Whether you were an avid hiker before becoming a parent, or a beginner yourself, introducing your kids to nature through hiking trails can be incredibly rewarding and a great way to entertain the whole family and make life-long memories. A successful hike with kids has just as much to do with packing the right gear as it does with having the right attitude, so it is best to cover all of your bases before setting out, share a few tips for a fun, successful, and safe hike with your kids.
1. Lead by Example
Instill good habits in your young hikers with a positive attitude, bravery, and respect for their surroundings. You want to ensure that they feel safe while respecting the power and unpredictability of mother nature. Teach them early on to stay on the trail, avoid harmful flora and fauna like poison ivy, and what to do when encountering wildlife.
2. Start Small and Start Local
You wouldn’t sign up for a 10k race if you’ve only just started running. You want to start with manageable trails that gently introduce your new hikers to an activity that requires patience, stamina, and strength. Inevitably, you may get the “carry me!” request, so for your own sake, a shorter trail may be a good place to start for parents as well. Allow the kids to set the pace too, encouraging exploration and curiosity as they take in their new surroundings.
3. Prepare with the Right Clothing
Expect the unexpected, and always bring an outfit change just in case the weather decides to shift dramatically. Your child’s clothing could be the fine line between an enjoyable hike and a miserable one. Opt for layerable, moisture-wicking clothing, stretchy and breathable pants, a wide-brimmed hat to prevent sunburns, and a windbreaker in case it gets chilly. Being prepared will prevent injuries while hiking such as wearing practical shoes and bringing sunscreen.
4. Promote Games in the Wild
Put together a few prompts or games to keep the kiddos stimulated throughout the hike. Bring along a nature journal for them to document what they see in the wild, and a magnifying glass to get a close-up look at different bugs and plants. Play eye-spy or follow the leader and allow their imaginations to run wild. Put together a nature watch key asking them to find a specific amount of items like birds, mushrooms, butterflies, etc. These experiences will foster an appreciation and adventurous spirit which will grow with them as they mature and advance in trails.
5. Having the Right Backpack is Key
Be sure to invest in a comfortable, lightweight, ventilated backpack with plenty of compartments. You want to be sure that you can bring the essentials such as a first aid kit, water bottles, sunscreen, spare clothing, hats, etc. It doesn’t hurt to stow away a carrier while hiking with a toddler so that you have the option of throwing them on your back if they become too tired.
6. Give Yourself Time, and Plenty of it
For the first few hikes, plan on doubling the time it might normally take to complete the trail, just to be safe. Kids are natural explorers and will probably want to take time to look at rocks and plants and ask questions, so be prepared to engage with their distractions whether it be splashing around in the creek or watching ants cross a log. It’s also important to account for plenty of breaks for rest, snacks, and hydration. Bring plenty of high-energy, healthy snacks that will keep their minds and bodies sharp and energized. A hungry kid often makes for a cranky kid, so keeping their energy up with a variety of snacks throughout the hike is key.
7. Encourage and Positive Reinforcement
Take moments to celebrate even the smallest achievements, whether it be making it across a long bridge or reaching the first mile marker. Stoke their engagement with plenty of encouragement so they remain excited and motivated throughout the hike.
8. Teach Kids to Leave No Trace
Children are the future stewards of the lands and wildlife that occupy it, and it is crucial that we pass along the importance of taking care of these remarkable public spaces for everyone to enjoy. Bringing along gallon-sized zip-top bags to keep wrappers or empty juice boxes will do the trick. You can even implement a game with each child receiving a zip-top bag to see who can collect the most trash from the trail, emphasizing the importance of leaving the area in better condition than when you found it.