make a list of things for your kids to try and find on the trail, such as types of leaves, wildflowers, paw prints or find one online that’s relevant to the region and season you’re hiking in.
It takes a bit of preparation, but all kids love treasure hunts. The thought of a hidden treat will keep them motivated throughout the entire hike. If you’re hiking in your local park or forest, you might be able to go early, or the day before to lay a trail of clues. Or, you can enlist the help of teenage or adult members of the group; get your teenage kids or spouse to run or cycle ahead and fix the clues for the younger kids. If you’re taking your guide or scout unit hiking, then give your Young Leaders/Explorers a head start so that they can make things ready. Alternatively, you can sign up to a treasure hunt organised within a country park or nature reserve.
No matter your age, there are plenty of fun things to do on a walking trail. Why not try out some of these trail games and hiking activities next time you lace up your walking shoes?