Den building is a fantastic activity for all ages. You can do it at any time of year, but autumn is an ideal time to try it as there are lots of fallen leaves and branches to use.

Dens make perfect birdwatching hides, as well as shelters and basecamps for woodland walks. Building a den is also great fun for the whole family and a wonderful way to spend time together. So, head outdoors and follow our top tips to build a den.

Love your woods

Discover our top tips to help you enjoy your visit while protecting precious wildlife.

Before you start

Woods are home to shy animals and fragile plants, so please be considerate with your den building.

If you’re in an ancient woodland, leave den building to the badgers and foxes. Look out for on-site guidance if you're not sure.

Den-building materials

Challenge everyone to gather some natural materials to make your den. Look for leaves and branches that have fallen to the woodland floor, don't break off living branches or damage trees. If you use any unnatural materials such as string or rope, remember to take them home at the end of the day.

You will need:

  • long, straight branches and sticks
  • lots of thin, bendy sticks
  • materials to cover your den, such as dried leaves, twigs and grass.

Steer clear of bracken as it can be home to ticks. These tiny biting creatures can cause illness, so they're best avoided.

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.

Teepee-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. Make sure all the branches are secure – you don't want them slipping.
  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 weatherproof. You could use mud to stick them on.
  5. Scatter a carpet of dried leaves on the floor to make your den extra cosy.

Tent-shaped den

  1. Find two forked trees 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 upright and add your plant materials.

Make a mini den

This activity is a lovely way for very small children to have a go at den building. Simply collect a handful of small sticks and prop them up against a tree trunk or fallen branch to make a mini den. Make the inside of your shelter nice and cosy with some fallen leaves. Now it’s ready for child’s favourite teddies or dolls.

Don't forget to dismantle your den

Before you head home, please remember to take your den down. On your next visit you can have fun building it all over again, or you can experiment with a different design!

Credit: Adam Burton / WTML

Den building has lots of benefits for children of all ages. It gets little brains thinking creatively and solving problems. It encourages youngsters to work together and helps them develop their communication skills. Plus, it’s active play that gets kids moving in the fresh air. So thumbs up all round!

How to build an indoor den

Too wet and cold to go to the woods? Never mind – you can practice your skills by building an indoor hideout instead.

You will need:

  • four sturdy dining chairs
  • 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)


  1. Choose the perfect spot to build you den. It could be 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.

Your indoor den is the perfect place to read stories together, imagine you’re explorers discovering far-off lands, or have an impromptu sleepover.

More woodland activities for families

Family exploring a wood together

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