Looking for ways to get your kids outside and more active?
Do you enjoy walking through the woods and exploring the great outdoors?
If you’ve ever tried hiking with your kids and wondered why they aren’t as enthused about it as you are, keep reading.
In this article I’ll share six ways to get your kids excited about hiking so your family can enjoy the great outdoors together.
Why Go Hiking With Your Kids?
Hiking is an excellent way to connect with your family. There’s a lot to talk about while you explore the wilderness—not just the great outdoors and the things you see. It’s the perfect time to ask your kids about school, friends and their lives in general.
But sometimes it can be quite a challenge to encourage kids to pull on some hiking boots and hit your favorite hiking trail.
I’m here to help.
Can you relate to this story? My first attempts at hiking with my kids were disasters.
The picture of us as the perfect hiking family—baby on my back, scaling peaks with birds chirping—was far from reality. The screaming toddler on my back, pulling my hair, caused me to lose patience quickly. Everyone was miserable. I thought I’d never hike again.
It was a challenge at first, but now my family loves to go hiking.
Over the years, through trial and error, my family and I finally figured out how to get it right. And I’m going to pass our hiking secrets on to you.
Learn a few tips about hiking with kids in this video.
The first and most important thing is to plan a safe hike and get your kids excited about hiking. Talk to your kids about it the day or morning before. Ask them questions about what they hope to see on the hike. Trees? Birds? Flowers?
Ask your kids to draw a picture before the hike and then another one afterwards. See how their perspective changes.
Here are six tips to make hiking with your family an enjoyable experience.
#1: Pick the Right Path
Before you set out on a family hike, do your research. Ask friends, contact local nature groups or look on the Internet for kid-friendly parks in your area. Or just look around town.
You may find that your best hikes take place on unremarkable old fire roads. Find “trails” with plenty of room for your kids to walk their own weaving path. As a bonus, you won’t have to worry that they’ll fall off the edge of the trail.
When you research traditional hiking trails, you’ll often see ratings that will tell you how strenuous the walk will be. Don’t let the ratings, which are usually based on the steepness and technical difficulty of the trail, be the end of your research. Also consider elevation gain and the width of the path.
The best way to try out a hike is to test it without kids first. Since that isn’t always feasible, just do the best you can. Rate the hiking paths as a family and keep a list so you’ll know where to go (and which trails to avoid) in the future.
#2: Allow Plenty of Time
Don’t even try to hike with kids when you’re on a tight timeline. Set aside plenty of time to stop and smell the roses… er, trees.
If you hurry the kids along—and say things like, “Come on. Don’t look at that. Don’t touch that. Hurry up.”—trust me, no one will enjoy the experience!
Take your time when you hike to explore things; for instance, climb on a fallen tree.
There are new and interesting things to notice on the trail every season. Spring brings animal tracks in squishy mud. Summer gives way to wildflowers. Autumn is a bounty of colorful leaves. And winter is a good time to look for rocks, if the ground isn’t covered with snow.
#3: Turn Back Before Your Kids Get Tired
The key to ending your hike on a happy note is simple: turn around before your kids get tired… and inevitably cranky.
Hikes are fun, but they also use a lot of energy. Your kids’ legs work hard to keep up with your adult-sized strides, so keep track of the time and distance, pace yourself and allow for many breaks along the way.
Note: Loop hikes are also good for families, since you don’t need to decide when to turn around.
Take several breaks to ensure you’ve got happy and energetic young hikers.
Pack water to stay hydrated. Plus, keep a good supply of high-energy snacks in your daypack, as well. They’ll give your kids a burst of energy for the trip back. To make the experience more special, bring snacks that you don’t normally have around the house.
#4: Let Your Kids Lead the Journey
The things that grab an adult’s attention on a hike—a beautiful waterfall, a scenic view—may hold little or no interest for kids. Don’t push your children to like the things that you find interesting. Encourage kids to look for and point out things along the trail that are fun to them.
Our kids like to throw rocks in the water and look for frogs when they hike.
Note: If your kids are too focused on minute details during the hike, you’ll want to point out the 150-pound deer that wandered across the trail right in front of them.
Ask your kids questions about the things they find interesting. Why do you think that tree fell down? Why are some rocks larger than others? Where does the stream end?
You’ll be surprised and delighted by what will most likely be some creative answers.
#5: Help Your Kids Notice What’s Around Them
To encourage more awareness in the woods, check out nature guides from the library or search for them on the Internet.
If you do some education up front, you can focus on various things like types of butterflies, wildflowers or trees that you’ve previously read about. You can also take pictures of something you find interesting and look it up later.
A field guide from the library can come in handy on a nature hike.
Another option: Stay still for a minute and listen for sounds in nature. Then take turns sharing what you hear. You may decide that a squirrel sounds like a dinosaur crashing through the woods, while a deer barely makes a sound.
Stop, look and listen for interesting things in nature.
On your hike, look for interesting things and point them out to your kids. You can also ask questions, play the alphabet game (call out the things you find in nature in alphabetical order) or have a photo scavenger hunt.
#6: Explore Other Locations
When you look for a place for a fun family hike, don’t limit yourself to the woods.
Spend the day “hiking” through the grounds of an historic home.
For even more options, check out local parks, as well as a directory of international parks and the National Park Service in the United States. The latter even has National Parks fee-free days throughout the year.
Wherever you go on a hike, plan every detail as a family to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone.
Some Final Thoughts…
One of my favorite things to do is to spend time on the trails with my kids. While hiking as a family didn’t come naturally to any of us, we were able to make some adjustments and turn the experience into something we all enjoy.
I hope these tips (many of them learned the hard way!) will encourage you to go take a hike with your kids and make hiking a fun experience for your family, too.
What do you think? Do your kids like to hike? What things did you do to make hiking fun? What’s the best place to hike in your neck of the woods? Please share your experience and some photos in the comments.
About the Author, Jillian Kay
Jillian Kay is an office worker by day, and at night and on weekends you can find her working in the garden, or cooking from scratch in the kitchen. Other posts by Jillian Kay »