Raising Trail Heroes: Teaching our Children Trail Stewardship

  1. Share
1 0

Having Kids Increased My Appreciation of the Outdoors

My husband and I have always been passionate about the outdoors and the environment. Our appreciation of the trails and land has become significantly greater since becoming parents. Unfortunately, the amount of excuses that we have for not practicing trail stewardship has also increased. However, we try not to let that stop us. My youngest child and I spend almost every day in the outdoors with our Hike it Baby friends, neighbors or with the rest of our family. We feel it is our responsibility as members of the outdoor community to take care of the trails and the land. It is a family goal that trail and land stewardship be a fundamental part of who we are and we want to pass that on to our kids.

Having Kids Means We get Creative About Trail Stewardship

In our home state of Washington, there are plenty of organizations that provide opportunities for adults, families with older children and teenagers to work on the trails and learn how to be land stewards. Trail stewardship activities look a little different with a 3-year-old in tow. In order to introduce our kids to the idea of trail stewardship, we do the following:

  • Read books about our local and national park system, as well as ecologists and conservationists
  • Study the trails we are going to hike
  • Focus on Park Rangers (see Hike it Baby's Ranger Interview Series)
  • Talk about trail volunteers (who we call Trail Heroes)
  • Draw pictures incorporating stewardship ideas
  • Be mindful about appreciating the work of others along the trail.

Raising Trail Heroes: Teaching our Children Trail Stewardship by Lindsey Weir for Hike it Baby Kids can help maintain trails by clearing mud off stepping stones or wood bridges While still focusing on having fun in nature, as our kids have gotten older, we have encouraged them to be active stewards. We are always brainstorming ways to incorporate stewardship into our Hike it Baby branch. I reached out to Krista Dooley, Youth Programs Director for Washington Trails Association, for some insight and advice on activities that are Hike it Baby-friendly, and she had a lot of great suggestions that are truly helpful to the trail.

Kid-Friendly Trail Stewardship Ideas

  • Remove debris in between decking of puncheon bridge structures to reduce buildup and prevent slipping. (Kids enjoy using small sticks to push the debris through the spaces between the decking).
  • Clear off trail signs that may have collected moss or debris over the winter/spring seasons for easier navigation.
  • Throw fallen limbs or rocks on the downhill side of the trail to clear the corridor, but be careful to look for switchbacks and hikers on trails below.
  • Bring along an extra bag and gloves to pick up any trash along the trail. It can be turned into a game to collect as many pieces of trash during the hike. (The winner is the clean trail queen/king of the day.)

Raising Trail Heroes: Teaching our Children Trail Stewardship by Lindsey Weir for Hike it Baby Even the young walkers can help move sticks and other debris off trail.

Kids Can Make a Difference on Trail

Obviously, land and trail stewardship looks different when babywearing parents or toddlers do it. But it is still valuable and the benefits are abundant. At home, every member of our family is a valuable part of our team and is treated with equal respect. Our children have age-appropriate responsibilities. While, I would be lying if I claimed that they never complained about it, they more often than not enjoy the pride they feel through contributing. They are more cooperative, have abundant self-confidence, are less frustrated and are happier in general. Recent research would suggest that we are not the only ones experiencing these benefits and numerous studies support the idea that children can and should contribute. The same system works on the trail and, in addition to the positive benefits listed above, it has notably increased their ability to appreciate the trails and nature, and it has also deepened their connections to the outdoors.

Be a Trail Hero

We began to make an effort to mindfully include trail and land stewardship into our lives. A couple months later my 3-year-old and I were out hiking when we came upon a small toppling stone wall along the side of the trail. I thought it was too big of a challenge. My daughter, however, stopped and began to carefully lift the rocks in her tiny hands and rebuild the wall. We worked slowly but soon the wall was finished and we continued on with other wonderful adventures that day. However, as we drove home that night and discussed our day, the thing she focused on was that she had helped fix the wall and was proud to be a “trail hero.”


Lindsey lives in Washington State with her husband, Andrew, and their two children. She has a spirit for adventure, a fierce passion for public lands and a grateful heart. When she isn't hiking or spending time outdoors with her awesome family she enjoys reading, playing the Ukulele, and eating too much chocolate.


OutGrown is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to create a world where everyone can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of spending time outside. We are focused on creating opportunities and removing barriers to access so families with babies and young children can take their first steps outside. We believe all families have the right to connect with nature, benefit from spending time outdoors and be inspired to a lifelong love of nature. Since its grassroots inception in 2013, OutGrown is a growing community of 280,000 families and over 300 volunteer Branch Ambassadors. More information on all of our programs can be found at WeAreOutGrown.org 


We hope you enjoyed reading this article from OutGrown. We’re working hard to provide our community with content and resources that inform, inspire, and entertain you.

