Mountain Fun with Kids

The beauty of a family trip to the mountains is to leave the busy, cluttered day-to-day behind and getting up to the cool, fresh, and simpler break from home! So plan less and pack smart on your next trip to the woods and let nature do most of the work.


Snapshot of our favorite activities from our recent family trip to Pinecrest Lake in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains:
– Scavenger Hunts
– Bug Fun
– Lake Time
– Talent Show

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of time spent in the mountains with family and friends. Usually we camped and occasionally we got to stay in a cabin, but whatever our sleeping arrangements were I always loved being in the forest with the cool pine-scented air and freedom that seemed to accompany childhood in the mountains. Flash forward to life now… I am not a camper, though it is a skill and interest I’m hoping to develop (growth mindset). However, I am so beyond grateful that we get to have a mountain getaway with Rob’s family at Pinecrest Lake one weekend every summer. Our kids have come every summer since they were babies and we really cherish this time with Rob’s dad, his sister and her family. For the past 7 years at Pinecrest there has been at least one baby or toddler, so our trips were far less relaxing but all and all still fun. However, this year we turned a corner. Bridget is the youngest cousin, and at 3 with a 7, 5, and 4 year old looking out for you, the kids were able to enjoy a lot more independence. The four cousins had an absolute blast mainly because mountain living is amazing but also with the help of a few ideas that we will continue to fine tune in coming years. I also see some cool traditions emerging, that the kids will look forward to over the next few years and eventually will look back on fondly, the way I look back on my childhood time in the mountains. The great thing too about a weekend (or more) in the woods is that there is very little planning or preparation required to entertain the kids: Nature does it for you! So whether you are camping or staying in a cabin, here are a few ideas for keeping the kiddos happy in the mountains. Hopefully this will allow you to worry less about planning for them and more about packing sleeping bags and sweatshirts (which we forgot🤦‍♀️).

1. Scavenger hunts

  • Parent-Prepped Scavenger Hunts: In the past I’ve found nature lists on Pinterest and glued them to bags for the kids to find different things outside the cabin. This year I was super excited to find these really cute pre-made bags in the Target dollar bins. Either way, this is a pretty easy activity to prep that will keep the kids entertained for a bit. Here are a few sites with printables that I thought looked fun, but always check those Target dollar bins… you never know what treasures YOU might find! (Five Senses Scavenger Hunt, Scavenger Hunt Bingo, A-Z Nature Scavenger Hunt, Color Scavenger Hunt)
  • Kid-Prepped Scavenger Hunts: What kept the kids entertained even longer, was creating their own scavenger hunts for each other. For this they used printer paper cut into 6 pieces and crayons and markers to draw clues. They would place the clue with a treat or toy around the cabin and the other kids then had to find them. Seriously, they did this for HOURS. We ran out of paper and yogurt and apple sauce squeezers because there were so many hunts and prizes. But, they LOVED it and were mostly able to do it on their own. Bring: Paper, crayons or markers, and kid scissors, then leave the rest to the kiddos!

2. Bug hunting
Often the treasures found on the scavenger hunt lead into some other imaginative play or for these two lucky bug lovers, the opportunity to build a home for a little green caterpillar that they found. In retrospect I thought it might have been fun to bring a magnifying glass or a bug catcher, but I also think that providing those “tools” takes away from the organic creativity of kids that happens while exploring and enjoying nature. Not to say there would be anything wrong with having that extra equipment on hand, I can just envision my kids pretending the magnifying glass was a tennis racquet and then missing the bugs entirely. (You know your kids, pack or don’t accordingly.)

3. Time near the water
We have found that some time at the lake is a must during the day because of the summer heat. No matter how nice the weather is, the midday sun just feels a little closer and hotter in the mountains, so we get out of the warm cabin and get down to the water. Pinecrest Lake has a really nice, albeit busy, beach that has a very slow grade into the depths of the water, so we were comfortable with the kids playing in the lake while we watched from the shore a few feet away. Again, I think kids will make their own fun but thankfully my incredible and prepared sister-in-law packed some beach toys which the kids entertained themselves with for a good hour. I love how nature brings out creativity and chases away the boredom! They could have played all day, if we hadn’t needed to get back to the cabin to rest and get ready for dinner. I know it probably goes without saying but I am going to say it anyway: Remember to always be extra cautious around the water with kiddos and keep a careful eye on them at all times.

Plus, when else are you going to wash all of that mountain dirt off of the them?

4. Talent Show
Once the evening sets in and s’mores have been eaten, what else to do but a talent show? This first annual Pinecrest Talent show was pretty impromptu (nothing was prepared or rehearsed) but it was so fun! Three of the four cousins competed for the spotlight to showcase their impressive dance moves and lovely vocal stylings. It was a hoot! The next day my sister-in-law and I discussed the one child that didn’t want to participate and decided that for next year’s talent show we’d also have the kids, particularly the one(s) not wanting to be in the spotlight, decorate a “stage area” and/or make a Talent Show sign. Who knows if the kids will be interested in having a second annual Pinecrest Talent Show, but if they are we have some good ideas cooking to allow for all of the kids to feel included. We didn’t bring anything extra for the show, we just had our iPhones and a speaker to play the kids’ music. If the talent show catches on in the future I foresee a bit more packing, but that will be kid-initiated and therefore the kids will be responsible for their instrument/costume/props etc. if that’s what they want to do.

5. Finally, sit back and have some peaceful adult-time. The kids are busy scavenger hunting in the lake or setting up a bug talent show 😛 …time for you to enjoy the great outdoors! Cheers!

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