04 Aug

A Scavenger Hunt for all Ages: Story of the Forest, Shenandoah

We were stale. By the end of last summer, we had Max and Theo hiking up to three miles no sweat. On our trip to New York State we took on trail after trail, finding waterfalls and gorges and swimming holes.

But a pregnancy and newborn took its toll on all of us, and a year later the trail blazers were rusty. Even though I had found some online descriptions of kid-friendly hikes, I decided to talk to the rangers at the Big Meadows Visitor Center so we didn’t get in over our heads with the preschoolers and newborn we happened to be traveling with.

Lesson learned. Always have a conversation with the experts. The rangers pointed me toward the “Story of the Forest” trail and handed me a scavenger hunt booklet.

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I was a little skeptical at first. There were a lot of words and I have fast-moving boys.

But the very first clue hooked them. They were running from blue blaze to blue blaze, searching for large fungi and animal watering holes.

We veered from the script when we came across a group of deer eating about 10 feet off of the trail.

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I’ll be honest…after 10 clues or so, the boys weren’t paying much attention to the hunt anymore. They had their sticks and they were crashing along from blaze to blaze. Finding the blue paint patches kept them moving during the almost 2-mile walk.

Jeremy and I, on the other hand, were completely engrossed. We learned the names of some trees, found out where witch hazel comes from, and discovered more about the works projects that developed the park.

Neither of us were enrolled in any “Junior Ranger” programs while young, and though we enjoy the great outdoors, we don’t have a lot of formal knowledge. At the end of this hike, I wanted to do a dozen more just like it. It was such an engaging way to experience a new terrain, and both the adults and children were actually entertained by nature. At the same time. Wow.

I’m not sure if the National Parks has other hunts like this. I’ve never seen one advertised. If they are sincerely interested in getting families out of the visitors’ centers and onto the trails, this would be a great way to do it.

The picnic area right at the end helped also.

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