The Ultimate Guide To Hiking With Kids

If you are a hiker, or just looking for a fun family outing, you might wonder, why would I want to hike with my kids? There are many benefits to hiking with kids:

The Ultimate Guide To Hiking With Kids
  • It is a great way to get your children outdoors and away from electronics.
  • They will learn about and have a new appreciation of nature as they hike.
  • Hiking can help to build a child’s independence, confidence, and sate their curiosity.
  • Getting outside of their comfort zone, and learning that that’s ok, can also be an added benefit when kids hike.
  • Most of all, hiking with your kids allows you to spend much-needed quality time with them! You are building memories with them that will last a lifetime!

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking With Kids

Should I Attempt Easy Hikes or Difficult Hikes with My Kids?

When you are starting out hiking with your kids, it’s best to limit them to the easier hikes. You can always build up to longer hikes on more difficult terrain as you continue hiking with them.

Hiking can be done anywhere, and doesn’t require any special gear or experience. Remember that if your kids are having fun on a hike, it’s more likely that they will want to hike again with you.

When Should I Start Hiking with My Kids?

Kids of all ages can start hiking anytime, so the best answer to this question is ANYTIME!

  • zBabies can hike with you while strapped to you in a wrap or backpack carrier. Just make sure to bring enough diapers, wipes and food that they will need during the hike.
  • Toddlers can be a difficult age to hike with. They can walk on their own at this age, but might not be able to go far without tiring. Some toddlers might object to where you are going and want to do things their way. Keep your hikes with toddlers short.
  • Kids over the age of four are the best hikers, in the opinion of many parents who have hiked with kids of all ages. School-aged kids are past the baby and toddler stage, and still want to do things with Mom and Dad. (Take advantage of this and spend lots of time with your kids at this age, before they turn into teenagers who want nothing to do with you!)

How Can I Choose the Right Hike for My Kids?

When you are just starting out hiking with your kids, keep the hikes short, over easy terrain. Try not to overestimate the amount of energy your kids will have, as they will tire quickly.

Paved hiking trails are the best for younger children who may be “new” walkers and have more of a tendency to trip and fall.

As your kids become more experienced hikers, you can try out longer hikes over more difficult terrain. School-aged kids can more easily climb over rocks than toddlers, for example. Kids often welcome the challenge of a more difficult trail after they are experienced in hiking.

With kids, it’s always good to have a destination, or something to look forward to at the end of the hike. Hike to a river, creek, lake or picnic area and give them time to play and enjoy it when they get there. If they feel like they are walking towards a goal, they will be much more likely to want to arrive at that goal.

What Should We Wear to Hike?

Everyone should dress appropriately for conditions when you start hiking with your kids.

  • Dressing in layers is your best bet, as kids (and adults) can take off clothing if they’re too hot or put on more if they get too cold.
  • Make sure that your kids wear comfortable socks and shoes. Bring a back-up pair of socks and/or shoes if there’s a chance they can get wet or dirty before the end of the hike and become uncomfortable.
  • You should also bring each child a dry set of clothing and keep it in your vehicle, in case they get wet or dirty and you don’t want to soil your car seats.
  • Also, don’t forget sunscreen so your kiddos (and you) don’t burn during the hike!
  • Each kid and adult should have their own backpack to stash extra clothing, snacks, food and sunscreen during your hike.
  • You should also consider packing a safety whistle for each child and teaching them how, and when, to use it before the hike. That way, if anyone gets lost during the hike, they can whistle so you can find them.

What Time of the Day Should We Hike?

Hiking earlier in the day is your best bet. Kids (and adults) tend to have more energy in the morning, and it’s not as hot as it will be later in the day when the sun is higher in the sky.

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking With Kids

Hiking in the morning allows kids to burn off their extra energy (and maybe even to get a good nap in later in the afternoon when they return home!). Plus, you are less likely to encounter very many other hikers early in the morning.

Who Should Set Our Hiking Pace?

Let your kids be your guide when it comes to the pace of your hike. Remember, hiking with kids is much different than hiking with adults. If you don’t go at your child’s pace, they will hate hiking and want to quit before they are finished. Give your kids time to explore, stopping when they want to examine something.

Allow yourself much more time than it would normally take you to walk the same distance alone or with adults. It’s all about the journey, not the destination. Above all else, be flexible during your hike, ready to shorten (or lengthen) the hike if necessary and/or end it early if you must.

What Should My Kids Be Learning from Our Hike?

When you give your kids time and space to explore, they will learn much during your hikes.

  • Show them interesting nature features you find along the way. Let them explore caves, trees, waterfalls, rocks and boulders as you hike. You are teaching your kids to value and respect their environment during a hike, too.
  • Teach them which plants they should not touch and which are safe for them to touch.
  • Point out flowers, trees, insects, birds and animals.
  • Also make sure that your kids do not leave any trash behind during their hike. Keep a bag with you for trash, stash it in your backpack and throw it away in a trash can when you find one, or at home if you don’t. You might even consider bringing a trash picker and wearing rubber gloves and letting you and your kids safely pick up trash others have left during your hike.
  • You might want to have each of your children journal about their hike experience when they get home. This helps them to remember what they’ve seen and think about what they’d like to see on their next hike.

Should My Kids Have Jobs During the Hike?

You, as a parent, know your kids better than anyone, and you know each one’s personality, strengths and weaknesses. Try to use these aspects of your children when deciding what jobs to assign to which kids during the hike. If you have one that is great with directions, for example, give them the map and let them lead the way.

If you have one that is a great photographer, assign that job to them. If you have one who whines often and needs motivation, assign that kid the role of cheerleader, to keep everyone motivated (themselves included).

What Should I Do If My Child Gets Sick or Tired on the Hike?

You should have packed a small first aid kit, to address any minor injuries that may occur on the hike. Some kids will inevitably get tired, and maybe even sick, during a hike. Know when your child is too exhausted, and stop, letting them rest. You don’t want to make them sick by continuing a hike when they are tired or don’t feel well.

Be alert to your child’s cues that they’ve had enough. Address meltdowns when they occur, and decide whether or not to continue the hike. Stopping a hike at any time is perfectly fine and does not mean that anyone has failed.

If you’re thinking of other outdoor activities with kids, check out our guide to fishing with kids, backyard camping, and gardening with kids.

What Kinds of Games Should We Play on Our Hike?

There are many games that you can play with your kids during your hike. Keeping their minds engaged takes their minds off the fact that they are hiking, and makes the hike go much faster. Examples include:

  • Asking them open-ended questions
  • Playing “I Spy,” noting things that you see (I spy something red, etc.)
  • Work on math word problems as you hike
  • Teach them camp songs and sing them on the hike
  • Conduct a nature scavenger hunt, having them look for specific things (examples of printable scavenger hikes are on Pinterest)
  • Start geocaching with your kids (follow these simple directions)

Should We Eat During Our Hike?

Yes, you should always bring water and healthy snacks along on any hike with kids. Young children will burn calories quickly and need to replenish them through healthy snacks, like fruits, nuts, granola bars and jerky. Make sure everyone has their own water bottle, and adequate refills.

How Often Should I Hike with My Kids?

You should hike with your kids quite often, especially if they turn out to love it! Each hike with your kids will be easier than the last. They may even start looking forward to hiking!

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The Ultimate Guide to Hiking With Kids