But content is not free. It’s built on the hard work and dedication of writers, editors, and volunteers. We make an investment in developing premium content to make it easier for families with young children to connect with nature and each other. We do not ask this lightly, but if you can, please make a contribution and help us extend our reach.

Community tags

This content has 0 tags that match your profile.


To leave a comment, login or sign up.

Related Content

Leave No Trace: An Introduction for Kids
It's important we Leave No Trace when exploring outside, which can be hard when hiking with toddlers and children. This video walks you through having a successful hike with little ones who might have a hard time not picking up rocks and flowers or leaving their new favorite stick behind. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO When planning your outdoor adventure, have your child research the weather forecast and help them plan the best clothing to wear, provide trail choices, and allow them to choose their lunch or snack for the trip. STAY ON THE TRAIL Always use established trails whenever available. Kids often want to explore off trail, so teaching them to walk in single-file in the middle of the trail, even when the trail is wet or muddy, is very important. Talk with them about the impact their presence has on plants, animals and bugs. To help make staying on trail fun, encourage your children’s imaginations while directing their powers of awareness and conscious foot-stepping by playing “detective” and following your “ninjas” trails as they navigate the forest. PACK IT IN, PACK IT OUT Accept the challenge of packing out all trash, leftover food and litter when visiting the outdoors. Play “I spy” with trash by creating a competition among kids (or between kids and parents) to see who can collect the most litter. RESPECT WILDLIFE Animal encounters are a natural fascination for kids. Help your children understand how to keep a safe distance from wildlife. Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Never feed animals. Keep wildlife wild. LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND This can be difficult for kids. When your kid discovers a cool rock or finds the perfect hiking stick, it can be really hard for them to leave it behind. With toddlers, a first step can be to limit trail treasures to one item and talking to them about the impact of picking flowers and leaves can have. For older kids, you can give your child a camera to take photos of treasures they find on the trail or have them carry a nature journal to record their discoveries. BE KIND TO OTHERS Encourage kids to be respectful, courteous and polite when playing outdoors. Model and teach good manners, such as sharing the trail with others while avoiding bad behaviors, such as making loud noises or talking on a cell phone. What are some of your ideas for helping your kids be adventurous on a hike while maintaining the nature around them? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. https://youtu.be/hiJD65oAIGg Read More: Leave No Trace: What does it mean for kids? Leave No Trace part 2-"Choose the Right Path" Leave No Trace part 1-Plan Ahead and Prepare    
Homeschooling - Finding Opportunities to Learn on the Trail
How can we take our homeschooling on the trail and still be sure they're learning? We incorporate nature and learning! Whether you home school or want to simply enhance learning while on the trail, here are things we've learned or practiced to make sure we're all learning on the trail.   Finding Opportunities As we explore nature and the outdoors, we strengthen everyday skills like counting, learning colors, matching, math, and naming and identifying objects. We learn about the planet and its geology and ecology, such as rotation of the planets, tectonic plate theory weather patterns, land forms, logging industry, water cycle and local insect life. We further trail education by making it personal and teaching values that encourage appreciation of nature and compassion for self, others and the planet. Some of the lessons include trail manners and common courtesy;  balance, physical and metaphorical; jumping and exploring; spirituality; meditation; and awareness of self and others. Lesson planning for the outdoors When planning lessons, the best plan is have no plan. Yes, you read that right: Zero. Why? We found very quickly that if we, as parents and adults, let go of time limitations while hiking, we had more time for learning. When we let go of the "Let’s make it to the end of the hike" mentality, we gained valuable question and answer time ... also known as learning. Learning was happening and they were begging to know more. We changed our focus to really hearing the kids' questions instead of dismissing them. We watched them for areas of interest and let them lead us to the learning. This new way of "hiking" actually gave us less walking time and more exploring time. Now you might wonder, "But you never finished another hike, right? They explored all your hiking time away." Sometimes, yes. But this slowing down of time actually allowed us to hustle when we wanted. Our general rule is the first time to a hike, we keep good pace to the "end," whatever that may be. A waterfall, picnic spot, creek to play in, view, etc. After that? We decide as a family before even leaving what areas of a hike we plan to explore. These plans are, of course, fluid with each one creating a completely different learning, hiking and exploring experience. Chances are your kids are learning on the trail Our kids provide a unique way to learn and explore -- how can we encourage them by asking more questions? And as we explore the questions together, how are we learning and growing together? Are you a homeschooling family? What learning opportunities are you finding on the trail? Comment below! Photos courtesy of Jenyfer Patton. Read More: Taking Learning Outdoors: Preschool Gets a Makeover Nature Based Scavenger Hunts, your new hiking friend Taking the classroom outside for the Hike it Baby 30 Challenge What conversations have the trails spurred in your kids? Let us know in the comments.