White Cloud Mountains, Idaho.

10 Tips For Getting Your Teenager Outdoors With You

In Backpacking, Family Adventures, Hiking, National Park Adventures, Paddling, Skiing, Skills   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   9 Comments

By Michael Lanza

“That sounds totally boring.” “Other parents don’t force their kids to do things they don’t want to do.” “I hate (fill in the activity).” If you’re a parent of a teenager, you’ve probably heard these responses from your child, or any of an infinite number of variations on them—like a personal favorite that my son, at 14, laid on me: “You get to choose your friends, but you don’t get to choose your family.” If you’re trying to persuade a teen to get outdoors with you—which these days often entails pulling him or her away from an electronic screen to engage in physical activity for hours—your child can summon powers of resistance that conjure mental images of Superman stopping a high-speed train.

Even though my kids, now 16 and 14, have dayhiked and backpacked hundreds of miles, paddled whitewater rivers and waters from Alaska’s Glacier Bay to Florida’s Everglades, and cross-country skied and rock climbed since they were preschoolers, we still sometimes encounter blowback to our plans to do something outdoors. But we’re usually still successful, and our kids look forward to most of our adventures. Here are the reasons why.

Following up on my popular “10 Tips For Raising Outdoors-Loving Kids” (over 20,000 Facebook likes), which mostly speaks to parents of younger children, the tips below summarize what I’ve learned from many outdoors adventures with increasingly independent young people—who happen to share my genetic makeup.


My son, Nate, 15, backpacking with me in Idaho's White Cloud Mountains.

My son, Nate, 15, backpacking with me in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains.

#1 Establish a Tradition

I took my son on our first father-son “Boy Trip” (the name he gave it), backpacking in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, when he was six. My first father-daughter adventure (yup, our “Girl Trip”—her name) followed within a few years, and we have kept the tradition alive most years since.

Similarly, our family and another with kids close in age began taking an annual ski trip to a backcountry yurt when the children ranged in age from seven to four. The boy trip, girl trip, and yurt trip have become staples of our annual travel calendar, considered as sacrosanct as birthdays—and each involves days spent entirely disconnected in remote backcountry.

Ideally, start a regular tradition of an outdoors adventure when kids are fairly young—but your child is never too old to begin. Find whatever it is that excites everyone involved; it may be the same activity or destination every year, or something perennially different. There are no rules, except to make it strictly about spending a lot of quality time together.


Nate kayaking the Middle Fork Salmon River, Idaho.

Nate, at 14, kayaking the Middle Fork Salmon River, Idaho.

#2 Encourage His Interests

My wife and I introduced our children to dayhiking and backpacking, skiing, rock climbing, and paddling on easier rivers and protected bays, with the occasional whitewater rafting adventure. Then our son, at age 12, decided on his own to take up whitewater kayaking. We have sent him every summer since to a four-day whitewater kayaking camp near our home, where he has developed into a competent, young boater.

Most importantly, he loves it and he’s learning how to do it safely. But by encouraging his new interest, we have not only given him the freedom to embrace the outdoors in his way, we’ve also reaped the benefits of having someone in our family who wants to expand our horizons. Our family now does much more whitewater kayaking (our son in his hard-shell boat, the rest of us in inflatable kayaks), including rafting and kayaking one of the West’s classic wilderness rivers, Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon.


Riley Hayes in Peek-a-Boo Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

Riley Hayes in Peek-a-Boo Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

#3 Do Something Really Cool

On a two-family, spring break trip to southern Utah, the parents wanted to take some scenic dayhikes in places like Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks—which the four youths deemed “boring.” But when the other dad and I took them on a three-hour, late-afternoon hike through the slot canyons Peek-a-Boo Gulch and Spooky Gulch in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, squeezing between wildly curved walls frequently closer than shoulder-width apart, all we heard from them was laughter and expressions of awe.

Some places and experiences are so fascinating and fun that even teens can’t find a reason to complain. It may require a little research, but surprise your teenager with activities and destinations that will excite him—or perhaps even better, ask your kid to help you find those things.

See my story “10 Really Cool Outdoor Adventures With Kids.”


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to get email updates about new stories and gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this post, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.


My son, Nate, and me in Idaho's White Cloud Mountains.

My son, Nate, and me in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains.

#4 Pick a Shared Goal

When I went to our then-15-year-old son with a proposal that he and I climb a technical route up the highest peak in the Lower 48 states, California’s 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, to raise money for an organization that introduces kids his age to the outdoors, he loved the idea.

As a field editor with Backpacker magazine, I participated in two of the first Summit For Someone fundraiser mountain climbs for Big City Mountaineers, a non-profit that takes underprivileged, urban teenagers on multi-day wilderness adventures. I believe strongly in the critical importance of BCM’s work in helping to ensure that the generation growing up today sustains America’s outdoors heritage. My son gleaned the importance of helping give opportunities like this to other young people while he and I pursued a big, shared goal together. (One ancillary benefit: Preparing for a rigorous, four-day snow climb up a big mountain helped motivate him to exercise regularly to train for it.)

Whether it’s a mountain climb or something else, find a shared goal that will challenge and excite you and your kid. You may both grow personally from it in ways that surprise you, while opening new doors in your relationship with your child.


My son Nate, 14, my 17-year-old nephew Marco, and his 16-year-old buddy Liam in the Presidential Range.

Nate, 14, Marco, 17, and Liam, 16, in the Presidential Range.

