My children will complain about walking from the back of the parking lot into the mall but they will walk for hours out in nature. We are no strangers to nature walks, but we have recently discovered a love for family hiking. Since moving from Florida to Colorado, we have gone on a hike every couple of weekends.
My husband has section hiked the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail. He has experience backpacking through the woods but never with children. We have taken many nature walks but as we increase the mileage in our hikes, I am realizing that a nature walk does not a hiker make.
There are a number of things to consider when hiking with kids and we have learned a lot with our last few hikes. Namely, that we still have a lot to learn. Since I had so many questions, I turned to the family travel experts. What should we bring with us? How can I keep the hike entertaining for my kids? Let’s face it. Even I get bored sometimes on hikes.
How to Motivate Kids and Help Them Enjoy the Hike
When we visited Roxborough State Park this weekend, the Visitor’s Center had walking sticks that you could borrow. The kids were thrilled and felt quite grown-up. It made me wonder why we haven’t gotten out my husband’s trekking poles from his Appalachian hikes.
Bret Love, from Green Global Travel, realizes that his daughter gets tired and bored easily on long walks. To counter this, he plays a nature-based scavenger hunt where they make a list of all the trees, plants and animals that they want to see. On the hike, Bret and his family are always on the look out to cross items off the list.
It is important to remember that hiking together as a family is fun. Michelle Duffy, Wander Mom, says that you want your kids to associate hikes with fun and not pain. She shares that it is worth it in the long run if you have to sometimes head back down before you reach the top.
Claudia Laroye, the Travelling Mom, says to start hiking when your children are young because the more interesting hikes when they are young, the more challenging terrain they will enjoy when they are older.
Claudia also points out that counting birds, insects and tree types can also be fun. Our next library trip will include a visit to the Colorado section where I hope to pick up a bird watching book and an animal tracking book. We might have to throw in a book about the local flora and fauna now!
Family Adventure Project say to make hiking not about the hiking but about something bigger. I think this is so true because when we give our kids a challenge that has nothing to do with getting to the end of the hike, it makes it so the kids don’t realize how far we are walking. While they were looking for something, we made it another 1/4 of a mile without even noticing it!
What to Bring with You
When I asked some of my hiking friends for tips to making a hike successful, one of the most popular tips was to bring snacks. Lots of snacks. If you are a parent, this is usually in your bag of tricks but there are ways to make getting the snacks fun. Use the snack breaks and lunch break as a way to hike a little bit longer. Okay…bribe them. It works.
Even if a trail is well-marked, bring a trail map with you. Make sure you have one for each child. Both of my kids love to use a map to help guide us along the trail.
Road Trips for Families shares a post about teaching your children to enjoy hiking. It has a number of great ideas like learning how to use a GPS and a compass together. I especially like the suggestion about getting the kids pedometers. My husband and I are wearing pedometers as part of a health insurance incentive. The kids kept wanting to know how many steps we had taken during our hikes. As soon as we got home, I promptly purchased them each a pedometer to wear.
Jamie Pearson suggests that you bring a digital camera that the kids can use to capture images of what they see. Make a game of it and when the camera fun wears off, she recommends walkie-talkies.
We all know that duct tape comes in handy in many situations but hiking? Adrienne Veglia Mazeau, an Albany Kid contributor, gives her kids an inside out duct tape bracelet to collect little things along their hike.
Know Your Child’s Limits…and Yours
Alyson Long, from World Travel Family, shared a time that she took her 8 year old son up a mountain to train for the Himalayas. She ended up carrying him most of the way (which was still good training for her!).
It is important to know your children’s limits, but Keryn Means, of Walkingon Travels, says to make sure you know your own limits before you set out on a hike. Make sure that you can carry your child back down the mountain you just hiked up if they have had enough.
On our last hike, we all used the restroom before beginning our hike. My daughter had to use the restroom about 2 miles into our 3.3 mile hike. She didn’t complain until we were almost back at our starting point but I could tell she was not happy.
Be sure to take regular breaks when needed. They don’t have to be breaks where everybody sits down and rests. Take a break and snap a picture of yourself on the trail. It takes a couple of minutes to set up and snap the picture and you will have a great reminder of your adventure.
