I love hiking and I am trying to share that love with my kids as much as possible. Having kids along definitely adds a new level of difficulty to hiking but it is doable and even enjoyable.
Here are few tips on hiking with your kids. Please remember that I am no expert. Always be smart and be cautious, obey the rules of the trail, tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return, and hike at your own risk.
1. Choose an easy trail for your first hike (and/or for kids under 8).
The goal is to have fun and if you choose a difficult or long trail I guarantee you that your kids will complain. You also want to avoid injury or overexertion. I find that my three year old can make it about a mile before he starts to complain. My 4 year old on the other hand can walk twice that far and enjoys every second of it. Know your kids limits but don’t underestimate them either!
2. Have a predetermined goal or a destination and bring a map.
I love finding scenic places as our destination. On of my favorite hiking trips was when I took the girls to Dark Hollow Falls in the Shenandoah National Park. It was a one mile hike down but a gorgeous waterfall was waiting for us at the end. I knew it would be a great place to cool off and when the kids got tired or weary I could remind them that the waterfall was not too much further. I took time beforehand to show Layla photos of the waterfall online–she couldn’t wait to get there!
Since we stayed on a well known and well worn trail we didn’t need to bring a map. Definitely bring one along if you are unfamiliar with the area or if you are hiking out in the wild.
3. Dress appropriately.
I know this is a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how many kids I see out on trails in cheap flip flops. We typically wear socks and tennis shoes when we go hiking. My kids don’t have special hiking shoes because that can get really expensive. Just regular tennis shoes are fine. We usually just wear shorts and tennis shoes if we are going to be walking on a well maintained trail. If the trail is more off the beaten path then we wear jeans.
Keens sandals are some of my favorites for hiking. They’re a heavy duty sandal with a tennis shoe bottom. They can double as water shoes and are perfect for navigating wet rocks and crossing streams.
4. Bring water and snacks.
Bring a water bottle for each person. You may also want to have more water in your vehicle for when you return and you should bring more than you think you will need! My kids always run out of water and end up drinking some of mine too!
The Lifestraw is a great little invention that you can bring along to have fresh water anywhere. There are other water purification items available but this one is really easy to just slip in your pocket or backpack.
I love to wear a pack like this because it easily holds my water, my keys, and a small snack. It’s great for short hikes that don’t require much gear.
Snacks are a great way to keep kids occupied and for use as bribery! I’m not above throwing some lollipops in my bag to encourage my kids to walk a little further. Some kid friendly snack options are trail mix, fruit, granola bars, beef jerky, peanut butter crackers, or energy bars.
5. Prepare your kids for the hike by talking about what to expect.
Kids are never to young to learn about hiking safety, basic first aid, and how to take care of the environment. Another good topic is how to respect wildlife.
6. Bring a first aid kit.
With five kids, someone is inevitably going to come home with a bump or bruise or scrape of some sort. I keep a first aid kit in my vehicle all the time and restock it often. I also keep a bottle of water handy for cleaning wounds.
7. Allow for plenty of rest and play time.
Hiking with kids isn’t the time to be concerned with the time! That’s hard for me to say because I’m a very fast walker. I have to remind myself to take it slow and easy and allow for lots of rest and play time along the way.
8. Consider geocaching or having a scavenger hunt.
Geocaching is so much fun if you’re in an area where you have cell reception. My kids get so excited when we find a well hidden cache. You can search “geocache” in the app store to find free or cheap geocaching apps.
If you can’t look for caches try having a scavenger hunt. Give each child a check off list or a specific item to look for. You could tell them to find items that start with a certain letter or that are a certain color. There a many great free printables available online. Check out this one from The Bird Feed NYC. You could laminate this to make it reuseable and bring a dry erase marker along.
9. Give your kids lots of encouragement and praise.
Kids love being told they’re brave and that they’re doing a great job!
10. Celebrate a great hike afterwards!
Consider a special treat on the way home–an ice cream cone or a cold soda is a perfect after hike treat. If you’re at a national park, you can probably find a gift shop souvenir/keepsake.
For more information on hiking with kids, check out these great articles:
- Kids and Hiking
- Take Your Kids Hiking (Ten Tips to Make the Adventure Fun for the Whole Family)
- Hiking with Children
And this book:
This post contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you purchase an item from one of the above links.