Plan the Fall Family Outing of Your Nature-Loving Dreams

One mother reflects on the energizing power of the great outdoors. From Martha Stewart Living, November 2007.

When I was a child, my parents liked to take my brother and me on nature walks. I usually resisted at first, preferring to stay at home, surrounded by my toys. But in the end, I always gave in, and every time I was happy I did. There's something magical about entering the quiet, covered forest. Plus, I loved to draw, so the natural sights offered a feast of inspiration.

Kids today seem to have even more reasons to stay indoors, as technology continues its speedy evolution. That may make it harder to get them outside, but the contrast only heightens the experience once they're in nature.

Mid-autumn is the perfect time to plan a nature walk. In most parts of the country, the air is crisp but not too chilly, and the woods are awash in brilliant oranges, reds, and golds. As with any family outing, a little planning can go a long way. First and foremost, choose a hike that the kids can handle. And, of course, pack plenty of water and snacks. Once the basics are covered, think of ways to make the excursion even more enjoyable, perhaps by adding in a scavenger hunt. The chart will get you started, and we've thought up a few other activities. Before you depart, talk to your kids about the importance of leaving the trail as you found it. I doubt they'll mind. After all, the memories of their woodsy adventure will last a lifetime.

Fallen leaves can be used as a prop for a photograph or added to a field notebook. A leaf wreath inspired by British artist Andy Goldsworthy. Learning to read a trail map sharpens a young person's sense of direction.

Related: No Excuses: 30 Everyday Things You Should Know How to Do

Hikers refuel with sandwiches, soup, and apples; remember to bring a bag for trash. Trail mix is a tasty, high-energy snack; pack a few handfuls per person.

Get the Maple-Almond-Banana Trail Mix Recipe

Leaf Varieties

1. Swamp white oak
2. Ash leaflet
3. Elm
4. English oak
5. White oak
6. Black gum
7. Kentucky coffee tree leaflet
8. Black locust
9. Sumac
10. Red oak
11. Sugar maple
12. Virginia creeper leaflet
13. Sassafras
14. Birch
15. White oak
16. Bradford' pear
17. Pin oak
18. Sassafras
19. Willow
20. Sweet gum
21. Smoke bush
22. Maidenhair fern
23. Redbud


Resealable plastic bag to carry leaves and other finds
Field guide for identifying species of trees in the forest
Homemade leaf press for bringing collected leaves home
Magnifying lens to inspect specimens up close
Colored pencils or crayons for bark rubbings and labeling leaves (don't forget a sharpener)
Field notebook and eraser for notes, rubbings, and sketches
Bag and binoculars to carry gear and spy on birds and wildlife (a bag in a bright color is less likely to be left behind)
Compass to make following the trail map easier
Blanket for laying out provisions at lunchtime

Related: 24 Bathroom Organizing Tips You Haven't Thought Of


1. Tree rubbings can be done directly in a field notebook using the side of a colored pencil or a crayon. Bark results in textured patterns while leaves reveal distinctive vein structures; the rubbings can be displayed at home in small frames. Fallen seedpods and acorns can be examined, illustrated in a notebook, and then returned to the forest floor. Encourage kids to save their sketches and rubbings and to start a nature journal with them.

2. Make a color copy of this image for each scavenger. The challenge is to find as many leaves as possible from each category (some trees listed may not be in your forest). Remind kids to take only fallen leaves. Following the hunt, they can refer to their field guides to learn more about the individual trees.

Download the Leaf Hunt PDF

More from Martha Stewart:
15 Kitchen Shortcuts That Will Change the Way You Cook
19 Tips for Perfect Laundry Every Time
10 Clever Ways to Save Space in Your Kitchen
12 Secrets for a Cleaning the Bathroom in Less Time

Enjoy the great outdoors in your own backyard, too.