Father and son observing nature in forest location .

Father and son observing nature in forest location . (Mike Harrington, Taxi photo via Getty Images)

Bug spray, sunblock, sunglasses.

Matches (in case you get lost or stuck and need to make a small fire for warmth).

Fun extras

If you have the space, add these unessential items to your pack for on-the-trail activities.

Magnifying glass for getting a closer look at interesting bugs, mosses, and rocks.

Spray bottle. Fill it with water and use it to mist spider webs, making them easier to examine. Spray rocks to see if they become more colorful. Turn the sprayer on yourselves if you're in need of cooling off.

Games to play along the way

A simple game can rejuvenate hikers and head off boredom at the pass.

Hold a sensory scavenger hunt that'll encourage your kids to focus on their surroundings. Instead of giving them a list of items, ask them to find something that's lumpy, orange, smooth, rough, sticky, cold and so on.

Play classic car games as you walk, such as 20 questions or "I'm going on a hike." For the latter, one person says, "I'm going on a hike, and I'm bringing _________" (filling in the blank with something that begins with the letter A). The next person repeats what the first person said but adds an item that begins with B: "I'm going on a hike, and I'm bringing applesauce and brownies." The next person adds something that begins with C, and so on.

Remind kids to stay on marked trails by making it a game. Who can spot the trail blazes — those dots of paint or plastic markers affixed to tree trunks — first?

Take turns being the leader. The rest of the family has to follow the leader's movements as closely as possible. If he skips while flapping his arms, you do the same.

Clear packing tape. Loop a tape "bracelet" around your child's wrist, sticky side out. She can adhere leaves and other lightweight nature finds to it as she walks. (Note: Some parks have a strict "leave what you find" policy. Don't play this game if so.)

Crayons and paper for making rubbings of tree bark and rocks.

There's an app for maps

Like us, trail master John McKinney (author of "Hiking With Kids") hopes you'll be "unplugged" during your hike. That said, he recommends a few smartphone apps to enhance the experience.

The websites trails.com (and free iPhone app) and alltrails.com (free iPhone and Android apps) offer the two most comprehensive collections of trail descriptions and maps. Their latest apps offer hiking distance, elevation gain, GPS locations and weather conditions.

Maplets (iPhone, $3) allows you to download thousands of maps — not just of parks but also of cities, theme parks, subways and more. Some maps are GPS-tagged so that you can see your current location.

These other apps can help you learn as you explore.

Find out who shared your trail with MyNature Animal Tracks (iPhone and Android, $7).

Name that blossom with Audubon Wildflowers (iPhone and Android, $5).

Meet the flockers (or at least identify them) with WildLab Bird (iPhone, free).

For hikes on clear nights, find stars and planets with Sky Map (Android, free) or Star Walk (iPhone, $3).

When you get home

Back at home, write down the name, date and location of your hike in a special notebook. Ask everyone to add what they liked and didn't like about the trail. Invite them to include drawings or any other observations. Your Explorer's Log will serve as both a journal and a handy reference for future adventures.