Get Youth Outside

Meet the Needs of Youth

Youth (people under 18) are getting outside contrary to popular belief [1] and Washington youth are no exception. Most youth are walking, playing at a park, trying new or trending activities, fishing in freshwater, exploring nature, and riding bikes. Other activities of interest to youth are activities in freshwater such as boating and paddling, fishing in saltwater, and target shooting, hiking, outdoor sports, and riding off-road vehicles. [2] The chart below shows the participation rates of youth in 23 outdoor recreation categories as surveyed in 2017.  For a list of the recreation activities under each category in the chart below, click here.

Recreation Activity Percent of Youth Participating
Walking 88%
Leisure in parks 78%
Trending activities 77%
Fishing in freshwater 77%
Nature-based activities 75%
Bicycling 74%
Freshwater-based activities (except swimming) 66%
Target shooting 62%
Hiking 57%
Outdoor sports 57%
Off-road vehicle riding 57%
Fishing in saltwater 53%
Sightseeing 50%
Saltwater-based activities (except swimming) 49%
Swimming 47%
Camping 46%
Hunting and trapping 44%
Snow and ice activities 40%
Harvesting shellfish 10%
Running 9%
Stock or horseback riding 9%
Climbing & mountaineering 7%
Air activities 7%

The rates of participation above are markedly different from those found nationally. Findings by The Outdoor Foundation show much lower participation rates for the ages 6-18.[3] The participation results for youth fishing and hunting are significantly lower in national studies than in Washington State. A study by the United State Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011 found 24 percent of youth ages 5 to 16 went fishing and 4 percent went hunting compared to 77 and 44 percent, respectively, in Washington State.[4] More analysis is needed to understand why youth in Washington State are participating in outdoor recreation at higher rates than nationally.

The Recreation and Conservation Funding Board’s Unifying Strategy will encourage youth activities by through the following actions:

  • Providing funds to Build, Renovate, and Maintain Parks and Trails for youth,
  • Committing to Maintain and Improve the Mapped Inventory of outdoor recreation and conservation land and facilities to know where there are gaps in the parks, trails and conservation land system,
  • Making Changes to the Grant Programs by providing a preference for grant applications located in areas where there is a high Body Mass Index for youth 16 to 19 years old, and
  • Making Changes to the Grant Programs by adopting a sliding scale for matching share requirements in the Youth Athletic Facilities grant program to encourage more projects in communities with low median household incomes.

Partners can also help get youth outside by including the following recommendations in their work.

Provide a variety of activities for youth

Recreation providers and funders can focus resources for youth on the types of activities listed above and recognize the diversity of experiences that youth enjoy. For example, 77 percent of youth participated in some form of trending activities such as adventure racing, technology-based games, metal detecting, zip lines, and skateboarding compared to only 33 percent of the adults. Clearly, new and trending activities are of interest to youth. Responding to these changing interests can be a challenge, but doing so in a way that engages youth is the best approach to get children outside in a world competing for their attention indoors. Activities targeted to underserved populations can improve the availability of opportunities to all youth. For more information on underserved populations, see the priority to Improve Equity.

Build and renovate athletic facilities for youth

More than half of children (57 percent) participate in an outdoor sport. Athletic facilities that serve adults and children will meet the needs of a variety of ages. However, income is a barrier for youth to participate in sports. The majority of youth who participate in sports are from households with income above $100,000 per year which is significantly above the state average.[5] See the Community Athletic Facilities Plan for specific recommendations about athletic facilities.

Support programs for youth

Providing programs directed at the activities youth are interested will have greater success getting them outdoors. Youth programs geared toward walking, enjoying nature, playing, or any other of their top interests from the chart above will attract more youth participation and lay a foundation for them to be active as adults. Being active and staying active is also a goal of the Governor’s Healthiest Next Generation initiative which hopes to increase the percentage of 10th graders with a healthy weight. [6][7]

Technology-based outdoor games is one of the trending activities surveyed which was the third most popular recreation category as shown in the chart above. Technology can be an asset to engage youth in experiencing and exploring the outdoors. Finding ways to connect with youth through social media and mobile applications can engage them in their outdoor experience. Recreation providers can learn through innovative communication strategies such as social media what youth are interested in doing and get them involved.

The State can assist by funding youth focused programs to get them outside. For example, Washington State Parks’ No Child Left Inside grant program funds outdoor education and recreation programs and was an action item in the Governor’s Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation  in 2014.[8][9]Youth programming geared toward environmental education will help foster the next generation of outdoor recreation and conservation leaders. Other ways to support youth programs for outdoor recreation identified by the Governor’s Task Force include:


  • Ensure integration of outdoor recreation into physical education programs in Washington schools, providing teachers with resources to connect an outdoor curriculum to the state-mandated Common Core learning standards.
  • Evaluate and address the extent to which school districts are waiving the state-mandated health curriculum.
  • Establish, market, and promote events for youth—with a particular focus on diverse audiences, minority populations, and ethnic groups—in partnership with State Parks, schools, local parks agencies, and nongovernmental program providers.
  • Offer start-up matching grants or challenge grants for establishing youth outdoor recreation programs or events in all corners of the state, with the goal of getting more kids outside and getting more kids exposed, perhaps for the first time, to the joys of recreating outside.

[1] Larson, Green, Cordell, “Children’s Time Outdoors: Results and Implications of the National Kids Survey” 2011.

[2] Jostad, Schultz, Chase, “Assessment of of Outdoor Recreation Demand Report” 2017.

[3] Outdoor Foundation, “Outdoor Participation Report” 2016.

[4] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation” 2011. fhw11-nat.pdf (

[5] Lee, “7 Charts that Show the State of Youth Sports in the US and Why it Matters” 2015.

[6] WSDOH, “The Healthiest Next Generation Initiative” 2016.

[7] Results Washington Goal, “1.2.Y.b: Increase percentage of 10th graders with healthy weight from 75% in 2012 to 76% by 2019” 2014.

[8] Washington State Parks, “No Child Left Inside Program” 2017.

[9] Recreation Conservation Office, “Governor’s Blue Ribbon Parks & OUtdoor Recreation Task Force | Final Recommendations to Governor Inslee” 2014.

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