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Tips for Hiking with Kids

How to adjust expectations and plan and pack for a successful hike with children.

 

Doug Diekema
Hiking appeals to a child's sense of discovery. By Doug Diekema

You don’t need to pack your hiking gear away when you have kids!  Hiking is a fantastic way to combine quality family time with exercise and exploration of the natural world.

If you were an avid hiker before children, hiking to you may have meant how fast you can hike, how far you can go, or bagging peaks.  Warning:  Hiking with children of any age is different in many ways. This page provides some tips and tricks to increase your chances of a successful hike - and make the kids beg to go on another one.

Planning

First, you need to get your head in the 'hiking with kids' zone. It takes a little more planning to have a successful trip when little ones are along. Some suggestions:

  • Modify your goals:  You may not reach the end of the trail. You may not even hike a mile! Be prepared to adjust your hike to the enjoyment and comfort level of children.  
  • Pack patience and flexibility:  If you see a frog dart across the trail, be prepared to stop and wait to watch for that frog to dart across the trail again. Use teachable moments to explore the natural world.
  • Know what features are ahead:  For starter day hikes, choose short trails that do not have much elevation gain, but do have features like lakes, ponds, or waterfalls along the way. Children are fascinated with water.
  • Dress for success:  Check weather conditions before you head out the door. Children get cold much easier than adults, especially if they get wet.  Be ready with an extra change of warm clothes.

What makes a good hike with children?

 

Drawing a slug
A young hiker draws a picture of the slug she just saw on a WTA family hike to Twin Falls.

A good hike is one that appeals to a child’s sense of exploration and adventure. Every trail has some kind of adventure in it.

  • Look for discoveries along the way. Bring a magnifying glass and kid-friendly field guide. 
  • Teach kids to be good observers by looking for signs of wildlife (feathers on the ground, claw scratches on tree trunks, animal tracks, bird holes in dead trees, fur along the trail, slugs. Water striders on lakes, sand dollars along the beach, frogs in pond).
  • Choose a trail with features that interest kids as destinations or turnaround spots.
  • Remember a child’s sense of time. Have patience when they stop to ask questions. They may be seeing their first trillium or woodpecker.
  • Put yourself in their boots. Their legs are short and it takes three of their steps for every one of yours. Let the kids set the pace.  
  • Call for rest stops before they ask for them and praise them for how well they are doing.

Other Tips and Tricks

  • Create a checklist of essentials to use over and over again:  First aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, snacks, stuffed animal, extra clothes, special walking stick, etc.
  • Energy stops - As in “when we get to the big tree ahead we’ll need to have an energy stop.” Snacks provide great motivation to keep kids moving on trail.
  • Hike with a friend - as kids get older they would rather spend time with friends than with their family. Allow your child to invite a friend along. They can share a fun experience and entertain each other. 
  • Rotate leaders - When hiking with more than one child make sure that everyone gets to be a leader and set the pace.
  • Keep kids occupied - visit our Keep Kids Entertained on Trail page for ideas!

First Aid

Check to make sure your first aid kit is kid friendly. Some insect repellents and sunscreens in first aid kits are too harsh for children’s skin. Supplement your kit with these items for kids:

  • Children’s sunscreen
  • Children’s Tylenol and/or ibuprofen (ask your physician for sample packs)
  • Liquid antihistamine
  • A lot of adhesive bandages (many different sizes and colors) 
  • Calamine lotion for bug bites
  • Tweezers to remove splinters, ticks and needles
  • Plenty of Anti-bacterial wipes
  • Moleskin for blisters
  • Epipen if your child has allergies
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