Hiking with Kids: 10 Tips to Make Your Hike Memorable for the Whole Family

Many people with a love for the outdoors mistakenly believe that having kids will put a hold on their adventures. Below, we outline 10 hiking with kids tips that will give you a memorable time together.

Many people with a love for the outdoors mistakenly believe that having kids will put a hold on their adventures. While it may be difficult to do more strenuous outdoor activities with toddlers or young children, it does not mean that there aren’t ways to enjoy the outdoors with your kids.

Hiking is the most popular outdoor activity in the United States. It’s also one of the best ways to enjoy outdoor time when you have children. Family hikes are a great opportunity to grow your family bond, and are also a wonderful way to raise your children to be the best outdoor adventure companion for you once they are adults. By including your kids on a family hike, you can instill within them the same love for the outdoors that inspires you, and teach them how to have fun in nature while respecting and protecting it. 

Below, we outline ten tips to make your next family hike fun, memorable and safe for everyone, no matter how small. 

1. Ease into it

If your kids haven’t hiked much in the past, it’s best to ease into hiking. If you make their first hike too challenging (especially if they are under the age of 6), they may not want to go on another. Anytime you are trying to introduce another person to a new hobby, it’s always best to start small, so that they aren’t overwhelmed. If this applies to you, consider taking your kid to a local park with some paved walking trails a few times before gearing up for more natural terrain. 

2. Encourage curiosity 

When you’re on your first few hikes with your kid(s), make sure you aren’t shutting down their natural curiosity. Sure, it can be difficult to enjoy a hike with someone asking questions all the time, but your children are far more likely to enjoy hiking if they feel free to express their thoughts and questions throughout their surroundings. Just make sure you remind them to keep their voices down, so that they don’t disturb wildlife or other hikers. 

3. Create games 

No matter how intriguing you may find the forest, most kids will need a little bit of extra stimulation to stay interested in nature. To keep their attention and make the hike fun for them, play games during your hike. Identifying birds, searching for rare species of plants, and locating animal tracks are all great ways to make the hike more fun and exciting for your kid(s). If you want to take this to the next level, consider researching the hike and making a scavenger hunt list beforehand. Whoever finds the most items on the list by the end of the hike, wins!

4. Keep them energized and hydrated 

Every parent knows that a hungry child is a grumpy child. Further, as adults we must always remember that children, especially when they are half our size or smaller, are working much harder and expending more energy on the hike then we are. They may even be taking twice as many steps! To prevent hunger or fatigue related tantrums, make sure you pack plenty of snacks and water for your kids. It’s also a good idea to regularly check in on them and ask if they feel hungry, thirsty, or need a break, to prevent any accidents related to low-energy or dehydration. 

5. Pack the essentials 

While food and water are among the most important items to pack for a hike that includes children, there are other essentials to have on hand for your next family hike. Sunscreen, bugspray, a first aid kit, a multi-tool, a fully-charged phone, whistles (for everyone), and a flashlight, should all make their way into your backpack before setting off. 

If you are planning a longer family hike, or one that is more off-the-grid, this packing list should expand to include extra food and water, lighters and matches, a compass, and a poncho (in case of rain or excessive wetness). Lastly, if you are hiking in the winter time, make sure everyone in the family is dressed adequately. This means bringing extra, heat insulating layers in the case of dropping temperatures. 

6. Choose your hike wisely 

As mentioned earlier, hiking with kids may mean that you have to be a bit more selective about where and when you hike.  Even if your kid has some hiking experience, for their safety and enjoyment, it’s best to avoid strenuous hikes or hikes that require potentially dangerous maneuvers . As a rule of thumb, stick to trails that have been ruled easy or moderate when you are with the whole family. 

7. Dress the part 

Enjoying a hike largely depends on personal comfort. Having improper footwear, or overdressing in hot weather, can quickly turn an otherwise enjoyable hike into an uncomfortable or even painful hike. Make sure you prepare adequately for all potential weather situations. This means, for example, having water shoes on hand if slippery surfaces are expected, wearing moisture-wicking clothing on hot days, using hats where long exposure to sun is expected, and wearing enough clothing, especially around the ankles, to prevent cuts and scrapes from heavy or thorny foliage. It really will depend on the specific hike you choose, but no matter what, you always want to make sure you and your family are dressed for success before the hike. This includes ensuring comfortable children’s footwear to keep little feet happy and supported throughout the adventure.

8. Go over safety procedures 

Even the easiest, most innocuous hikes contain a certain amount of risk. Familiarize yourself and your children with safety tips for hiking with kids. Make sure your children understand these safety rules before you go:

  • Not touching or ingesting unknown plants or fruits 
  • Not going off the marked trail, not only for their safety but to ensure the protection of wildlife
  • Not touching or otherwise messing with wildlife
  • Awareness of potentially dangerous animals (like bears), and what to do if they should encounter one
  • Courtesy: this is less safety-related, but an important hiking rule nonetheless. Your kids should be respectful to wildlife and to other hikers. This also means they should never be allowed or encouraged to litter or do damage to the trail.
  • Any other rules you feel necessary as a parent

9. Use positive reinforcement 

Kids, and adults for that matter, respond well and feel more confident and excited when they receive positive reinforcement and encouragement during a new experience. To keep them engaged and interested in hiking, give them compliments throughout the trip. Note that their observations and questions are interesting, and tell them “good job!” when they’ve managed a difficult ascent. 

10. Be flexible 

Hiking with kids can be extremely rewarding for the whole family, but with kids in general, it’s always important to be flexible as a parent or as the adult in the picture. If your kid gets too tired in the middle of a hike, don’t let it disappoint you. This will only discourage them next time. Instead, tell them how proud you are of them for making it so far. Further, if your kid takes interest in something you find mundane and wants to stop and spend a little extra time investigating it, be flexible enough to let them. This way, they can develop their own attachment to the outdoors and will grow to be confident hikers as they age.

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