Would you like to start going on hikes with kids but feel it’s daunting to start out? Are you worried about tantrums whining and aches and pains (for you and your kids)? Here are 7 tips to make hiking with kids fun and enjoyable for the whole family.
When our oldest was about 1, we started venturing out on some hikes with kids. I remember it felt so overwhelming at first! What do we need to take? What if he hated it? Or what if we didn’t complete the hike??
Spoiler: it was fine. I have no idea if we completed the hike or not, but I realized it didn’t matter one whit. The important thing was that we’d gotten out together, enjoyed some fresh air, and connected in nature. The distance, difficulty, and potential hazards were all secondary to a family-friendly hike.
Hiking with Multiple Children
It may seem chaotic and downright crazy to go hiking with 4 (almost 5!) kids, but in some ways, it’s actually become easier. Our older kids, now 9 & 7, are capable of nearly the same distances as the adults. They can also help out – with packing/carrying, as well as with younger siblings.
But perhaps the biggest difference is in our mindset. Seeing our older children grow into capable and confident hikers has showed us what is possible. It’s encouraged us to put aside any hesitations and include our little ones however they’re able. And our entire family has benefitted from it.
Here are some of our best tips for going on hikes with kids, and how to make it a smooth and hopefully pleasant experience for the entire family!
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7 Tips for Going on Hikes with Kids (and Having Fun!)
Take all the snacks when hiking with kids.
I think I used to feel some mild shame at bribing my kids with snacks while hiking. We’re usually pretty regimented in mealtimes at home, and I felt some cognitive dissonance at offering lots of snacks (which were often more “fun” than what we’d have at home) while hiking with kids. It felt like a cop out to get them to walk by offering a semi-treat.
But you know what? I’m 100% over that now. There is zero shame in helping your kids stay fueled and happy in order to create a more enjoyable environment for everyone. And if they’re not straight fruit or protein like at home? That’s also okay. For most people, hikes with kids are not something you do every single day. It’s a special experience, and you want your kids to see it that way. It’s okay to create positive and fun associations – not to mention ward of hanger.
So basically, take all the snacks when going on hikes with kids. More snacks than you think they could consume in their lifetimes.
Take the proper gear when hiking with kids.
It probably tells you a lot about me that the tip about snacks comes ahead of the one about gear.
But truly, even if you have nothing else, snacks will save you time and again.
That said, having the right gear can make going on hikes with kids infinitely more enjoyable. No one wants to walk for hours in wet and squishy shoes. If you know it’s a damp area, be sure to have waterproof footwear. Our oldest loves these waterproof kids hiking boots, and Dan has them in the adult size, as well. The little boys have these darling little kids hiking boots which, while not technically waterproof, have been super sturdy and great for us.
If there’s a chance of rain, take a jacket. Or when hiking with a toddler, plan for a way to carry him or her. (We prefer a carrier to a hiking backpack because it’s more comfortable and less bulky.)
Be sure to check the weather, the distance, the parking situation, and any other variables to make sure you have the right gear along. And check out this post for the essentials when hiking with kids!
Let them make decisions when on hikes with kids.
Let me tell you, I really like to plan. I like to be in control and know what’s going to happen. I like to be sure of timing and the overall experience.
But there’s something about letting kids help read a trail map, decide where to go, or carry a kids hydration backpack for part of the time that helps them feel so much more excited about the hike.
Even if they’re too little to make actual decisions, they can help decide the pace and progression of the hike with kids. Sometimes, you need to get to the end of a trail. But often, the end doesn’t have to be the goal. Even if you only climb trees when hiking with kids, they’ll learn to love the experience.
Are you worried about tantrums? Whining? Feeling like you’ll never go on another hike again?
Well. If your kids are anything like ours, you’ll probably experience all of it.
But guess what? It’s okay! A little whining never killed anyone. We’ve only had a couple hikes where we felt like we really wouldn’t manage to make it back, and even on those, we did.
And the behavior – of the kids AND of the adults – has improved significantly over time. We’ve gotten better at preparing (see the note about snacks), and everyone knows what to expect. If you can push through some discomfort and annoyance, I promise it will be worth it.
Have something to look for on your hike with kids.
Maybe it’s a specific color of flower or a size of bird. Perhaps it’s whales out in the ocean. Or if you’re in a more urban area, maybe you’re searching for airplanes. Whatever it is, staying focused on looking for something helps with staying engaged when on hikes with kids.
Let them play with sticks.
Do they occasionally poke themselves or each other? Sure. Do we still let our kids hike with sticks? Yep. It’s probably a couple of my kids’ favorite part of hiking. Let them find a big walking stick. On that same note, let them climb rocks and dig in mud and step in puddles (with appropriate footwear, hopefully). They’ll get filthy. It’s fine. They’ll love the freedom to explore and push boundaries.
Practice hiking with kids.
Just like anything else, hiking requires practice. Most adults wouldn’t jump right into hiking Half Dome without doing a bit of training beforehand. It’s reasonable to also expect kids to need some time to build up endurance, familiarity, and strength.
So do lots of hikes with kids. Build up to longer distances. Go on normal walks, and read about nature and the world. Talk about how they’re good hikers. And give them lots of opportunities to show you that they are.
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