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Identifying Trees

Identifying trees makes us look closer at the elements that make each one unique — from the shape of its leaves to the texture of its bark.


If you’re going out into the woods, be sure to wear the right clothing and shoes, and bring water and snacks.


Don’t take home any leaves or bark unless you’ve made sure that that’s allowed by the park ranger.


Instead, draw sketches of the bark and leaves. What’s the texture of the bark? Is it ridged, smooth, or something else? What about the leaves — are they flat or do they have needles?


An easy way to distinguish between trees is by looking at the branching. If the leaves on each side of the branch grow directly opposite each other, it’s probably a maple, dogwood, ash, or chestnut tree. This is called “opposite branching” as opposed to “alternate branching” that occurs in most other types of trees.


When you get home, try using this resource to start using tree parts to identify the tree you saw.

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Exploration Ideas

  • Create a leaf or bark rubbing

    Get out some crayons, colored pencils, or pens. Place a leaf on a hard surface, put a piece of paper over it, and rub the crayon, pencil, or pen across the paper. Hold the paper up against the side of a tree to make a rubbing of the bark.

  • Discover your state tree

    When you get home, have your kids search online for your state tree. For instance, if you live in Georgia, your state tree might be the live oak. Learn about the tree by looking it up in a field guide (if you have one). Why do you think that tree was chosen?

What to Bring

  • Plenty of water, even for short hikes — a gallon per person per day is a good guide
  • Snacks such as fruit or trail mix and empty bags to collect any garbage
  • Sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Warm layers and a lightweight rain jacket
  • Travel size first aid kit
  • Map of the area you’ll be exploring and your emergency contact numbers
  • A small flashlight and batteries


Safety Tips

  • Before you get on the trail make sure you have the local Forest Service Ranger District’s or Supervisor’s Office phone number with you. If someone gets hurt this should be the first number you call.
  • Always let someone know where you're going and what time you expect to be back.
  • Avoid going if a thunderstorm is in the forecast. Seek shelter in a car or house if you’re caught in a thunderstorm. If you're caught outside, the safest place to be is crouching in a cluster of trees — not in a clearing, out on water, or next to a lone tree.
  • Be mindful of the sun. Use sunscreen, seek shade, and drink plenty of water — even in the winter.
  • Animals have their own natural food supply so please don’t feed them.
  • Fruits and mushrooms can look tasty, but some are poisonous. To be safe, do not eat anything you find growing in the forest.
  • Railroad tracks are for trains only. Keep to the side and stay off the tracks.
  • Set a turnaround time when heading out that gives you plenty of time to get back before it gets dark. Expect to spend at least the same amount of time hiking back as you did hiking out.
  • Bring a small flashlight or another source of light with you if you'll be out close to sunset.
  • Remember to be mindful of cars when you’re in a park near a road. Wear bright colors for extra visibility.