Hiking with kids sounds like a daunting task, but it can be done! Whether you’re hiking up to the top of a mountain or just around your neighborhood, we’ve got some tips and recommendations for how to do it right.
As parents, we often want to protect our children from all the dangers and unknowns of life. But sometimes it’s important for them to experience those things firsthand so that they can learn how to overcome whatever obstacles may arise in their future lives. For many families hiking with kids is an opportunity for family outings where kids learn new skills like map reading or compass use while exploring the natural world together as well as marking off another adventure on their list!
There’s more to hiking than just packing up a backpack and going. It is a quality family time first of all. Before setting off, let’s talk about the basics of getting hiking with kids for an enjoyable outdoor experience that will leave you feeling refreshed after spending time in nature together.
A successful hiking trip requires a little more planning when you have little ones. These are some suggestions and best tips.
Table of Contents
- 1 Choose kids-friendly trails
- 2 Dress for success
- 3 Pack your stuff!
- 4 Safety the first
- 5 Slow down
- 6 Set Goals
- 7 Give them some duties
- 8 Bring some additional hiking gear with you
- 9 Invite your friends with you
- 10 Stay positive
Choose kids-friendly trails
Before you head out, think about your trail options. There are many excellent online resources for finding hikes suitable for kids in your area – travel blogs, other parents who have done hiking wirh kids. Consider a trail with many rocks, logs bridges creeks, boardwalks, and bridges. Trail with small elevation gain will be easier for kids hiking. For kids, it will be much more exciting to find trails that they can climb on or play on. It can spark their imagination and turn a walk in a wooded area into a trip on a pirate vessel through the waterways.
Walking on a road of dirt is boring. It is more fun to follow a narrow path. You can make your trail even more interesting by including dead trees or boulders for kids to climb on.
Water is wonderful. Hiking near rivers or lakes or alongside an ocean gives kids a target at which to throw rocks. They can collect sticks and pretend that they are fishing (or bring rods to catch fish for real), then dip their toes into the water and let their bodies cool down. Let the natural world interest them. You can find animal tracks and bones. Point out interesting plants, birds, etc. All these easy ideas will keep the small kids occupied for the long way.
You can keep older kids interested by the rapid changes in the environment. You can remind them about the upcoming river crossings, or ask them to look for a specific tree species in that area.
Dress for success
Before you head out the door, be sure to check the weather conditions. Kids tend to get colder than adults when they get wet. You should always have an extra set of warm clothes on hand.
This is not surprising, but it’s important to ensure that everyone has the proper clothing and gear when hiking with children. Shoes that are solid and close-toed are the foundation for success. Kids need shoes that fit well, feel comfortable, and protect their toes against rocks and stings. Waterproof shoes are a bonus, as your child can go walking in shallow creeks or puddles with no worries. This is a crucial piece of footwear that you should not skimp on. You will be complaining about blisters or sore feet long before you reach the trailhead.
Be sure to wear layers on your kids, beyond boots. This will allow you to adjust for temperature changes and other conditions. Mornings can be cold even in summer. Synthetic fabrics work best since they dry quickly. Accessory items such as scarves, sunglasses, and sun hats protect sensitive skin from the weather.
Pack your stuff!
It’s time for packing up. Make sure your backpacks have enough snacks and water, and you are adequately prepared to take the kids outside for at least one day.
It is just as important for everyone to drink water regularly. It’s a good idea to check in with your family once in a while and ask them when the last time they had a large drink was. Also, bring sunscreen and bug repellent, as well as emergency whistles. If you have pets, consider letting your kids bring their favorite pet for hiking. This will make them feel more confident about going on a hike. Give your young children over 3 a small backpack to store their snacks and supplies. They can carry it themselves.
Your comfort is very important as well. Test your gear before you set out on your hike. By doing this, you can adjust your gear in advance to make it comfortable.
Safety the first
Safety should be your number one priority once you’re out there. It all starts with having a complete first aid kit. A trip can be cut short by having a well-stocked first aid kit. There are a few things that you should always have on hand: bandages, children’s ibuprofen and bite and pain relief.
When children are near potentially hazardous natural features, such as waterfalls or cliffs (or lakes or waterfalls), it’s important to be extra vigilant. Teach kids to keep next to you and stay on the trail at ALL times.
It is important that children are taught how to handle wildlife. Everyone, especially kids, should stay at least 25 yards away from animals like bison, elk, and deer and 100 yards away from bears and wolves. Also, teach your children not to shout or throw things at wildlife. However, you should treat them with respect and keep a safe distance. Never feed wild animals (including birds and squirrels)! When kids are near areas that bear and mountain lions live, it is important to keep them in arms reach.
It is important to ensure your first-aid kit is suitable for children. Some sunscreens and insect repellents included in first-aid kits are too harsh to be applied to children’s faces. These are great items to add to your first-aid kit:
- Sunscreen for children
- Children’s Tylenol for children and/or ibuprofen. Ask your doctor to get sample packs.
- Liquid antihistamine
- There are many types of adhesive bandages available, in many different sizes and colors.
- Calamine lotion for bites
- Tweezer to remove splinters.
- Lots of anti-bacterial wipes
- Moleskin for blisters
- Epipen to use if your child is allergic
Perhaps you are concerned only about reaching to Point B. Point B could be a peak or a viewpoint that’s exactly 2.5 miles from Point A. Most kids don’t care. Try to relax and enjoy the journey. Relax while you slow down.
Some kids need more than snacks. Encourage a sense of adventure and learning in this case. Pocketed vests can be used to store small treasures such as fallen leaves, magnifying glass, snacks and other items to help them identify bugs or plants. Play nature bingo while you hike. You will find animal tracks, bird holes, different kinds of trees, and colorful flowers.
