Hiking with Kids: Tips & Tricks
Hiking has always been an important part of my relationship with my husband. In fact, we were engaged on the peak of Mount Jefferson in NH which we climbed on our first solo hike together. Naturally, we wanted to instill our love for nature and hiking into our children. Hikes have always been among our family’s favorite summer memories, but there definitely has been a learning curve to hiking with kids and some tips & tricks that we acquired along the way. It’s not as simple as pack a lunch, some water, a sweatshirt, and let’s go for a 10 mile walk up a mountain.
Tips for Hiking with Kids
- Rethink your definition of hiking. This is especially true in that toddler stage when they’re a little too heavy to ride in a baby backpack and have not yet acquired the stamina for a long and steep hike. A half mile walk in the woods to a stream is a hike for young kids. When you lessen the expectations, there are so many opportunities to discover and explore nature in your community and surrounding areas.
- Introduce children to nature often. From an early age, we tried to get our kids outside to expose them to the natural world. This has not always easy to do as working parents. But I believe the frequent exposure – from simple neighborhood walks to weekend camping trips – helped them develop a love for hiking and the outdoors.
- Invest in quality hiking gear. It sounds like a no-brainer but, seriously, having quality hiking gear makes a huge difference. Kids should have comfortable, sturdy, and closed-toe shoes. If you have an infant or young toddler, invest in a baby carrier with an external frame that is designed for hiking. And bring it along even when you think your toddler has outgrown it – it’s saved us a few times recently! Older kids can carry their own backpack, saved exclusively for hiking trips. Be sure to pack it proportionately to their weight or you’ll be carrying an extra pack.
- Let kids set the pace. When planning a hike, consider your child’s pace and always buffer in more time than you expect. A 30-minute hike may actually be a few hours depending on things to see on the trail and your child’s energy level. Rushing children on a hike is a surefire way to get them to dislike it.
- Pack snacks – and lots of them. My kids are snack-aholics by nature but this is good advice for all hiking families. Having a granola bar or a handful of M&M’s can give children that burst they need to get to the next destination.
- Hike with friends. We’ve been on many hikes with family and friends and the peer camaraderie makes hikes a lot more fun for kids.
- Packing tips. Try to pack light but consider these essential items: water, food, sweatshirts, change of clothes (for young kids), extra socks, hats, diapers & wipes (if needed), wet wipes (all ages), band-aids, sunscreen, bug spray, and trail map. I also always carry my phone and hope for service.
- Be positive and encouraging. A little positive encouragement goes a long way when hiking with kids. Tell them how awesome they are doing, rave about how strong or fast they are, encourage them at every opportunity.
- Make hiking fun and interesting. We love to find hikes that have a lot of interesting things along the way – be it a waterfall in the woods or a beautiful overlook at the peak. If your kids are into electronics and devices, find places that have geocaching. Or create a scavenger hunt along the way (i.e. Find natural items in every color of the rainbow; Locate 15 different shaped leaves and draw them, etc.).
Children’s Tips for Family Hikes
Just for fun, I asked my 7 year old, Olivia, to share her tips for hiking with kids. I love her list!
- Hike with your pet/dog if you have one.
- Have friends with you.
- Have family come along.
- Bring a walking stick.
- Drink lots and lots of water.
- Take pictures.
- Find cool stuff.
- Have fun.
Do you hike with your kids? What tips do you have for parents looking to get their children out on the trail?
Editor’s Note: Get healthy! Bright Horizons and The Partnership for a Healthier America recently hosted a parent webinar: Seize the Summer – Fitness Tips for Busy Families to share actionable tips for prioritizing fitness and improving your family’s eating habits. Watch now!
- E-family news: Explore Your World – Fun Nature Walks for Families
- E-family news: Children & Nature – A Winning Combination
- Bright Horizons Online Community: Exercising Outside with the Whole Family
- Read more posts about family fitness and posts about summer from the Family Room bloggers