5 Ideas to Motivate Teens to Love the Outdoors

My kids were toddlers when I pitched the idea of an “Outdoor Family” story to Out There’s publishers. That was nearly 10 years ago, and the precursor to this Out There Kids column, which aims to inspire and motivate families to explore the great outdoors, especially with young children. 

It was easier then, in retrospect, for my husband and I to take our kids on outdoor excursions. We carefully packed all the right things (diapers, extra set of clothes, kid-friendly snacks) and our two kiddos happily came along with whatever adventure idea we planned. They had no choice. 

Now that they’re adolescents, it’s not so easy. We sometimes struggle to cajole them to go on a bike ride (“My legs are tired—can we get an e-bike?”) or be happy hikers.

Despite occasional (or even regular) adolescent angst and “lazy” tendencies, I hope their memories and future outdoor experiences add up to maintain a lifelong mindset that appreciates nature and adventures. They will become voters who make decisions that can promote natural resource conservation, climate change solutions, and environmental justice.

 With this in mind, here are five ideas for motivating older kids to keep loving the outdoors with you.

  1. Camping in National Forests: Forgo a state park and its relative comforts and stay a week (or even a few days) at a rustic campground. Something magical happens—teens forget about devices and wifi, adopt a “messy hair, don’t care” attitude, and enjoy the only entertainment available: playing. Be intentional with conversations around a campfire, stargazing together after quiet hours, and having your kids plan the food menu and join you for pre-trip shopping. They’re less likely to complain about what’s for dinner if they help prepare it.
  • Pack Fun Stuff: Teens like to chill in hammocks; play cards and goofy games (try “Pass the Pigs”); and throw around a Frisbee disc (try a light-up one). And older kids, especially, need lots of food and their favorites. My husband got a Camp Chef oven for his portable grill so we can bake pizzas (kids prep their own) and chocolate-chip cookies.
  • Huckleberry Picking: Whether it’s Mount Spokane State Park or trails along Priest Lake, once they taste this succulent wild berry they will be inspired to hike farther for this treasured fruit. Cook in pancakes back at camp, take home and top vanilla ice cream, or simply eat right off the bush for instant gratification.
  • Adventure Summer Camps: Whether local day camps or week-long camps farther from home, socializing with peers and making new friends is more exciting than the idea of hanging out with parents. They’ll return home more excited to go ziplining or mountain biking with you.

5.    Other Outdoor Families: Invite another family to meet up. Planning can be tricky with busy schedules and varying kid ages and genders, but enjoying the outdoors with a like-minded family can amp up the fun. It can also reduce family tension and sibling squabbles, deepen relationships, and improve individual social-emotional wellbeing.

Some of my family’s most memorable camping trips were experienced with one or more other families. We shared supervision duties and meals; our kids inspired each other to try new physical activities and create silly games, skits, and songs; and we talked and laughed around the campfire long into the night.

Need help finding families? Ask around with current acquaintances. Make plans to attend the Spokatopia Outdoor Adventure Festival (July 8). Join an outing with a local group like Dishman Hills Conservancy or Washington Trails Association, or register for a guided family day-trip with Spokane Parks & Recreation. //

Amy McCaffree writes the Out There Kids column each issue. She looks forward to paddling on local lakes, mountain biking with her 13-year-old son, fly fishing with her husband and both kids, and camping at Priest Lake this summer.

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