#5 Let Him Bring a Friend

When I invited my 17-year-old nephew, Marco, on what I knew would be an extremely difficult, 17-mile, 6,800-foot dayhike in the rugged Northern Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, he asked about bringing a friend. Marco had done a comparably hard dayhike in the Whites with me the year before, but I didn’t know anything about his friend except that they were soccer teammates. So I got on the phone with that boy’s father, told him about our plans in detail—partly because, as a parent, I’d want to know more about whoever was taking my kid on such a demanding adventure—and he told me why he thought his son would do fine. Although it was a really tough, 15-hour day, ending long after dark, all of the kids—including my son, who was 14—survived without any lasting physical damage, and with a memorable war story to tell.

Letting a teenage son or daughter invite a friend along has long been a staple parenting strategy. It’s no different for outdoor adventures—just a little trickier in that you want to make sure the friend is up to whatever challenges he or she will face.

Even better than finding the one friend who becomes the perfect adventure mate for your child is discovering an entire family that pairs well with your clan—parents and kids. That’s gold.

See my stories “10 Tips For Keeping Kids Happy and Safe Outdoors” and “Are You Ready For That New Outdoors Adventure? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself.”

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9 Responses to 10 Tips For Getting Your Teenager Outdoors With You

  1. Jernej   |  May 15, 2017 at 6:25 am

    Out of curiosity, what do your kids do on a typical day/weekend? Getting them out is more than just occasional hiking in cool remote locations.

    • MichaelALanza   |  May 15, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      Hi Jernej, very good question, and in many respects, my kids (now both young teens) are similar to many of their friends and peers: They spend much of their weekday and weekend time indoors, using their favorite electronic devices, often communicating or playing with their friends (remotely or in person). At their ages, of course, they want to do what their friends are doing. (But my kids also play soccer and participate in other organized activities.)

      That’s where several of the above tips become very relevant, especially encouraging your kid to bring a friend–because if you get their friends interested, you have another force pulling your kid outdoors. I have many times taken my kids’ friends on our trips, and they’ve all had a great time. Once they recognize how much fun they can have outdoors, I find that my kids and their friends will organize their own local mountain bike rides, go skiing together, or kayaking, or to a local climbing gym.

      It’s a constant challenge to get this generation of kids outdoors. I think the way to meet that challenge is to introduce them to activities that excite them at least as much as, or more than what they do indoors.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. billshikingpage   |  April 28, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Great advice! We started when my youngest son was 8 (about the time you can really remember something) and picked a couple of National Parks a year, and the tradition has continued with both my sons even now in their 20s. The “doing something really cool” tip is important, as it can’t all be about hiking and scenic driving … e.g. taking the float trip down from Glen Canyon Dam to Lee’s Ferry in the Grand Canyon, always eating in a really good restaurant at least once per trip and reflecting on what they really liked or what they want to do next time, riding horses in Zion, hiking Half Dome or Cloud’s Rest in Yosemite, mountain biking or kayaking, or sharing park time with big city time, e.g. a baseball game in LA, SF, Seattle or Denver. Another thing to add would be allowing the kids to research and make suggestions about activities. There is more “buy in” when you have skin in the game during the planning process. Planning is extremely important – you want to have things “in the hopper” so you aren’t eating breakfast and the kids are saying, “Can we hang out at the pool?” Always have a list of more than you know you can do, so you have options based on weather conditions, opportunities that come up, etc … We are looking forward to our 2016 trip already!

    • michaellanza   |  April 28, 2016 at 8:55 am

      Hi Bill, thanks for those good suggestions. Since they were very young, we have routinely asked our kids after a trip, “What was your favorite part of it?” It gives all of us an opportunity to think and talk more about some positive aspects of the experience, which I think helps nurture a positive, lasting memory of it.

      • billshikingpage   |  April 28, 2016 at 8:59 am

        Great addition Michael… We even went a little further to put together a post trip report each time, with everyone contributing the superlative categories, e.g. best hike, worst hike, what hike would you want to do next time, best waterfall, best meal, etc. and mom, dad, and each boy filling it in – It’s fun to revisit the list!

  3. michaellanza   |  February 10, 2016 at 9:18 am

    Excellent suggestion, Robert, thanks very much for sharing that.

  4. Robert   |  February 10, 2016 at 8:56 am

    These are great tips!

    And if the parent isn’t particularly outdoors-oriented, consider sending the kids to a summer camp that is. Look specifically for a camp that offers a progression of trips that increase in difficulty. The kids will learn some great skills, and they’ll be surrounded by other outdoor-oriented kids thus making the outdoors the norm. You might have a hard time getting your child out of a sleeping bag (or into one), but when the child’s peers are all shouting, “hey, hurry up, you’ll miss breakfast,” well, nothing short of a drill sergeant is more motivational to a young person.

    I speak from experience. Neither of my parents enjoyed the outdoors beyond the patio or hotel room, but they sent me to camp where I gained a whole new perspective. Since camping wasn’t our family norm, camping to me became almost an act of rebellion, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. And, it’s something I’m passing along to my kids (both camp and camping with the family).

  5. MichaelALanza   |  January 19, 2016 at 7:31 am

    Hi Connie, I’m delighted to hear that, thanks for letting me know. I wish I could attend! If organizers would like to send me 2-3 questions via email before Friday, and read my responses aloud at the events, I’d be happy to do that. Please thank all of the attendees on my behalf for reading my book.

  6. Connie Schmidt   |  January 18, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Your book, Before They’re Gone is being discussed by the River Prairie Group of the Sierra Club next Sunday January 24 and Tuesay January 26 at the Lombard and Warrenville public libraries in Illinois. Thanks so much for your insights and observations on getting into the wild.

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