Tips for Hiking With Your Kids

Boost your kids’ mental and physical well-being with hiking tips that help you choose the best trail, pack the right gear, and have a good time.
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Boost your kids’ mental and physical well-being with hiking tips that help you choose the best trail, pack the right gear, and have a good time.

Tips for Hiking With Your Kids

Hiking can provide people of all ages with a sense of joy, peace, and rejuvenation. The beauty of nature has been shown to positively impact not just your physical health, but your mental well-being, as well. Famous outdoor enthusiast John Muir once said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees.”

Now, many parents, especially those with infants and toddlers, may think that hiking with kids sounds like the farthest thing from peaceful. The truth, however, might surprise them. Hiking together makes life-long memories, teaches important skills, and has many health benefits for all ages, such as:

  • Improving bone density and balance.
  • Decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Relieving the symptoms of depression.
  • Calming stress and anxiety.
  • Building stronger muscles.
  • Improving sensory perception.

Are you eager to instill a love of the great outdoors in your family? Let’s look at seven tips that can make your next family hike the best one yet.

Pick an Age-appropriate Trail

Not all trails are created equal, and that is especially true when hiking with kids. The Sierra Club’s hiking trails rating system categorizes them as easy, moderate, and strenuous. However, it’s still important to read the trail description first to make sure the challenges are appropriate for all hikers in your family. Whether the trail is a good fit depends on several factors including:

  • Stamina: Younger kids with shorter legs will tire more easily. For longer trails, consider bringing along a hiking carrier.
  • Mobility: Moderate and strenuous trails will be more difficult for kids with mobility issues. Stick to the shorter, easier trails at first to give them time to get comfortable hiking.
  • Energy levels: Kids with high energy levels will love hiking. Choose trails with boulders and safe outcroppings for the climbers in your family. Look for easy trails with few roots and packed dirt for the runners.
  • Focus: Some kids need extra help with focus, so trails with activities like birdwatching, orienteering, and scrambling might be more enjoyable.

Finding the right kind of trail for your family hike may take some trial and error. The important thing is that you let go of any expectations about how the hike should go and

Don’t Be in a Hurry

Children are practically born in awe of the natural world. Everything is an exploration, from a leaf drifting on the breeze to the slow crawl of a fuzzy caterpillar. Hiking is a great time to practice mindfulness with your kids. Just be in the present moment with them and embrace the opportunity to slow down and experience nature through their senses. Try to let go of hiking at a certain speed, going a specific distance, or finishing in a particular time frame.

Plan for Lots of Breaks

Hiking with children and teens is a chance to strengthen patience, both theirs and yours. While making pit stops may slow your hiking progress, they can make the hike more enjoyable by preventing meltdowns from tired or hungry kids. Your child may need a break if they:

  • Keep falling behind and struggle to catch up.
  • Frequently ask to sit down, take a drink, or have a snack.
  • Act scared or worried about things that usually do not bother them.
  • Trip, stumble, or get easily distracted.
  • Repeatedly ask to turn around.

If you want to keep your kids engaged during a break, you can play games. Look for sticks and stems to make letters and spell out words. Play “I Spy” or try to identify animal sounds. Breaks are also a great time to pull out your hiking gear and help everyone get a little more comfortable for the rest of the journey.

Invest in the Right Gear

Hiking with kids will go much smoother with the right gear. From water bottles to snacks, carriers to boots, choose equipment that motivates and empowers young hikers. When planning your next hike consider:

  • Giving your kids their own youth water bottles and tumblers so they don’t bug you every time they want a drink.
  • Breaking in hiking boots before wearing them on the trail.
  • Keeping snacks on hand or warm drinks in vacuum bottles for chilly hikes.
  • Using insulated water containers for hydration on hot days when you want your water to stay cold.
  • Filling up tumblers with tasty smoothies to keep healthy, hydrating snacks close by.
  • Packing an extra stash of clothes in case they get wet or messy.
  • Bringing a first-aid kit to address any cuts, scrapes, bites, or other trail accidents.

With the right gear, your kids have their needs met and are better able to focus on the hike and follow their curiosity about nature.

Encourage Curiosity

Kids are naturally very curious and nature is one of the most intriguing mysteries out there. If you encourage your children to follow their curiosity when hiking, you will open up whole new worlds for them. You can help them build problem-solving skills, while becoming more interested in biology, chemistry, physics, and other sciences.

Things on the trail may be very common to adults, but they are often brand new experiences for children. Try to avoid giving quick explanations for things and invite them to create their own hypotheses about the world around them.

Practice “Leave No Trace”

Teach your kids how to “leave no trace” so they can understand the impact humans have on nature. Remind your kids that whatever they carry in, they must also carry out. This teaches them responsibility, accountability, and compassion. “Leave no trace” isn’t just a good hiking practice, it’s also a good camping practice, especially for kids. Praise them when you see them taking this rule seriously — it’s what keeps our campgrounds and trails beautiful, safe, and enjoyable for all.

Have Fun

When everyone is having fun, our family bonds grow deeper and stronger. Keep everyone smiling by picking a hike that leads to an exciting or unique landmark, like a lake, waterfall, or striking vista. Make a scavenger hunt for little kids who may need an extra activity to stay engaged. Take some bubbles, bring your dog, kick a ball, collect items for an experiment, sketch nature scenes, or try out any one of several outdoor activities that will help your kids fall in love with hiking.

When hiking with kids it’s important to remember that you are laying the groundwork for a deep love of the outdoors. And that love is going to serve your kids for their entire lives. They will experience the physical and mental benefits of hiking from their first time out on the trail — and it only gets better, as long as you stick to strategies that work.