5 Ways to Get the Kids Outdoors Before School Starts

Wednesday March 13, 2019

It’s the height of summer, so we’re probably a little evil for saying it. Everyone is in the swing of pool days, summer camps, leaving the office a little early, and okaying sleepovers on weeknights.

But the approach of August means school is looming. Soon enough, you’ll be packing older ones off to their dorms and younger ones off to meet-the-teacher day and shopping for color-coded notebooks.

Did you get the time you wanted with them this summer? Did you manage the family trips? Did you build memories of spending time together in the wilderness and seeing the look on their faces when a gorgeous view took their breath away and made them ignore their phones?

If not, there’s still time.

Here are five ideas for quick late-summer family adventures you can use to build those great memories before homework takes over your evenings.

Rent a Canoe

One GoApe staffer recently spent a long, lazy Sunday floating down a gorgeous river between two mountain ridges. The scenery was gorgeous. The paddling was easy, and the water was the perfect temperature (because you know everyone had to pull ashore and jump in more than once…at least until the snake swam by).

The best part?

It cost $65, and didn’t require much prep work or cleanup.

Local outfitters on many rivers have package deals. For a flat fee, they’ll rent you a canoe, life preservers, and paddles, and drive you to a set point upriver where you can put in. Your only responsibility is to pull out when you get back to the shop.

So, pack lunches, plenty of water and sunscreen, and take the family out on a nearby river.
This particular awesome Sunday came courtesy of Romney, West Virginia’s Trough General Store, just under an hour and a half from the Washington, D.C. metro area.

Hike the Tallest Peak Within an Hour’s Drive

[Note – this one is not applicable if you live within an hour of the Rockies, or any 10,000-plus-foot monster.]

Nothing changes your perspective on where you live quite like seeing it from a great height. And you’d be surprised how simple a matter it can be to find that view.

Google added a cool trick to its search engine a few years back – it’s not possible to perform a search from your location by simply typing a phrase like “great hikes near me,” or “highest trails near me.”

You’ll want to find something the youngest and the oldest among you can handle, so look for hikes that can be done in just a few hours. Keep in mind that the elevation change will be taxing, and make sure everyone has ankle support, and lots of water.

Then, grab the kids and set out to find a spot where you can see forever. In most parts of the U.S., you can be back by dinnertime.

Seek Out A Naturalist Program

When school is out, it’s a great time for learning. The kids aren’t burnt out on trying to absorb new information every day, so they may be receptive to adventures that involve a hands-on lesson.

The National Park Service, like many state park services, offers educational programs with park rangers and other experts. They include hikes with naturalists, guided wildlife encounters, walks that teach the history (and even prehistory) of parklands, and other ways to engage with your local ecosystem.

Several GoApe staffers are looking forward to the Night Sky Festival at Shenandoah National Park this August. When the Perseid meteor shower is at its peak, the night of August 12, the park’s amphitheater will host NASA Solar System Ambassador Kristin Hendershot for a lesson on the science of meteor showers. Then viewers will head to the parking lots and fields around the visitor’s center to watch the celestial show.

It’s a fun excuse to let the kids stay up late.

Check the events pages of parks near you for similar family ideas.

Spend a Day Repairing Your Favorite Trail Together

Want to tire your kids out AND teach them to be responsible citizens and caretakers of their world?

Late summer is trail repair season. Willing hands are always needed.

America’s hiking trails see most of their wear and tear in the summer months, when more of us are getting out to see the natural world. Even with the most responsible hikers, that means erosion from thousands of pairs of boots.

And a little trail damage leads to a lot of trail damage, as people seek new ways around worn spots, broken stairs or bridges in need of resealing.

So, millions of volunteers spend a day with gloves and spades and paint, making the places you’re supposed to walk appealing again, remarking faded trail blazes, and repairing steps and bridges.

There’s work for adults who can carry timbers, and work for small hands that can hold small rakes.

Many trails have their own volunteer organizations (the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, for example, or the Pacific Crest Trail Association or the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, all of whom could use an afternoon of your family’s time).

And if there isn’t a formal program to coordinate volunteers at your favorite hike, ask the park’s rangers what help they could use. They’re not likely to turn down free labor.

Break Out Your Old Camera and Teach the Kids to Use It

You don’t have to go far to find an outdoor adventure you can enjoy together. You might just have to look in your closet for inspiration.

Many of us have old camera equipment that virtually never gets used. A little secret? It’s fascinating to kids growing up in the Instagram era.

Break it out, and set out for the nearest patch of wilderness…. even if it’s just the quarter-mile stretch of woods behind your building.

Let the kids take photos, whether they want to focus on a tiny frog or take in the entire landscape. Teach them what you know about focus and exposure time…even if it isn’t much, they’ve never heard this before, so you’ll seem like a wizard.

And you’ll get pictures. You can snap a few of them when they’re not focused on you.

After all, they’re changing every day, and soon enough, they’ll be back in their own daily grind.