Night hikes are always a popular offering for a multitude of reasons that play into one overarching theme: the promise of the unexpected. If your night hikes have become stale, try sprinkling in one or more of these options to up the level of interest and camper excitement.
Guess the Color
Materials: one crayon for each camper
As light dims, so too does the ability of our eyes to discern colors. Once campers are deep in darkness, pass out a crayon to each. Have them see if they can guess the color, and put it in their pocket. When the group gathers in a lit space, invite campers to take out their crayons and see how close they were to guessing correctly.
Meet Your Mate
Materials: a lidded plastic film canister or small yogurt cup for each camper
Pebbles, sand, rice, dry beans, a variety of other small items capable of making noise in the film canister.
Prior to the activity, separate film canisters into batches of 3-4 and fill each batch with the same amount of dry material. Seal the lids.
During the hike, draw campers around in a circle to discuss the idea of how nocturnal creatures communicate. Listen for owls, cicadas, different birds and other creatures and note how their sounds are unique in order to help them find each other.
Pass a container to each camper. Have them shake their canister/cup to get a sense for their own sound, then see if they are able to find the other members of their group by using only their sense of sound.
Materials: Wintergreen Lifesavers, enough for each camper to have one.
Thanks to the quality of bioluminescence, science in the dark of the night can be twice as fun. Have campers get with a partner, and one at a time, instruct them to chew the Lifesaver with their mouths open so that the partners can see the spark. Be sure to keep the candy dry up until the point that it is used because dampness affects the quality of the sparks created from the sugar crystals.
Give Nature a Hand
Prior to the activity, either gather at a pre-determined location on the hike or take in a bag with your group random pieces of natural items found on the hike: particular rocks, small twigs from specific trees, leaves, pine cones, other natural items.
During the hike, pause to discuss that when one or more of our senses are diminished, others take on a greater role in helping us understand the environment around us. Introduce the activity by passing around one item from the collection gathered earlier and ask campers to use only their sense of touch to make a mental prediction about what the item is before passing it to the next person. When everyone has had a touch, see if campers can describe the specific detail about the item that helped them figure out what it was. Do this with each item.
Materials: eight to ten clean yogurt cups with lids
Prior to the activity, fill each container with a different item with a strong, discernible scent. If a scented material isn’t available, liquids on cotton balls work as well. Some ideas:
Coffee, rubbing alcohol, cedar chips, pepper, garlic/onion, a slice of citrus fruit, cinnamon stick, laundry soap powder, fresh soil, miscellaneous herbs, essential oils such as lavender, lemon, rose, bergamot, other items with memorable scents.
Over the course of the hike, prompt campers to pay particular attention to the scents they might encounter. In cooler night air and in cooler seasons, scents are more pronounced. Especially in the darkness, with limited ability to see, scent awareness strengthens. To do the activity, draw campers around and pass out containers, one at a time, and see how many campers can name the scent without prompting. To increase complexity, as them to keep their guesses to themselves until everyone in the group has had a chance to smell the container.
Beth Morrow is an author, educator and co-program director for Camp Hamwi, a residential camp for teens with diabetes. She loves night hikes and has plenty more suggestions where these came from. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org