Do not be afraid to slow down and have a rest so that children can explore. Make the time to be your friend. Let kids stop to look at the bug, climb up the stump, and let them explore. National parks make learning outdoors easy.
Be flexible and patient and your family hikes will be much more enjoyable!
Most kids enjoy reaching the summit, especially for their age. This desire is exactly what I’m using as leverage. Everything that is remotely exercise-related serves our goal. It has so far motivated my two kids to walk, run ahead, or ride their bikes more than usual.
Give them some duties
Your children should be able to use their own pocketknives once they are a bit older. It is important to be clear about your rules and teach the kids how to use the knife. Once they are comfortable with you, let them use the knife for cutting wood, making salami, and carrying it around on camping trips. When it is time for the fire to be lit, ask them to gather some kindling. As I said earlier, if your child has a dog, you can bring it along with you. Let the dog be leashed for a few minutes. Anything you can do for a child’s safety and development while hiking (and other activities) is beneficial.
Bring some additional hiking gear with you
Consider taking some additional hiking gear that may make your family hiking even more interesting and special.
For example, a bike if the trail permits it. Balance bikes are the option for small kids on smooth paths. The bikes allow the children to go faster than us, and they love it. But remember this great idea may not work out as planned and sometimes you will have to bring both a baby and a bike. However, most bikes are a hit.
Hiking sticks! Sticks are very popular with kids. It doesn’t really matter what size stick you have, how old or young your kid is, it doesn’t seem to matter. If you don’t have trekking sticks, most children will be content with a long-handled stick they can use to walk.
Toys such as dolls to pull in wagons, on sleds or on wheels, umbrellas, field guides, field books, jars for treasure hunting, and cameras are some other items my kids brought on hikes. Cameras can be a helpful tool for encouraging teens to capture and share their hiking experiences. For those who want to see hundreds of photos of trees or dirt and the legs of your family, you can just hand your 4-year-old a camera!
Invite your friends with you
Invite other families with kids along with you for family hiking. It is always exciting to have a friend walking side by side with you.
An optimistic attitude can take your child a long way on a long hike. I won’t tell you to ignore your child. Instead, I suggest that you acknowledge and empathize with your kid’s feelings.
Instead of dwelling on how far you’ve traveled, try focusing on the fun you had. Instead of discussing how far you’ve been walking, discuss how tasty your lunch will taste or how it will feel to be able to relax at the end of the hike.
Respect your child’s feelings and be honest about questions such as what the trail looks like, how far along it has been, what you can expect next, etc. Telling a child the walk will only take one hour is a lie. I would be extremely annoyed if my husband made false claims about a hike to get to me!
How far can a child hike?
In general, children can hike between 1/2 and 1 mile per year. Kids who are fit and have been hiking for a while can go on longer hikes and bigger elevation gain.
These are only guidelines. Kids who have been outside for a long time and are used to hiking can generally hike more. Children who sit down all day will struggle to take short hikes.
Also, terrain and weather should be considered. You might find them complaining along the way if they have to climb steeply, slippy, or under adverse weather conditions.
When should kids start hiking?
There is no right age to take up hiking with kids. The ideal age is RIGHT NOW. Each age comes with its own challenges and difficulties.
What to do while hiking with kids?
In this post, I have already mentioned dozens of fun activities for the whole family while hiking with kids. In addition to them, consider to sing songs and play games while kids hiking.
Here are some of my favorite ideas to play while kids moving on the trail. Soon I’ll create a list with many other ways to encourage playing and talking on the hiking trail.
Alphabet games: Find objects along the trail in the alphabetic order (Acorn, Blue Jay, C Coniferous Tree, etc.). Name movies, toys, or geographical locations according to the alphabet.
Memory games. This one kept my two kids and me talking for nearly 40 minutes straight the other night. It starts with “I am heading camping and I will bring along” then all players must recite what they have said previously as well as what their contribution is. The items that will be brought may be random or alphabetical. If I am going camping, for instance, I will carry an apple and a bird feeder along with me. I also plan to bring some doughnuts and other snacks.
What’s their story? It’s possible to try and guess other hikers’ stories and places they are coming from if you’re on a hiking trail together. Don’t forget that kids love to have fun. This could mean that you may have gone on a walk to distant planets and all those people you pass are aliens who enjoy reading books. Guess what book they love to read. Perhaps you can guess their names and the place they were born. Keep in mind to be polite, especially if you’re within earshot of passersby.
Let me know what you think. Is there a Lego or Minecraft enthusiast in your family? I’m always amazed at the amount of time it takes for my kid to discuss Lego sets or Minecraft in detail.
You can make up stories. My kids had lots of fun inventing silly stories about animals, people, and parties for their books.
Name 3 things. This game is great for all ages as long as the person asking the questions is imaginative. The idea behind this game is to have one person answer a series of questions as quickly as possible. One example of a question could be: What are 3 things you find in the kitchen, 3 things your favorite skateboard is made from, 3 things it’s hard to eat, 3 things that make noise, 3 things that you can use in the bath with… These questions can be endless and fun.
These talking games help kids and adults to be more focused on the positive than the negative. It’s okay to be quiet sometimes. Sometimes hiking can give children time to think.
Following their lead is actually one of the most valuable tips I can offer. You don’t know what it will be like until you set out with your children. If you keep an eye on how they feel and react, you will soon be able to teach them how to communicate and respond to keep them moving.
It will take time to make hiking with kids a normal thing, so you can start small. Even just 15 minutes outdoors can make all the difference. Hiking with kids is always a high-quality family time. Going hiking early in your child’s life will cue them in that hiking is simply what you do as a family, but if it’s too late for that, focus on making a family outing something the whole clan does together. You’ll soon become a family that hikes together, no matter how difficult it can be.