This guide will teach you everything you need to know about hiking with kids, how to avoid some common pitfalls, and give you some tips & tricks for how to make your hike a successful experience. Hiking is an exciting activity the whole family can enjoy, spending quality time together, getting exercise, and exploring the outdoors. Hiking with kids is a great way to get them connected to the outdoors at a young age. By making it a positive experience, you are likely to spark a lifelong interest.
Planning & Preparation
Hiking with kids takes a little more planning and preparation than hiking solo as an adult. Follow these easy steps to make sure you are ready to hit the trails.
- Select a hike that isn’t too long or too strenuous, and that has some fun features, like stream, waterfall, lake, some easy climbing – anything that will help keep kids entertained along the way. Expect 1 mile taking at least 1 hour. Plan frequent rest stops. Involve your kids in the planning process.
- Manage your kid’s expectations: explain the trail and features that you may encounter during your hike. Playing by the stream, a hollow tree, or an old bridge can be great rewards along the way.
- Manage your own expectations: you may not reach your goal. You may not even hike a mile. But that’s OK! Expect to adjust your plans along the way. Having a Plan B and C is a good idea. Positive attitude is everything.
- Check weather forecast before leaving home. Dress appropriately and bring extra clothes.
- Eat a steady meal and drink plenty of water before heading out.
- Pack snacks and water, even if you are only going on a short hike. For longer hikes, make it a picnic. Favorite treats can be a great reward.
- Don’t forget The 10 Essentials. And The 10 Baby Essentials.
During the Hike
- Look for discoveries along the way. Kids are natural explorers and want to pick up and touch things. Have patience when they stop to ask questions.
- Take many short breaks for fluid and food. Set intermittent goals along the way, for example: “Once we reach the top of the hill we will take a snack break.”
- Let the kids take turns being the leader. Teach the kids how to read the map and use a compass.
- Play games along the way: look for wildlife, do a scavenger hunt, word games, sing together, etc.
- Encourage and praise your kids: tell the child how well they are hiking, how strong and how fast they are.
Tips & Tricks
- Let the kids bring a friend.
- Encourage the kids collect items for an art project along the way; twigs, leafs, pine cones, etc.
- Use hammocks for resting tired feet – or take a nap.
- Hiking with headlamps (in safe areas) after sunset can be a very exciting experience for older kids.
- Start with shorter hikes, and then add miles as kids become more comfortable with the activity.
- Give each child a role during the hike; one child read the map, another child in charge of the binoculars or camera, etc. Rotate roles throughout the hike.