The struggle is real. Between busy schedules and the prevalence of digital entertainment, fewer and fewer kids are spending any significant time outside. Sadly, we’re seeing the results in the form of rising rates of obesity, depression, and anxiety among kids. In addition to lowering health risks, more time outside can help kids improve self esteem, develop a sense of outdoor stewardship, and form healthy habits that will stick with them for life. But raising kids who love the outdoors can be a challenge, and with summer vacation just around the corner, it can be easy to default to indoor entertainment. How can you get your kids away from screens and into the wild?

Make Being Outside a Lifestyle

Getting outdoors doesn’t have to be a huge production. Try doing something simple, like eating dinner outside or going for family walks around the neighborhood, a few times a week. Even taking traditionally indoor recreation, such as art projects, board games, and reading outside can make a huge difference. These small things can help your kids become accustomed to being outside and can be great family bonding experiences.

Make the Outdoors Fun

Choosing outdoor activities that are appropriate for your child’s age, personality, and abilities helps to instill in them a love of the outdoors.

  • Pick a hike with a treat at the end. A couple of our staff favorites include Skinny Dip Falls, a short hike with a great swimming hole at the end and the Carl Sandburg Home, which has several trails of varying difficulty, including a short hike to play with baby goats.
  • Make it a game. If your children crave constant stimulation, challenge them to a scavenger hunt on the trail or in your own back yard. For younger children, have them find items in a variety of colors. Older children may enjoy looking for specific species of animals, bugs, or plants.
  • Involve them in planning. Kids love to feel like their contributions are valued. Younger kids may enjoy assembling trail mix or other simple hiking snacks. While older kids may have fun doing research on local trails and outdoor activities that they’d like to try (Asheville Trails is a great resource).
  • Let them pick their kit. Let’s face it, gear is cool. Equipping your kids with a few essentials, like their own water bottle or daypack, can get them excited about the outdoors, help them develop important outdoor preparation habits, and make them more comfortable. Gearing your kids up doesn’t have to be expensive, there are tons of inexpensive (but still super cool and useful) gadgets available. These can be great incentives to reward setting and reaching goals. A few ideas: hike a set number of miles over the summer to earn a pocket knife, concoct camp meals or trail lunches to earn a stove, or get up early and do a sunrise hike to score a headlamp.

Help Them Build Outdoor Community

Kids want to fit in. Help them find their outdoor tribe by planning outdoor activities that include team work or good causes. Buncombe County Parks & Rec offers a variety of summer and after school outdoor programs that allow kids to explore the outdoors with like minded peers. Older kids can participate in volunteer opportunities that foster a spirit of outdoor stewardship, such as a river clean up project with Mountain True.

Lead by Example

Kids live what they learn. If you are excited about outdoor activities and make healthy outdoor recreation a priority, your kids will likely follow suit.

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If a relatively easy hike that still offers some distance and stunning views of rare flora sounds like your perfect afternoon, you’ve gotta check out the Pink Beds Loop hike in Pisgah. Named after the rare pink swamp lily, this fun and relaxing loop wanders around the bottom of a unique valley with rare mountain bog and American beaver habitat. The trail is flat and takes you through beautiful fern-covered woods and huckleberry patches. Visit in the late spring/early summer  and you’ll be able to witness wetlands abloom with pink swamp lilies.

A large covered pavilion and open field near the trailhead make a perfect spot for a post hike picnic or friendly game of frisbee.

Trail: Pink Beds
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 5 miles
Map: NatGeo 780; Pisgah Ranger District
Directions: From Asheville, take I-240 west to I-26 east to exit 40, Asheville Airport/NC 280. Turn right onto NC 280; follow for 16 miles toward Brevard. At the intersection with US highways 276 and 64, turn right onto US 276 west (follow signs for Pisgah National Forest). Proceed on 276 for 11.4 miles through Pisgah National Forest to the Pink Beds Picnic Area, just past the Forest Discovery Center on the right. The trail starts at the signboard at the back left side of the parking lot.

Photo courtesy of romanticasheville.com.

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