I know it sounds crazy but hiking with young kids can be a lot of fun. I’m going to share 10 tips to keep kids engaged, moving, and having fun while hiking.
My main philosophy for doing outdoor activities with kids is to start young and do it often. I find that families that wait until their kids are 3,4,5 to start doing things like hiking or camping have a really hard time and it isn’t fun. Kids have a hard time adjusting because it’s something they aren’t used to. They may end up complaining or not being into it like you hoped. So instead of having a great family time like you imagined it’s just a lot of complaining which can be really off-putting and makes you not want to try again until they are much older which is such a shame. If this is you KEEP TRYING! Just start smaller and lower our expectations to the floor. Young children gain so many skills from spending time outside.
For more fun things to do outside with kids check out all of my outdoor activities here.
1. Pack Snacks-Lots of snacks
Snacks are what keep the train going. Even if you don’t plan to pack a lunch or something pack way more snacks than you think you will need. We love to use snacks as an incentive. For example, when my son is in the I’m done mood and I’m just going to sit here on the trail I will say “when we get to that rock up there we will take a break and have a snack”. This typically does the trick to keep him moving. Snacking while we walk is also a great distraction to keep going. I also like to bring a “special drink” which is Liquid IV. It’s a fun extra something to drink and keeps him hydrated.
2. Provide a reward at the end
I’m not a huge fan of rewarding with food but we always get ice cream after a hike. It’s a good incentive to keep going so we can make it back to the car when we’re all tired.
3. Get them some fun gear
Getting some fun gear really makes my son excited to go hiking. We got him a backpack with a water bladder so he can drink water whenever he would like. He carries his own snacks and a change of clothes. It makes him feel important and he looks just like mom and dad. He also has binoculars, and a magnifying glass, and he’s getting a local bird field guide for Easter. You can add anything that keeps them engaged and exploring nature. A backpack is also a great place for him to put any rocks or fallen leaves he wants to take him so they don’t end up in my pockets.
4. Be Flexible
I think when doing anything with kids our expectations on how the activity is going to be should be extremely low. And this is especially true for any sort of outdoor activity. The point of hiking for kids is to get outside and be a part of nature not make it to the top of the mountain. On days we hike I don’t typically plan anything else for the day because the hike could be super smooth or we could need to take a lot of breaks and just explore. I like to be as flexible as possible.
5. Play Games along the way
We love to talk and play games while we hike. My son is only 3 so we keep the games simple like ISPY and find things that are a certain color. I also like to stop and ask him what he hears. It’s a great way for him to tune into his surroundings.
6. Take lots of breaks
I think this is a given but depending on the length of the hike multiple breaks could be needed. Either sit and enjoy nature or use this time to let kids explore.
7. Let them explore at their own pace
Giving kids time to go at their own pace is very important. Imagine going somewhere new and interesting and being told you can’t ever stop and look at things closer. You’re always told you have to keep moving. That wouldn’t be fun at all. As adults, we typically go on a hike to see a view or make it to a certain location. kids are not going to appreciate that view like adults. Kids are far more interested in the rocks or moss or bugs they find. Take periods of time where you let them walk as slowly as they want. Stop as many times as they want. Let them really explore nature. You could even do intervals of X amount of walking time and X amount of exploration time.
8. Play the “Whoa! Come look at this!” game
My son is only 3 so this game still works. If my son is in one of those “I’m going to sit on the tail and refuse to move another inch because I’m a toddler” moods we play the Whoa! Come look at this! game. I’ll find something along the trail, a cool rock, a pretty flower, a bird, anything at all and I’ll say Whoa! Come look at this! My 3-year-old always comes running to see. We over-exaggerate everything and talk about what we see and he typically forgets he was done hiking and we keep going.
9. Clothes for all types of weather
There is nothing worse than a cold child far away from a warm car. I can handle being cold but I know my toddler complaining about being cold is going to be awful. Depending on the season you are hiking or the type of trail you are taking the weather can drastically change. I always pack layers with a really warm jacket just in case. We also pack a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, water shoes, and an extra pair of socks. I like to be better safe than sorry when it comes to clothing for my kid just in case something happens and we get stuck outside overnight.
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10. Pick the right hike with the kids
Picking the right hike is so important with kids. I try to pick hikes that have a destination. Loop hikes are great because you just keep walking but a destination is a great incentive to keep going. If you have something like a waterfall at the end kids know what to expect. I also try to pick hikes that have water of some kind or rocks for my son to climb on. As your kids get older ask them what types of hikes they want to do and include them in the hike-picking process. Check out the AllTrails website to help you find new trails in your area.https://www.alltrails.com
11. Bonus Tip – Prepare Your Kids
Preparing your kids for how the hike is going to skyrocket your success. When we communicate what it is going to be like, especially if you’re just starting to hike with your kids they will know what to expect and they will have a lot more fun. And if your child isn’t loving hiking maybe start with flatter walking trails or a different location like a beach rather than a mountain or the woods. It’s all about them getting used to walking for longer periods of time outside.