In today’s society it’s getting harder to get kids outdoors to enjoy nature and exercise. If you start when your kids are young, you can teach them a real appreciation for hiking that will last their whole lives.
Hiking with kids is a little different than hiking with just adults. There are considerations that need to be made and planning that needs to be done ahead of time to ensure a good experience for everyone.
We have provided the following guide to getting your kids interested in hiking. Included is a lot of tips and strategies for planning and enjoying the perfect hike.
This guide is geared towards beginning hikers or hiking enthusiasts who have never taken their kids hiking before. Following these tips will help you have an experience that everyone will want to repeat again and again.
One of the best ways to ensure a good hike for your children is to think like a child when you are planning the hike. Doing this will help you plan things and gear the hike for them rather than just bringing them along on an adult hike.
Planning Your Hike
For the first hike you take with your children, keep it close to home. This will make it much easier to plan around their nap and eating schedules and school if they are school aged children. It’s also good to be close to home at first if they just simply get tuckered out and want to stop walking.
Remember that hikes don’t have to JUST be in the woods or on a trail. City hikes can be very interesting and enjoyable as well. There is always a lot to see in the city including historical places, different architecture and tons of different people and cultures.
One of the best ways to get your children interested in each hike is to do a little bit of pre-planning. Make sure that there is a destination for each hike that leads to a treasure of some kind. A place to stop and have a picnic, a place to swim, or an interesting shop to go into and look around in if you are city hiking.
If every hike has a terrific and engaging ending, the children will be that much more interested in making it to the end. Children love water, so any hikes that end at a swimming hole, river or waterfall will usually generate a lot of excitement.
If you not sure where the interesting places are in your area, see if there are guidebooks available or if someone at a sporting goods store like Bass Outfitters, knows anything about the lay of the land where you are hiking so you can get some inside information.
Hiking doesn’t have to be an all day affair. Even “hiking” to the park can be full of exploration and discoveries. What you are instilling in your children is not only a love for hiking but a love for nature itself.
Try to encourage your kids to get outside a little bit every day, even if it is just to explore your own yard or the neighborhood. Give them goals such as finding interesting rocks, identifying flowers and/or plants, and looking for the different wildlife that is in the area.
Preparing for Your Hike
One of the best ways to get the kids excited about the hike is to involve them in the preparation process. Looking at the maps to decide where you will go, choosing the right hiking clothes, hiking boots, helping to prepare the food (and there always needs to be food when it comes to hiking with children)
They can even bring a favorite non electronic toy to take along. Make sure no tablets, handheld games, cell phones or any other electronic toy comes with them. This is a time to get away from the electronics.
The only exception to this is to give each child an inexpensive camera to take along on the hike with you. Encourage them to take pictures of whatever appeals to them and catches their attention.
It is very interesting to see the hike literally through their eyes when you get the pictures developed. If you give the child inexpensive digital cameras you can all enjoy their photos as soon as you get home from the hike.
Each child should have their own daypack to carry on the hike. You don’t want to load this down with a bunch of weight. In their daypack you want to make sure they have a compass, a mini first aid kit, a whistle for emergencies, and a rain jacket in case of inclement weather. You can also have each child carry their own food in storage containers or a lunch pack.
Let them help with the preparation of the snacks, lunch and the water bottles. Water bottles add a lot of weight so you should plan on having the majority of those in your own pack with the exception of one each in theirs if they want one. In your own pack bring along a flashlight, emergency cell phone, spray bottle with water for hot days, hand warmers for cold day hikes, extra snacks, and a first aid kit of your own. It would be a smart idea to bring dry clothing for each child as well, just in case including dry socks.
Don’t forget the insect repellent if you are hiking during the warmer months. Mosquito bites can ruin the fun of a hiking trip.
Choosing the Right Food For The Hike
You need to definitely plan on snacks and lunch for the kids if you are taking a day hike. Being outdoors in the fresh air and exercising will have them very hungry and snacks can be a great motivator to stick with the hike.
If you’re going to stop somewhere for lunch, plan a good meal when you reach that destination. The best thing to do is let them carry their own snacks in their daypacks and let the adults take care of the meal food.
Sit down with the kids prior to the day of the hike and plan what snacks and foods they want to purchase and bring along.
You don’t want sugary sweets for a hike since that doesn’t do much to provide energy, but trail mix, granola bars, apples, pretzels, and other foods make terrific snacks.
There’s nothing wrong with small bags of chips either and a small sweet such as cookies or a snack cake of some kind to satisfy the sweet tooth. Use a vacuum sealer to seal the bags so the food stays fresh.
The meal should be substantial and filling. Sandwiches are excellent and can be any kind they like as long as they are packed with an ice pack of some kind. (Ice packs can fit into your own backpack to keep things from spoiling. If you are hiking in the cold, consider thermoses of ravioli, soups they love or even chili.
