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When kids have seen, felt, and interacted with nature firsthand, they’re much more likely to relate to the natural world and strive to protect it as they get older. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I have ample opportunity to expose my kids to wilderness in our region. However, the great thing about the outdoors is how accessible it is, wherever you are. Teaching kids to appreciate nature while traveling is… well, natural!
Earth Day for kids should be every day. Families can enhance nearly any type of travel experience with nature activities for kids ranging from extreme wilderness tours to simple nature walks. The following are our favorite ways to experience nature while traveling with kids:
5 Ways to Appreciate Nature While Traveling
1. Sleep in nature
Even if you’re not on a camping trip, you can still sleep outdoors, or close to it. While on a road trip or traveling between major cities, do your hotel budget a favor and look for a camping alternative. No need for full camping gear. Leave the tent and sleeping bags at home, and move into a different kind of shelter for the night. For example, many state parks and private campgrounds offer nightly stays in yurts, cabins, or even teepees. They’ll include beds (and sometimes bedding), plus bathrooms (private or shared), and plenty of outdoor space. Even if you’re back on the road the next morning, your kids will have benefited from outdoor space and recreation for the night.
2. Kayak or river raft
Kayaking and rafting are great ways to see your destination in a way not available from the road. On a recent trip to Central Oregon, a location we felt we knew well, we discovered a set of lakes accessible only by kayak that we have never seen before. Families can start on still lakes and rivers. Most locations include a guide who can help you get started.
Look for a tour company that offers excursions for a few hours if you have beginners in your group. Pick ‘family floats’ with kids under age five. Kids dig kayaking and river rafting because it’s more exciting than hiking, with the same explorative benefits. Our top kayaking and river rafting adventures have included a family float along the Deerfield River in Massachusetts with Zoar Outdoor. We also enjoyed kayaking Vancouver Island Canada’s Ucluelet Harbor with Majestic Ocean Kayaking.
3. Seek out botanical gardens and nature preserves
A botanical garden can serve as a family’s oasis in the middle of a busy city. When young children tire of city touring, head to a local botanical garden or Japanese Tea Garden to learn about local flora and fauna, listen to the peace and quiet, and relax in the grass. Botanical gardens often offer a family entrance rate to save you money or a flat rate per vehicle. Some allow outside food for picnics. A few of our favorites: the Chicago Botanical Garden, Atlanta Botanical Garden and the International Rose Test Garden of Portland, OR.
If your destination lacks a botanical garden, find a nature preserve. (Hint: look for the big green spaces on Google Maps!) Nature preserves will often teach your kids about local wildlife and community conservation efforts. Usually free, these locations will benefit from a small donation upon your departure.
4. Horseback ride
Many outdoor resorts, including ski resorts and off-the-beaten-path ranches, now offer horseback riding. For roughly the cost of a round of golf or a spa treatment, you can introduce your kids to the cowboy (or girl) lifestyle for a few hours. We love horseback riding while on vacation because it accomplishes two important goals: fun family time in a memorable way and the chance to see more of the outdoors up-close.
As a bonus, tour wranglers are often experts on their destination, giving you the scoop on everything from local wildlife to the best burger in town. Our favorite horseback riding operations have included those at Brasada Ranch in Oregon and Blue Sky Ranch in Utah.
5. Mountain bike
If you don’t own a bike, buying a mountain biking is an expensive way to enjoy the outdoors if you are not going to enjoy it regularly. However, they are surprisingly affordable to rent for the day at most local bike shops, on vacation or at home. Because you can’t always mountain bike on pedestrian trails, it’s important to pick up a cycling trail map where you rent your bikes. If you want to go extreme, try gravity-based mountain biking at a ski resort in the summer. It’s one of the activities our family have enjoyed most in the past few years.
Appreciating Nature While Traveling
Some of your most memorable moments may be spent on a nature excursion or taking time to explore a local park. No matter where you travel, it’s likely that at least one of the above activities will be available to you, helping you introduce your kids not only to the joy of traveling, but the joy of caring for the earth.
What outdoor activities do you encourage in your kids, whether at home or while traveling? What has been your most memorable outdoor experience?