how to start hiking with kids

deception pass hikes

I’ve had a few questions regarding how we hike with our kids lately on my instagram, so I figured it was time for a more dedicated post. In the past, I’ve shared my top tip for hiking with kids, but one of the most common questions I get (and honestly the question I had in my head when we started) was how do I start? I feel like I should mention that our start to hiking was more of an organic one than you might realize, but we’ll get into that. First and foremost, I was never a hiker. Ryan wasn’t a hiker. Neither of us particularly liked hiking, but we do have a passion for our kids enjoying the great outdoors, and that’s where it all began and how we found out how to start hiking with kids.

How to Start Hiking with Kids

When COVID first struct last year and we were under stay-home orders, I quickly realized just how valuable outdoor time was for our family. Though confined to base, we enjoyed the trails behind our house and neighborhood every chance we got and whenever the weather allowed. And, when the stay home order was listed, we tackled our first hike. We aimed way too highand we hiked Lake Serene. We finished it, but we finished it by the skin of our teeth. So, as I write this out, let me just say – do as I say, not as I do because the fact that we came back from that is a miracle. So, where do we start?

playing in the mountains

exploring the bridge

Make a Plan for Your Hikes

Start small. Chart out what you want to gain from these hikes, and what you would like your kids to take away. In all honesty, we wanted our kids to soak up fresh air and be tired by the end of the day. We wanted them to move their bodies, breathe, and stretch far beyond the confines of these four walls we live in, but we also learned that we needed to make a plan. So, we scour the trails and find things that are within their skill levels – or just at the top end. We use two apps out here to do so: AllTrails and WTA. Both are great, but we mostly rely on AllTrails now because their trip reports are fantastic! You’ll want to find your ideal hikes by:

  • Adding a distance filter – at the start of our hiking journey, we stuck to a max of 3ish miles
  • Adding an intensity filter – stick to easy when just starting; now we’ll do moderate if it’s a shorter hike

When Starting Hiking, Start Small

It’s easy to crave those epic vistas and trails that you see all over Instagram and Pinterest but, when we quickly learned we had to rein it in. After the debacle that was Lake Serene, we decided that our first year of hiking should be shorter, sweeter, and simpler. We kept our hikes easy with a max elevation gain of no more than 400ish feet over 3 miles. This gave the kids enough of a challenge without defeating them in the process.

how to start hiking with kids

hiking with kids

bench snow lake trails

kid friendly hikes mt. rainier

deschutes falls yelm

Find the Perfect Payoff for Your Hikes

That sounds pretty lofty, right? Nope! Honestly, we know we love swimming, so we focused our hikes around a halfway point where we could either jump in a lake, get sprayed by a waterfall, or dip our legs in a river. That’s how we found Emmons Moraine and Snow Lake Trails. That’s why we did the Green River Gorge swimming hole. That promise of a payoff was enough motivation for the kids to keep moving – even when tired.

Snacks Are the Perfect Motivation

Our kids don’t yet wear packs while we hike. While that may change this year for Spencer, right now, Ryan and I bear the literal burden for them. Part of that packing involves making sure we have enough snacks to distract them when necessary. Our kids’ favorites on our hikes include applesauce pouches, granola bars, homemade rolls, cheese puffs, and string cheese. We almost always stop and snack or lunch at the top or the halfway point to ensure they’re fueled on the way down, as well as to improve their mood.

Don’t Be Afraid to Call It

Sometimes a hike just isn’t working. Whether it’s the kids’ legs being tired, the weather not cooperating, or safety, don’t be afraid to stop. We learned that lesson the hard way when we went to hike Lake 22 in the rain. Ryan and I didn’t feel safe at all when we reached the scrambling portion on the rocks. While the trail was rated easy, it wasn’t easy for the boys, and it wasn’t easy with a dog and a baby, so we stopped – not because it was hard but because it didn’t feel safe. When hiking with kids,  you have to balance the end goal with the means, and sometimes it just isn’t worth the struggle or the pain.

If you’re just starting out and wondering how to start hiking with kids, my best advice is to just do it. Find something small. Test the waters and stretch your legs. Learn the gear that you don’t have and then, over time, find great gear because we’ve also quickly learned that gear can make or break a hike. Our boys have now had two different kinds of hiking boots and pants. It’s worth it to invest in the right stuff!

Tell me – do you hike, or do you hike with your kids? Do you/would you want to?