One of my favorite activities is getting outside with the family and going hiking. I did quite a bit of hiking before I had kids, and as soon as my girls were old enough, I wanted to share my love of the outdoors with them. We love going for hikes as a family, and the kids are always excited to go on a new adventure.
There are lots of things to keep in mind when hiking with kids. Here are some tips for hitting the trails:
- Start easy. This goes especially for younger children. You want the hike to be fun and simple, not daunting or overly challenging. Try finding short loop trails or perhaps a nature center that has a lot of shorter trails, so that you don’t end up on one long trail with no short way out if your child gets tired and wants to leave. Stick with a relatively flat trail and easy terrain. You don’t want to be worrying about your little ones tripping over rocks, roots, or uneven surfaces or slipping on loose ground. Sometimes you can find trails that consists mostly of boardwalks, which is an easy way to try out hiking. And remember to take it slow. Younger children may want to simply wander around, checking out things from pebbles to grass, so don’t try to set a pace – you want them to remember this as a fun experience. Some trails may even accommodate a jogging stroller for younger kids that need to take breaks.
- Hydrate. Children often need encouragement to stay hydrated, so keep an eye on them and gauge how much they need to drink. You can bring a regular water bottle, or there are even hydration packs made just for children, which can make it a fun experience. In hotter weather, you may want to freeze water in a bottle before filling or fill with ice before spending time outdoors, so your child has a cool drink along the way.
- Bring snacks. Be prepared with snacks for everyone to help refuel. It helps to have a pick me up while you are out on a trail. That last thing you need is to be stuck on a trail with an exhausted child – this should be a fun experience!
- Sun protection. This can be in the form of hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, sun protective, clothing, and so on.
- Bug protection. Bring along bug spray or other bug repellents. Some areas may have unexpectedly buggy conditions once you get on the trail. Even if nearby areas seem clear of bugs, take into account that conditions can be completely different on a hiking trail, especially if it is near water, dense brush, etc.
- Tick protection & tick checks. If you live in an area that is prone to ticks, in addition to bug repellants, dress appropriately. Hats may be useful, as well as tucking pant legs into socks and wearing light clothing. We always bring a tick remover in our packs, because it is extremely difficult to remove a tick otherwise, and it can be difficult to find a tick removal tool during peak tick season. It is so easy to keep one on a keychain, in a backpack, or in the glove compartment. When you are done hiking, do a thorough tick check.
- Packs. My kids love wearing their own backpacks while hiking, but make sure the packs are comfortable, and try to keep it light. Our children generally carry some water, a snack, and maybe something like a sweater. We also have some children’s hydration packs, which have less storage, but the kids really like them.
- Carriers. You may want to invest in a child carrier for younger kids.
- Shoes. Make sure your children are wearing comfortable shoes. Keep in mind that shoes may get muddy, sandy, wet, etc. Stay away from shoes like flip flops or Crocs and go with a closed shoe that offers support. Be sure to be prepared with boots if it is going to be muddy – cold, wet feet can end a hike! In the summertime, we keep flip-flops in the car for when the hike is over and everyone is hot and sweaty (and when hiking shoes may be too dirty for the car).
- Learn about nature. Hiking can be a really great educational experience. Not only do children learn from the experience itself, but you can begin teaching them about the local environment. There are lots of resources you can use, including nature guides, trail guides, books, and more.
- Have a nature scavenger hunt. You may want to add an extra element of fun to your hikes, and have kids do a scavenger hunt. This could be things like acorns, spider webs, pinecones, but you can also get more creative – for example, have kids look for different colors and shapes in nature.
- Visit a nature center. Often, nature centers offer easy hikes for kids, or nature programs that consist of a short trek outdoors, but with the added bonus of fun activities built into the hike.
- Trail safety. It is as important to learn about safety in nature as it is to have fun. Teach children about things to look out for- such as staying away from poison ivy, not eating berries, watching out for roots and rocks (so as not to trip), don’t interact or feed wildlife, and so on. If you live in an area with potentially dangerous wildlife (such as rattlesnakes), use this opportunity to educate children.
- Respect nature. Most nature centers and other nature areas have rules about staying on the trails, and not picking plants or removing anything (wildlife, plants, etc).
Hiking is a great way to get outside, get some exercise, and explore the great outdoors. Have fun and happy trails!