Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.
Wendy Gorton | 10.29.2019

The amount of stimulation on any of Outdoor Project’s treks is always bursting at the seams. While our first instinct is to capture it all with our handheld of choice, the rapid-fire snaps can all blend together and sometimes fail to capture the nuances and education each site bestows. One way to up the appreciation and memory factor of your hike can be to try your hand at nature journaling. Kids naturally have their curiosity apertures open to the highest setting. Follow their lead on your next family hike and provide the space and materials to stop and reflect on it all.

For a family, capturing your adventures together can be a lovely way to slow down the march, learn more about your surroundings, and create family memories. When you reach the top of Stonewall Peak, for example, power up with a snack, take a huge stretch, high-five your family members, and see if you can sketch the skyline that reaches all the way to the Salton Sea and Mexico. Draw labels, indicating where each location is. Scratch quick clues of something you heard and need to research later—you’re pretty sure that was a blue Steller’s jay, for instance. Tape a business card from nearby Lake Cuyamaca Restaurant after treating yourself to one of their sweet pies to remember the journey. Bring watercolors along to try your hand at capturing the rich shades of a morning glow that even a camera can’t quite get right.


Nature journaling is a great way to open kids to the outdoors. Wendy Gorton.

When you get home, follow up on those inquiries that inevitably happen on each trail, the litany of “I wonder why’s” that cross your mind as you hit each switchback. Channel your kids’ curiosity and write these down, sketch your ideas, and confirm with research when you get home. You’ll be amazed at even 6 months later, sitting down with your family to reread your adventures, how the notes you took jog delightful memories of being outdoors with your family. 

Here are 10 tips to get you and your kids started on your next adventure:

  1. Find your journal. Anything is game! Staple some paper together to start, re-use a pad of paper that’s stacked from a work conference, or pick out a special blank journal with a nice cover or binding. I’m on my fourth journal and love my little stack on my desk, holding the memories and learnings of the trail. 
  2. Feel the day. Journals can be marked by the date, time of day you were outside, the temperature, and maybe even a word to describe how you felt. 
  3. You don’t have to be an artist. Make messy field notes. This is your journal, and you can use it to jot things down quickly. You can always resketch something or look up the history later.
  4. Sketch the map of where you went. Even if basic, remembering the road you came in on, the waterfall you saw, where you turned around, and where you parked can start to build a geographic understanding of the world around you. Consider tracing a leaf, but remember to practice Leave No Trace ethics and take only memories.  
  5. Personalize it. Did someone say something funny? Was there a highlight? You can use fun “label” type boxes and play with different fonts/letters like big bubbles and cursive to vary the look and feel of a page. 
  6. Scrap it. When you park and grab a trail brochure or go into the visitor center, see if there is anything fun you can tape or glue inside, like a day-pass ticket, cutting out a picture of a map from the brochure, or, my personal favorite, a stamp with the date on it inside.
  7. Try a small Polaroid to get a picture of your favorite item on the trail. Since film is finite, it can force you to truly pick your favorite thing to capture and stick in your journal. 
  8. Take your time. In the car on the way, snack and water breaks, that boulder just begging to be sat on, your end destination, and when you get home are all fine times to scribble and extend your journey.
  9. Follow up. When you get home, research what you liked on the trail, such as a bird on the trail or two different rocks you found, and take notes about it so you can remember next time. Use field guides or websites to try to identify species. 
  10. Recap and rank. Rate it! How many stars out of five was the adventure?

Ready to try it out? Pair an Outdoor Project adventure guide with 50 Hikes with Kids: California, in bookstores now, which is full of suggestions to get you and your family started with a nature journal. Get more inspo on the #naturejournal hashtag on Instagram or join the Nature Journal Club Facebook Group! The California Native Plant Society also has an easy-to-read guide for tips to get started. Enjoy!


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