Celebrate the Finish Line
It doesn’t matter if the hike was half a mile or ten miles, celebrate at different points along the way and also at the end.
Know that the feeling of pride and accomplishment of completing the hike is just as important to the kids as it is to you. I love this story that Mara of Mother of All Trips shared about how her son felt when they reached the top of the mountain on their Long Trail hike.
Elena Sonnino from Ciao Mom realized that she loved hiking as a great way for family to stay active together while she hiked the beautiful landscape of Cortina, Italy. I wholeheartedly agree with her. On our last hike, I was kind of lagging behind. I had taken a picture and the family got ahead of me. My 8 year old turned around and saw I wasn’t with them. He stopped, waited for me and made sure I was okay. Nothing makes my heart happier than seeing my children show compassion for others.
Little Ones Can Hike, Too
Nicole Wiltrout shares some ways to introduce hiking to your young children on Arrows Sent Forth. She shares fun ways to get the kids excited and want to go.
Michelle Brennan says that if you are backpacking with a baby or toddler, make sure you have a quality comfortable pack. I recommend that you test it out before taking a five mile hike with your little one on your back. We learned that our pack was not very comfortable the hard way.
Kate Spiller, Wild Tales of…, shares some things she learned while on a hike through Seattle’s Discovery Park. I love her tip about putting her sweatshirt hood on to help entertain her little one in the carrier.
Keryn Means shares some great tips about hiking when you are pregnant…something I know nothing about because I preferred the couch to the trail when I was pregnant!
Which hikes are good for kids?
There are so many hikes out there that are perfect for children. For Christmas, I bought my husband a book titled Best Hikes with Kids Colorado. We have already hiked three of the 100 hikes in the book and hope to eventually hike them all. Look for a book or hop on the Internet and do a search for hikes with kids in your area.
Amber Johnson shares a post on Mile High Mamas about Denver’s Best Hikes for Kids by Joy Opp. The hikes are broken up in different categories like best for moms with new babies or best for little walkers. We can’t wait to try the hikes listed here once the weather warms up.
Rocky Mountain National Park is another great place to take the kids hiking according to Sara Broers of All in an Iowa Mom’s Day. You can hike, go fishing, and maybe even spot a coyote. I hope to visit this park as soon as we can.
It seems the number of hikes in our new home city are endless. Denver Parent shares that Matthew/Winters Red Rocks trail is a great kid-friendly hike.
My husband and I have wonderful memories from our hike to Manoa Falls in Honolulu. I know if we ever make it to Kauai, the Kalalau Trail will be on our itinerary. Kate from Wild Tales of… shares her tips for completing this hike.
If you live in the Seattle area, see My Little Nomads list of ten hikes for families. I love finding information written about hikes by people who have been there and done that. This list includes the distance, time and terrain. During our past few hikes, we have found that terrain is very important to pay attention to when choosing a hike.
One of our favorite hikes was when we hiked the Partnachklamm in Germany. It was winter time, we were freezing, but the other-worldly landscape made it all worth it.
Jenny Lin points out that you don’t necessarily have to bring your little one in a carrier. Some hikes are good for strollers. She says that Biawang Shan in Beijing is a good hike for all sorts of hikers – beginner to advanced.
A hike that includes a waterfall is a great way to get children walking. They can hear the water as they approach and a waterfall is a great payoff as Eden Pontz points out. Her hike in the Dupont State Forest had great waterfall views (and a view of some of the Hunger Games film spots!).
The Rewards are Worth It
It may seem like a lot to hit the trails. You need snacks and you have to carry water bottles. Your child may have to go to the bathroom half way through the hike. You may not make it to the top of the hill and see that view you really wanted to see. All of that is okay because the reward of finishing that hike together as a family is worth it. It is great for your family’s health. I used to want to spend my Sunday afternoons taking a nap and relaxing after a long week. Hiking together is how I want to spend my Sunday afternoons now. Who knows, maybe we will be able to take the advice of Amy Whitley and take our kids on a backpacking trip soon. She says that kids can absolutely participate in a multi-day backpacking trip.
Share your tips in the comments!