By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor
2020 was a bear of a year, but one of its few silver linings is that so many people rediscovered – or found for the first time – a love of the outdoors. While some in the industry were upset by the increased participation in outdoor activities in 2020, I think the downsides we saw (massive crowds, trash, litter, and general disrespect of public land) paled in comparison to the benefits. More people who love the outdoors means that we have more potential advocates for conservation, and advocates for various outdoor sports in general.
In order to maintain that groundswell of newcomers to the outdoors, I reckon it’s imperative to continually find and share new outdoor activities that involve the entire family. It’s one thing if mom goes fly fishing by herself on Saturday, or dad goes rock climbing. That’s been the bulk of the outdoors world for years.
If we can get families involved, though – well, I think the potential benefits are endless. For one, families who recreate together stay together, and in an increasingly unsettled world, families are more important than ever. And imagine the power entire families will have when lobbying for conservation efforts. Instead of a bunch of old guys arguing that they should still be able to hunt the same fields they’ve hunted for the past 50 years, you’d have voices of everyone from young rock hounds to parents who’ve realized that the best education their kids can get is the one Mother Nature offers.
The following outdoor activities I’ve listed are intended to be ideas for what you can do with your family in 2021. It’s by no means exhaustive, and while these activities aren’t new, they’re probably new to your family.
My buddy Hyrum Weaver (@highonthefly_official on Instagram) recently took his whole family on a geode hunting trip out in Utah’s West Desert.
Geodes, for those who don’t know, are rocks that are mostly hollow, and filled with some sort of crystal. Often that crystal is quartz, but sometimes you’ll find agate in them.
Hunting for geodes is actually pretty easy, and I’m surprised that I’ve never done it. You’re looking for round rocks that resemble a cauliflower, but covered in dust. And if you do some research beforehand, you can find sites where geodes are readily available. That’s why my buddy Hyrum did, and his kids came home with buckets full of the rocks.
This is an activity that’s available from California all the way to Iowa. A quick Google search should tell you if geode hunting is available in your state. If not, you can at least use the opportunity to go rock hunting.
Another friend of mine is a dentist in Alaska. He’s a fantastic photographer, and gets some outstanding shots from his kayak while floating lakes around the Fairbanks area. As his kids have gotten older, this friend has started taking them out with him. It’s to the point now that all the kids have a kayak, can paddle around a lake, and feel confident in their ability to navigate on the water. Seeing kids with confidence like that is a wonderful thing.
You don’t have to live in a place like Alaska to enjoy kayaking, though. Here in Utah, kayaking seems to be the new paddleboarding, and everyone’s doing it. Kayaks can be expensive to buy outright, but they’re not too costly to rent. Go to the nearest state park or lake by your home, and you’ll probably find some for rent. This can be really fun if your kids are old enough to run in their own kayak.
And, if you have any kids who love fishing, they can fish from their kayaks while out with the family.
Wilderness Survival Trips
Depending on how adventurous you and your clan are, a wilderness survival trip is something that could quickly turn into a family favorite activity.
Essentially, the idea is that you pick an area you’re all familiar with, and go spend a night with the absolute bare minimum in gear and supplies. I did this growing up with my friends, and we had a blast. We’d leave home with a match, a couple of eggs, and an orange, and we’d have to figure out how to survive the night. We built lean-tos, fried eggs on rocks, and quickly learned the value of making a one-match fire.
Obviously, you can modify this for your family’s skill level. It’s not a good idea, for example, to try this if you’ve never really spent a ton of time in the outdoors. But if you’re up for something challenging, it can be fun to work together as a family to make it through the night. Some of the kids can be charged with finding firewood, others with building a shelter, and mom and dad can try to make sure everyone keeps their fingers. This is one of the more ambitious outdoor activities you can try this year, but it has a huge payoff, too.
Learn Fly Tying
Tying flies is something that we regard as exclusively for fly anglers, but that does it a disservice. My niece, when she was eight, used to sit on my lap for hours and watch me tie flies. My mother-in-law, grandma, and wife all love to watch me tie, and I’m always surprised at how much fun they have when they take a turn behind the vise.
I recommend this because it’s something just about everyone in the family can learn to do, and you can actually make some money doing it. Selling your flies to local fly shops or angling clubs won’t bring in tons of money, but it could generate enough to take everyone to a really nice dinner once a month.
And, tying flies is fun. If eight-year-old girls can have a blast doing it, then so can anyone. Fly tying is also one of the only outdoor activities that you actually do inside, come to think of it. Maybe that’s why so many different kinds of people love it.
Learn to Forage
One aspect of my outdoors knowledge that’s severely lacking is in foraging. It just wasn’t ever a big deal here in my part of the Rockies, although I know plenty of folks who grew up here that can find edible plants, roots, and mushrooms without much effort. At this point, I can find and eat fresh raspberries when fishing up in the high country, but that’s about it.
Foraging has a ton of obvious benefits. You’ll learn a ton about the environment immediately surrounding you, what kind of plants, trees, and animals are native to your area, and how to find various food items that are actually pretty tasty. I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms, but I know folks who value a wild morel over just about any other cooking item.
As we move into 2021, don’t let the fun you had outside last year dissipate. Keep it nurtured throughout the whole family by just getting out and doing something. Time spent together is never time wasted, after all. My earliest memory is of my dad and I fly fishing together when I was just six years old. That event obviously shaped me in more ways than I – or my dad – expected.
You don’t need to be a modern-day Daniel Boone to have fun outside. Don’t worry about being an expert, and just enjoy learning alongside each other. One of my favorite parts of being a fishing guide is watching folks light up when they catch a fish, or finally figure out the timing of a fly cast. You’re never too old to learn something new, and the stuff you learn outside is the stuff that sticks with you longer than any trip to Disneyland – which we can’t visit right now, anyways.
Spencer Durrant is a fishing writer and guide from Utah. He’s the Lead Guide at the Utah Fly Fishing Company, the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a columnist for Hatch Magazine. Follow him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.