Fried chicken is an excellent lunch for a hike along with fruit, French bread and butter, cheeses and something crunchy like chips or pretzels. Cold chicken is delicious and a great meal to have when they have worked up an appetite on the trails. The main thing to remember is to bring lots of food because they will definitely eat it up on the hike and at any stops you make.
Setting The Hiking Pace
Let the kids set the pace of the hike. If they want to stop and look at things, let them. If they want to take 5 rest stops for water, let them. You don’t want to drag them a long a 4 or 5 mile hike where they are just trudging along.
Making this experience something that they really love is the objective here so letting them set the pace is going to go a long way toward keeping them interested and wanting to do it again.
Make sure that you are not so intent on the destination that you forget the reason you wanted to take your children hiking to begin with. Make sure they know what the destination is and make it really appealing so they will WANT to reach it. But be willing to have another destination if they become fascinated with another place along the way.
Make It Fun For The Kids Every Time
Every hike you take the kids on should have one major objective: to have fun. The best way to do this is to not have an agenda. If you want to hike for exercise, do not choose this time with the children to do it.
Everyone will just end up discouraged and miserable and they will likely not want to hiking again. Let them go as far as they choose to go and then if they are ready to stop, turn back. You will be surprised how far a child can hike when they are having a terrific time.
Take lots of pictures. In addition to letting the children take their own pictures, make sure you have brought your own camera to take pictures to document the hike so they can look back and see all the great places they explored. Those pictures you take will be beloved keepsakes of great childhood experiences.
Every once in awhile, take the children on a totally different kind of hike. A good example of this is a night hike. Make sure you have a lantern and flashlights and extra clothing if it is cool out. Night hikes are both fun and exhilarating. If your child is afraid of the dark, a bright flashlight or even a headlamp can turn their fear into enjoyment.
Keeping The Kids Interested During The Hike
While on the hike, you want to keep the children engaged and interested the whole time. Don’t make your first hike too long. It is better to have them asking for the hike to continue because you’ve ended it sooner than they want than to have them begging for it to be over.
A great way to keep them engaged is to make a list of things that they could find along the hiking route. Set it up like a scavenger hunt.
Another thing you can do is let them choose or draw a letter of the alphabet and then let them look for things that start with that letter along the way.
You can also play a spot the animal game where they look for as many different types of wildlife that they can find including insects and birds.
For older children get them interested in geocaching. This is done through an app where specific coordinates are posted and then treasures can be found. Don’t let the geocaching become the obsession. If it works out that’s great but teach them to enjoy the hike and let the geocaching be the extra.
Don’t Expect The Kids To Act Like Adults
Let the kids dress up for the hike. If they want to be pirates or explorers or cowboys, let them. There is no harm in them wearing pirate hats and patches along the hike route and they will have a fantastic time.
Don’t forget to give each child a treasure bag for them to collect interesting rocks, twigs, leaves, and other treasures they want to keep. Don’t allow them to take any animals home however tempting it might be. Take this time to teach them that the animals belong in their natural habitat.
Make sure you give them plenty of opportunity to run around, swim if possible, climb trees and or rocks, dig and even build forts if they choose. Also let them be as loud as they want. Shushing them on a hike will just make them not want to go.
Being outside allows them to yell and shout and talk in their excited outdoor voices. As they get older they will learn to enjoy hoe peaceful and quiet the outdoors is. If they seem to be excessively noisy, explain to them that their outdoor voices could be scaring away wildlife that they could be looking at.
Appropriate Hiking Gear For Kids
Regardless of how young the child is, give them their own size appropriate hiking gear. They make all kinds of tiny little daypacks that you can out a piece or fruit or water bottle in that they can be responsible for.
If the child is a toddler or baby, they have excellent baby hiking packs that you can wear to bring them along too.
If you are hiking with a child 10 or older, they will really enjoy having a multi-tool to help them clip leaves or twigs and do other important tasks. You will still need to supervise them using the tool but if they are taught early on how to be safe with it, they will use it properly. Camelbaks are also popular items that kids enjoy carrying.
Don’t forget binoculars, magnifying glasses, a field book and a notebook for making their own notes about the things they see along the way. All these tools make hiking a fun activity for kids of all ages.
Having a pocket size plant and flower book, or a bird book can help them learn all about nature, both the good and the ones that should be avoided. Let them take pictures with the different things they find along the way with them holding an identification card as to what it is so they can remember and learn these things when they are home too.
These hiking trips are the beginning of a love of the outdoors and nature. Done right it will be something they enjoy long throughout their own lives and they will more than likely teach this love to their own children as well.