We have gone on many hikes with our kids over the years. While hiking can be a lot of fun and a great way to spend time as a family, it can also be a challenge especially if your kids are hot, tired, hungry, and cranky. We have learned some ways to make hiking a little easier, especially when it comes to little kids.
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Pick appropriate hikes
Make sure you stick with hikes that your kids can handle. Start easy, and make sure you don’t pick something that is too long. First hikes should probably be short, even around your local park. Nature centers usually have some shorter, kid-friendly hikes as well. Don’t assume that a hike you did before you had kids is going to be something doable with toddlers!
Hydration is important, and something you should be responsible for, when it comes to children. They will notice if they are hungry, but often thirst comes a little too late. On hot days, keep kids sipping on their water bottles. How cute are these CamelBak Kid’s Hydration Backpacks? It pretty much guarantees that your kids will be staying hydrated!
Kids love to snack, and regardless of how hungry they are, it is good to be prepared with snacks for along the trail so that if they want to take a snack break, that opportunity is there.
Keep the bugs away
One of my kids biggest complaints is bugs, from when they were little until now (they are teens). Being bitten by bugs can really make an experience unpleasant, and it is good to make sure you are prepared with whatever you need to keep bugs at bay, from bug spray to head nets.
On hot days, I usually try to find trails that are in the shade, such as those that are in the woods and have a forest canopy to provide shade. However, it is good to be prepared with sun protection as well to protect your child’s delicate skin. We always choose a natural and reef-safe sunscreen. It is good to avoid chemicals with kids, and reef-safe sunscreen is better for the environment, including kind of body of water (streams, ponds, etc).
Other things to consider are that the bright sun can also be irritating, so and hat and/or sunglasses may be helpful to have as well.
If there is some hiking gear that gets your children excited for hiking, go for it! This might be a cute water bottle, or a small hiking pack that they can carry their snacks in. Kids often like to emulate their parents, so they may enjoy a kids hydration pack or hiking poles. Make sure kids wear comfortable, appropriate shoes as well!
Find hikes with features & be patient
My kids always did better on hikes when there was something rewarding. In the summer, this might be a stream or swimming hole that they can dip their feet in. A lake where you can watch the birds and turtles. Or a gorgeous view where you can have a picnic lunch. There are many ways to keep kids engaged in hikes. Or perhaps it is a trail that is near a playground or nature center, so there is something to do afterwards. Younger children do not have a long attention span, so cater to keeping them busy. This may also mean stopping every 10 paces to look at a bug or a rock! Be patient and let kids enjoy the trail at their own pace.
Keep kids engaged
Find ways to keep your kids engaged and motivated, even in the heat. Make the hike into a scavenger hunt, for example, and have kids look for certain things (a tree with white bark, or a pink flower, or a gray rock). Teach kids how to navigate using trail markers. Educate them about things like staying on the trail or packing out everything they bring.
Do a tick check after.
While this is regional, ticks are a real threat here in the Northeast, so we always check our kids for ticks after every outdoor adventure. It is also good to practice staying on the trails and advise kids not to wander off the worn part of the trail. I find that the strategy for strictly staying on the trail also works well for other things, such as avoiding poison ivy, brambles, bugs, etc.