Backyard Nature Activities: Unnature Trail

This activity is taught in Hike NS’s Re-Connecting with Nature workshop offered each year in locations throughout the province. This is a one-day, hands-on workshop for adults held mostly outdoors to improve your ability to lead and share an appreciation and understanding of nature with children and youth. We plan to have a schedule available in late June for workshops hopefully scheduled in the fall, if possible.

Unnature Trail

Synopsis: This game challenges participants to look closely at their surroundings, distinguishing human-made objects from a natural setting. This is the formal version but it can be done much more informally.

Set Up and Props: Look for a trail going through an area with trees of various sizes, leaf litter, rotting logs and other plants. Mark the beginning and end of a 20- to 30-meter section of the trail (make sure it is wide enough for two people to pass). Ahead of time, secretly place 16 to 20 human-made objects along one side of the trail. Some of these should stand out (e.g., brightly colored balloons or fluorescent pink cockroaches). Others should blend with surroundings (e.g., rubber bands or clothespins). Keep the number of objects you have planted a secret.

Source: Adapted from Sharing Nature®: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages by Joseph Cornell.


1. Trail Walk: Have the kids walk the trail one at a time, trying to spot as many objects as they can. They are to remain quiet and not pick up the objects or point them out to others. Have them whisper in your ear how many objects they saw. 

2. Repeat Trail Walk: Tell each child the total number of objects, and have each walk the trail again, trying to find more. Total “looking” time can range from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the age and attention span. 

3. Group Object Collection: After two rounds, go to one end of the trail and have the participants tell you where the objects are, picking them all up as you go. Discuss how camouflage and coloration helps animals hide in the woods. They can then go on a search for small camouflaged animals (insects, spiders, etc.) if they choose. 

Early Childhood Adaptation: “What would the gnomes do with garbage in the forest? They need help to collect it and put it where it belongs, in the recycling or the garbage!” Take along a clear bag and a blue bag. Make sure the children are not picking up anything that could cut them. Pre-plant small, med and large items to be found on the trail ahead of time. Plant 10 objects and get the children to make fist out of their hands. They raise a finger out of their fist for each object they find until they have all fingers extended.

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