One of the most common questions I’ve received lately on my instagram has been how we hike with kids. I’ll be completely honest. It’s not easy. It’s almost always a huge production leading up to a hike, prepping for a hike, and actually embarking on said hike, but I’ll always say that it’s worth it in the end. We made a conscious decision this year to start hiking with our kids while they’re still young and at 5, 4, and 1 year old, we’re well aware that people look at us a little crazy while we’re on the trail. Here’s the thing though. This is the perfect time to instill that love of hiking and the outdoors, but there is a fine line between teaching them to love the process and making them resent the process. So, with that in mind, we’ve come up with our top tips for hiking with kids.
Ultimately, hiking with kids is a bit of a crapshoot each time. Sometimes the hike goes exactly as planned, and you get to experience the best of all things – like our hike to Bertha May and Granite Lakes. Sometimes the hike succeeds but ends up being a total mess – like our hike up to Lake Serene. Sometimes things just don’t work out – like our most recent trip up to Mt. Rainier National Park in which we didn’t even get to hike this past weekend. The key to all of those variables is simply adaptability, much like parenting in general. So, on that note, I’m happy to share our list with others in the hopes that these tips help!
Our Top Tips for Hiking with Kids
1 // Go at their pace
Generally speaking, my kids are little billy goats when it comes to hiking. They’ll happily clamber over rocks and roots, wade through streams, and stop to pick flowers along the way. That said, they also have little legs that inevitably tire easily. I’m not a fast hiker either, but my pace is definitely faster than theirs, and it’s easily to push them to hike harder and faster than they’re able, tiring them out way too fast. Instead, we force ourselves to slow down and go at their pace. We stop and smell the flowers – literally. We take our time. Going at their pace makes it far more exciting and feasible for them.
2 // Bring all the snacks
Much like traveling with kids, snacks are a huge motivator and one of the absolute best tips for hiking with kids. When we hiked Lake Serene, the boys carried a pretty big ziploc bag of cheese puffs along the trail. They loved being able to snack along the way and, let’s be honest, kids are always hungry, so having snacks for while hiking and at different landmarks during a hike are a huge incentive for them to keep going. I should also mention that I’m not above bribing them with cake pops upon completion!
3 // Find a hike that’s in their skill level
Let’s be real. I failed this when we went on the 8-mile hike with the kids, and it could very well have been the final nail in the proverbial coffin in their hating hiking. Luckily, they quickly forgot how hard it was, and I learned my lesson. Now, we seek easy to low-moderate hikes of no more than 4ish miles. If we’re aiming for a trail that’s steep, we make sure it’s shorter. If we’re aiming for a trail that’s longer, we make sure that it’s flat with far less of an ascent for them. It’s a series of checks and balances, and the most important part is making sure it’s something they’ll succeed at so they’re incentivized to try again.
4 // Find a hike that has a reward
This tip is honestly as much for myself as it is for my kids. I look for a hike that has some sort of payout, whether that be an incredible view, a lake to dive in, birds to feed, or beyond, it’s important to have that end reward in their minds from the start. I like to pack their swimsuits on lake hikes, letting them know they’ll be able to get in at the top, and that usually inspires them. Giving them that goal and that reward is definitely a huge plus for them.
5 // Gear up properly
No, you actually don’t have to invest in a ton of expensive gear for kids, but you should definitely cover the basics. Proper hiking boots or shoes are a must, bug spray is always in season, and making sure they have a hat is definitely key. I spent a lot of time finding our kids the right clothes for hikes, and I actually can’t wait to share what we found tomorrow, but until then, bear in mind that their comfort in clothes/gear is extra important during the hiking process.
6 // Praise goes a long way
Don’t forget to commend their efforts! It’s easy to see the slips and trips, but watching them clamber up the trail should be praised and reinforced! We make a point of letting them know what an awesome job they’re doing, even if they’re struggling. You’d be surprised how far those words take them.
7 // Plan to stop
Don’t expect to hike three miles without stopping. Even when we’re doing a shorter hike, we make sure to stop after a significant climb, or after wading a stream, or to look out over a specific view or landmark. They need these breaks (and so do I). Sometimes we’ll stop and have a quick water break. Other times we’ll just stop, encourage, catch our breaths, and then press on.
8 // Teach them to leave no trace
This one’s a big one, and it’s definitely one I’m extremely passionate about. So often on the trails, we find litter. From baby wipes to water bottles, snack wrappers, dog poop, and beyond, it amazes me how many hikers and adventurers disrespect the environment around them. On every hike we take, we bring a packout bag, and the kids love being able to pick up trash along the way. Not only does it teach them the principles of being land stewards, but it gives them a mission during the hike.
At the end of the day though, our tips for hiking with kids boil down to one main thing; have fun. The struggles and the journey make the reward that much sweeter, and teaching that from an early age has been so rewarding for them, as well as for us. I love watching them grow more and more confident, and I love that they now expect that an adventure means a hike or some sort of exploration outdoors. That’s reward in and of itself for me.
Tell me – do you hike with your kids? What are your best tips?