Exploring Abandoned Places | Thoughts for parents with little kids

I’m taking a little break from editing the novel right now. It’s been months since I started the project, and a few day’s rest will help reenergize my redactive neurons. In the meantime, Ryan and I have been getting out with the kids a whole lot. Specifically, we’ve been exploring abandoned places.

Exploring abandoned places is a pretty popular hobby these days. I mean, check it out: even big publications like Insider have articles about it. Some people like the creep factor, some like the history behind the location, or both. So as we flock to the overrun and decaying, and those of us adventuring with little kids in tow have a few more things to consider as we get off the beaten path.

Who doesn’t love places that are falling apart?

For years I didn’t even realize my attraction to abandoned places. Growing up, it was just “something you do.”

As a little kid, I spent my days running amok in our neighborhood, which happened to be a retired Canadian Airforce base in the thick of the Laurentien mountains. The houses and streets were fully functional, duplexes situated in an organized pattern on rolling hills. And the outskirts of our little suburb was bordered by buildings that were left to the elements.

Up on the hill was the abandoned medical clinic. Down the hill was the entertainment center — boasting a bowling alley, indoor swimming pool, and theatre. And if you were really in the mood for a hike, across the highway, and up the mountain was the radio tower, sporting a massive radome and everything.

Needless to say, I got grounded quite a few times for being in places I shouldn’t have been.

Now all grown up, my attraction to exploring abandoned places is full-fledged. Given me and my husband’s enjoyment of creepy things (remember the rocking horse graveyard?), and Ryan’s photography habit, we’re more than willing to troll around castaway locations. And because we’re parents, we bring the kids everywhere.

Like any endeavor, there are safety tips for exploring abandoned places

Just like safety tips for hiking, there are a few things to consider when exploring abandoned places, especially when you are bringing the kids. Whether you are staying local or hitting up something on your next family vacation, these are just a few suggestions to keep your experience positive.

Say please first

If the place you want to visit is on private property, be polite and ask first. I myself have been tempted to take a quick look, but there are several good reasons NOT to do that. Just like how you’re teaching your kids, be respectful of other people’s property.

If you’re not sure who to ask, maybe do some research and stick to exploring abandoned places that are open to the public.

Keep structural integrity in mind

It stands to reason this is a non-issue for places that are open to the public because they are occasionally inspected. But if you have permission to muck around Farmer Joe’s old barn on the back forty, take an extra minute to consider structural integrity. Decks, railings, floors, ceilings, any nook or cranny your little people might squeeze their tiny bodies into. If it looks questionable, don’t go in.

Watch out for debris

Lots and lots of debris. Old buildings tend to be riddled with broken glass, exposed wires, peeling paint, and just general trash. Depending on the age of your kiddos, you might have to keep an extra sharp eye on them.

Ryan and I tag-team this. While he is exploring and taking a few pictures, I watch the kids. When he’s done, we switch off so I can have a go.

Frankly, even at three, Zoom is pretty good about not touching dangerous things. Speedy, on the other hand, usually stays in the hiking backpack.

Animals like exploring abandoned places, too

Recently we were exploring a set of abandoned train cars when a bird flew from its perch near the ceiling next to our heads. It was physically harmless, but it startled Zoom and it took a few moments to calm him down again.

I’d say it’s rare to run across wildlife, but it can happen. Especially if the place you are exploring doesn’t get much human traffic, critters might make it their home. Again, just be mindful and avoid compromising situations. Keeping up a steady level of noise — or using accessories like a bear bell — will help prevent startling unsuspecting fauna.


Pretty self-explanatory — there will be graffiti all over the place, and it can be quite unsavory. Depending on how well your kids can read, be ready to explain the messages when they have questions.

Unsavory characters

True to their nature, abandoned places are often remote and away from prying eyes. This means you might come across people who are seeking the same reclusiveness. Most of the time this is harmless, but when your little kids are in tow it is worth taking off the rose-colored glasses and being extra aware.

Ryan and I had an eye-opening experience when we were exploring those train cars I mentioned. While the kids and I were still near the entrance, Ryan was on the opposite end of the car when he happened upon a couple engaging in some (ahem) extracurricular actives.

Thankfully the noise we made upon entry alerted the couple and they quickly left. However, the situation could have been much tenser if tempers had flared.

Now in our experience, this sort of thing is rare. But we decided it was something we would consider in the future, and we would be a bit pickier about the kind of abandoned places we explore with the kids.

Is exploring abandoned places a safe family activity

I might be a little biased, but yes! Especially if you have the bug for the decaying and forgotten. With a little planning, it can be a positive experience that sparks curiosity and creativity.

Have a favorite abandoned place to visit? Comment below!

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