How to build a den: woodland activities for autumn

Children building a den in the woods
Head into the woods to build a fabulous den. (Photo: Ben Lee/WTML)

Autumn’s a great time to build a den as there are lots of fallen leaves and branches to use. A den makes a perfect birdwatching hide, a basecamp for when you’re out exploring, a shelter from a sudden downpour, and a place to keep the woodland treasures you’ve picked up on your walk. Building one is huge fun too, so let’s get started!

Den-building materials

Build your den with natural materials you find on the woodland floor – don’t break bits off trees and bushes. If you use anything else, such as string or rope, take it home with you afterwards as wildlife could get tangled up in it.

You will need:

  • some long, straight sticks that are fairly strong (if you can’t find enough thick sticks, you could tie some thinner ones together to make a bundle)
  • lots of thin, bendy sticks
  • materials to cover your den, such as dried leaves, twigs, grass and moss
Child holding sticks and leaves
You'll need to gather sticks and leaves to make your den. (Photo: Jill Jennings/WTML)

How to build your den

Coming up with your own den design is part of the fun, but here are a couple of simple ideas to get you started.

Tepee-style den

  1. Find a tree with a fork in the branches that’s quite low down.
  2. Make a frame by propping some long, straight sticks in the fork and fanning them out. Don’t forget to leave a gap big enough to get in and out!
  3. Weave bendy sticks in and out of the upright sticks to make the walls. Leave a gap at head height for a window.
  4. Cover your den with natural materials so it’s camouflaged and waterproof. You could use mud to stick them on.
  5. Scatter a carpet of dry leaves on the floor.
Two girls carrying a branch to build a den
Use a sturdy tree to support your den. (Photo: Ben Lee/WTML)

Tent-shaped den

  1. Find two forked trees, or other things such as tree stumps, that are close together and place a long stick between them.
  2. Prop a row of sticks against it on each side so you end up with a tent shape.
  3. Weave your bendy sticks in and out of the uprights and add your plant materials.

A den makes a great hide for watching wildlife and birds, so don’t forget to take along our woodland birds spotter to help you identify them.

Large den made from branches in the woods
This super den was made out of lots of fallen branches. (Photo: Judith Parry/WTML)

Make a mini den

If you don’t have time to make a full-size den, then why not make a small one for your toys? Have a go at our mini den or elf house activities.

A child sitting next to a mini woodland den
Have a go at building a small den for your teddies. (Photo: Dan Lee/WTML)

Build an indoor den

Too wet and cold to go to the woods? Never mind – you can build an indoor hideout instead.

You will need:

  • four sturdy dining chairs (if you have more, you could make a bigger den)
  • a large sheet and some blankets
  • comfy furnishings, such as cushions, pillows and maybe a duvet
  • some heavy books
  • battery-operated string lights and a few clothes pegs (optional).

 Instructions:

  1. Find a space for your den that’s not in other people’s way – check with your grown-up first. You could build it up against a wall or the back of the sofa.
  2. Place two chairs on each side with the backs facing inwards – these will form the side walls. Hang blankets over the chair backs.
  3. Drape a sheet over the top to make the roof and put some books on the chair seats to hold it in place.
  4. Put a blanket or duvet on the floor and arrange cushions or pillows around the sides. To make it magical, and super-cosy, decorate with string lights, using the pegs to attach them.

Don’t forget a stash of your favourite snacks, and some Nature Detectives activities to keep you occupied. Halloween and Bonfire Night are coming up so why not try your hand at some delightfully dark art, or perhaps some conker crafts? We have lots of colouring pages too. You could keep to the seasonal theme with some autumn trees, or a spooky bat.

We’d love to see some pics of the amazing dens you’ve built so remember to tag them with #NatureDetectives.

Want to receive lots more fab activity ideas, in the post as well as online? Then  sign up for Woodland Trust family membership and explore nature together.

What are your top den building tips?

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