Challenging yourself on an outdoor adventure and overcoming fears, be they of heights, injury or humiliation, is an important rite of passage for older children and teenagers, and a great way to boost self-confidence and resilience. And with many school activity trips cancelled for the second year running, here are some ideas for parents looking to plug that gap off their own back. The kind of transformative experiences kids can only have when they get out into the elements and leave their bedrooms and comfort zones behind.
Hiking up Helvellyn in the Lake District
At 950m, Helvellyn is one of the highest mountains in the Lake District, and one of the most exhilarating to hike up. It has a mythic status among the hillwalking community thanks to its dramatic scenery, rocky terrain and narrow glaciated edges including Striding Edge, a thrilling ridge walk, which is sure to focus and excite young minds. You don’t need specialist equipment beyond hiking boots to climb Helvellyn, but unless you’re an experienced local, you shouldn’t take children up here without a guide, as the weather can change quickly, and some sections of the route are exposed. Everyone in the group needs to be comfortable walking for six hours, but if you want to build up to this level or avoid the ridge walk, Ambleside Adventure suggest Skiddaw, the fourth-highest mountain in the Lakes as an excellent alternative challenge.
Recommended age: 11+ (or 8+ with a private guide), £40 per person, amblesideadventure.co.uk
Bikepacking the Elan Valley
This remote bikepacking trip around the picturesque Elan Valley and Cambrian Mountains in mid-Wales is the ultimate way to nurture a sense of adventure in teenage cyclists, while also encouraging self-sufficiency, as you’ll set out carrying everything you need for the two-day trip. Roam will provide you with lightweight camping kit and gravel bikes, which are essentially road bikes with chunkier tyres and lower gears, allowing you to ride on all range of non-tarmac surfaces, and into truly wild areas that would have been previously inaccessible to cyclists. This trip is self-guided using pre-loaded GPS devices, but Roam are on hand for assistance if you need. And while the distances aren’t huge for regular cyclists, averaging 28 miles per day, they include some gradual climbs, and riders should be happy spending 3-5 hours in the saddle each day.
Recommended age: 18+ (or 14+ for fit, seasoned cyclists), £185 per person for two days including gravel bike hire, frame, saddle and bar bags, lightweight camping kit, and GPS, roambikepacking.co.uk
Paddleboarding on the River Dee, Aberdeenshire
Once your teenagers have mastered the basics of paddleboarding and are looking for a more exciting experience than simply pootling around a gentle lake, this tour of the majestic, fast-flowing River Dee is a great option. Depending on the standard of the group and the seasonal conditions, Stonehaven Paddle Boarding can tailor the tour to include negotiating hardcore sections of the river, involving rapids of varying difficulties. Kids will learn advanced paddling techniques, how to read different river and weather conditions and safety skills in the water. They can also organise more relaxed paddles along the river, though first-timers must still complete a beginner lesson first or have prior experience of standup paddling.
Recommended age: 14+, £50 adults, £40 kids, shpb.co.uk
Via ferrata in North Yorkshire
The How Stean gorgein the Yorkshire Dales boasts one of the only via ferrata routes in the UK, that is climbing while clipped in to a permanent safety wire. The challenge for kids is to silence any rumblings of vertigo and scale the cliffs of the gorge using the aerial network of metal beams, ladders and cables set into the rocks, while the river churns below. A buddy system encourages them to work together with a fellow adventurer. At the mid-point, they’ll need to brave an abseil off the bridge, which takes them back down to the high-wire course, which they’ll then do in reverse. For speedy climbers, there is also the option of an extra top rope climbing session at the end.
Children must be above 4ft 6in, £65 per person, howstean.co.uk
Sea kayaking and wild camping in south Devon
Teenagers don’t need any previous experience of kayaking to come on this overnight wild camping trip with Reach Outdoors, but they do need a decent level of fitness and upbeat approach to adventure, which includes being prepared for a lack of home comforts and unpredictable British weather. The rewards more than make up for it, as you’ll get the chance to see south Devon’s stunning coastline from an entirely fresh perspective, exploring sea caves and spotting wildlife, including seals and potentially porpoise and dolphin. At night, you’ll pitch up at a secluded camp and enjoy a nourishing meal cooked on an open fire, before a gentle paddle back to base the next day.
Recommended age: 14+, £180 per person, reach-outdoors.com
Caving adventure in Dartmoor
Heading deep underground and moving through ancient cave systems by torchlight is a surefire way to spark imaginations of all ages. Crag 2 Mountain runs caving adventure tasters in Dartmoor, which include a mix of big, open caverns and more challenging narrow sections for those who wish to test themselves. For teenagers with caving experience, who want an even more adrenaline-packed session, the company offers tailored private tours. Experienced instructors are on hand to ensure safety and talk about the geology and history of this unique underworld. Crag 2 Mountain also runs family orienteering courses for those who prefer to do their navigating above ground.
Recommended age: all ages, £17.50 per person (or £150 for a bespoke private group of four), crag2mountain.co.uk
Guided sea swimming in Anglesey
The physical and mental benefits of outdoor swimming are well known, but unless you’re a confident swimmer it can be daunting to take kids on an extended sea swim, especially in a new place you’re unfamiliar with. Anglesey Outdoors solve that problem by offering guided sea swims with local RNLI-trained instructors around the island’s beautiful coves and beaches. During the swim, the guides will pass on tips about choosing safe swimming spots and how to manage risks in the water, along with advice on good open water swimming technique. They will also point out the coastline’s diverse wildlife. Swimmers will go at their own pace, and distances can be tailored to individual requests. The location for each day’s swim is chosen according to the tide and sea conditions.
Requirements: kids must be able to swim 50m, £30 per person, half-day including wetsuit hire, angleseyactivities.co.uk
Mountain biking in County Down
Castlewellan Forest Park is one of the best places to go mountain biking in Northern Ireland, especially if you have kids or teenagers who want to develop their skills and take their bike handling to the next level. Trails include a 4.5km blue route, which runs gently through woodland on single-track (narrow trails) with some fun rollers (humps) and panoramic views along the way. While the 19km red trail has a relatively mellow start, but then a choice of challenging descents, including two heart-racing black options for more advanced riders. Younger kids will love racing loops of the pump track, and the easy 4km green trail, which is good for building up bike confidence and fitness.
Recommended age: all ages, trail pass is £2, bike hire from £25 per three-hour session, mountainbikeni.com
Surfing green waves in Pembrokeshire
For kids who’ve nailed surfing the whitewater and can confidently stand up on most of the breakers they catch, the next stage is learning how to surf unbroken green waves. The Outer Reef Surf School in Pembrokeshire run improver courses for intermediate kids and teenagers in small groups of up to six, who are looking to push themselves to that next level. Alongside tips for catching bigger and better waves, lessons include paddle technique and ocean confidence, how to fall safely and handle your board in different situations, and all-round advice on beach safety. Lesson locations include Freshwater West, Manorbier, Broad Haven and Newgale, dependent on the group level and conditions.
Recommended age: 10+ (depending on surf experience), £45 per person, Outer Reef Surf School, outerreefsurfschool.com
Cycling from Roker Beach, Sunderland to Beamish and back