11 Fun Activities for Hikers
Hiking is a grand adventure — your feet can take you to the most amazing places (and amazing views). But there’s more to do out there than just going from point A to point B. Check out these ways to keep yourself — and your hiking (or non-hiking) buddies — entertained on the trail.
Autumn brings some sort of edible berry to almost every climate. The best patches close to roadways, cities, and towns will be quickly picked over — but if you’re willing to hike a few miles into the woods, you can almost always find lush patches of berries ready for the picking.
(My favorites are blueberries — I like to pick as many as I can, then freeze them for use in the winter.)
Of course, there are some poisonous berries out there, too. Sometimes they can look quite a bit like the edible cousins you’re looking for! So make sure you know what you’re picking. If you’re not positive, bring a plant identification guide or — better yet — a real, living and breathing plant expert with until you’re confident in your own identification skills.
Don’t be too fast to assume that just because you’re off the beaten track, the lakes and streams are barren. Quite the opposite, in fact — there are usually plenty of native fish, and sometimes your local department of fish and game may even stock semi-remote lakes.
I’d much rather eat fish from a backcountry stream than one that runs straight through the middle of any city. That said, local fishing regulations still apply — so make sure you understand the rules and have your fishing license handy… just in case.
Berries aren’t the only wild edibles out there. From nuts and seeds to roots and flowers, you can collect real food as you hike — but only if you know how to tell the safe from the unsafe.
I think of berries and other wild fruits as the training wheels of the foraging world. If you’re going to delve deeper, you need A+ confidence in your ability to correctly identify safe wild foods. Getting there is easier than you might think — start with a healthy dose of caution and common sense, then tackle a few local plant walks or foraging walks, led by local experts, to get yourself started.
Some wilderness survival schools will also teach you basic foraging skills, but make sure you’re learning about the plants and animals that actually grow in your area. Guided plant walks are a good place to start!
We’ve heard of geocaching before, but this weekend was our first actual hands-on experience. We met a couple of dedicated geocachers, started asking questions, and before you know it one of them had an iPhone in hand, geocaching app loaded and ready to go.
We found the nearest cache just 200 feet or so away, tucked beneath a tree on a side trail. We signed into the logbook to say we’d been there, rifled through the ammo can for any other special instructions (nope), then put it back in its hiding place for someone else to find.
You can use just about any GPS-enabled device to participate in this modern-day treasure hunt. (As long as you can enter latitude and longitude coordinates, the apps are optional.) Geocaches are never obtrusive — they’re always camouflaged or at least tucked out of obvious view — but they can be just about anywhere, including remote mountain or island areas in Alaska. Who knew?!
Geocaching puts your navigation skills to the test — finding the cache is the prize. If you’re orienteering, getting there first (or sometimes, getting there at all) is the prize.
It’s up to you to find your way to a series of checkpoints with nothing but a map, compass, and your (or your teammates’) physical fortitude. Orienteering is fun on its own merits, but it’s also a great way to learn and practice the type of navigation skills you need for some backcountry adventures.
We spent a few of our formative years in Europe, and we still remember the looks we got when our family walked up the Swiss Alps and rode the trams down. Heads would sprout from the uphill-bound trams, taking in the sight of an entire family of crazy Americans doing it all backward.
Well, that was just early training for paragliding. Your reward for hiking up a mountain with the gigantic backpack that contains your paraglider? Soaring back down, just as free as the birds, while the rest of us trudge back down the old-fashioned way.
Photography and hiking go together like… well, like just about any cliche you can think up. There’s just so much out there to see. Bringing photographs back is a way to share that beauty with others, or prompt your own memories of the places you’ve been.
Just one warning: Don’t get so carried away with your photographs that you forget to drink in the natural beauty with your own eyes, too.
Scrambling and Climbing
From a hiker’s perspective, many of us will enjoy a good scramble just as much as any climber — heck, some of us are climbers, too! But if you’re venturing onto technical terrain (where you really need a rope or specialized skills to be safe), make sure you and everyone else in the party understand the risks and have the right skill set for managing them!
Even mild exposure merits respect and caution. But with that said, a good scramble or climb — when tackled knowingly — is a ton of fun!
Sit And Watch
“Getting somewhere” is one of the biggest reasons we hike, right? But sometimes just getting outside — and really being there — is enough of a destination.
Try this and see what you think: Instead of hiking to a specific place, just hit your favorite trail and find a place — preferably off the trail — to sit and watch. You might be amazed by just how much nature goes quiet when you pass by, and how much of it comes spilling back in if you take the time to sit, watch, and listen.
I imagine that in a survival situation, being able to track animals would come in very handy. But since most of us aren’t in survival mode when we’re out on a hike, it’s more of a fun, educational activity for hikers — although of course, being alert to signs that potentially dangerous animals are in the area is always a good thing.
So next time you’re on the trail, why not play detective? Start by looking for animal tracks, then hunt up other clues to help fill in the picture of what they’ve been up to. Was it more than one animal? Can you see where they fed? How about scat? You get the idea.
You can learn a lot from books — but We’re firmly of the mind that there’s no better school for real hands-on learning than the outdoors. Outdoor centers, science centers, municipal recreation programs and park facilities are usually rife with learning opportunities.
Pair hiking with education on outings that teach basic foraging and tracking skills, on birding walks to identify or survey local birds, or on outings that focus on the life-cycle of one specific animal. If no local groups offer such outings, you can DIY with the help of a good guidebook and a little common sense.