Hiking can prove to be a fun and rewarding experience for the whole family. However, the thought of spending a day in the great outdoors with little ones in tow can seem like a daunting prospect if you’ve never done it before. Fortunately, there’s no need to panic: with just a little extra care and preparation, it’s easy to make sure that everyone has a good time on the trail.
Are you ready to start planning your first hike with your kids? Be sure to keep these simple tips in mind.
Keep your expectations realistic
This is probably the most important tip to follow when introducing your kids to hiking. Your first few hikes with your kids shouldn’t be about reaching a particular destination or covering a certain distance. With high expectations like these, you’ll either push your kids too hard (and possibly put them off hiking altogether), or you’ll end up disappointed yourself if you don’t achieve your goal. Instead, keep your expectations realistic, and focus on the most important part of the hike: the simple experience of spending time together outdoors.
A hike that goes on too long isn’t fun for anyone, particularly for young kids who are new to the whole hiking experience. When you’re first introducing your kids to hiking, be sure to start small. Choose shorter hikes that can be easily handled by even the youngest member of your group, and build up to longer excursions as your kids become more experienced and you get a better sense of their capabilities. Remember, as mentioned earlier, you don’t want to push them too hard. In the early days of hiking with your kids, it’s better if the hike feels like it has ended too soon rather than to have your little hikers become tired and upset when there is still some distance to travel.
Find fun features
In addition to sticking to short hikes when starting out, try to choose trails that have fun and interesting features along the way. Waterfalls, streams, lakes, bridges, boardwalks, cool trees, and caves: all these features can spark interest and imagination and keep kids engaged along the way. (Just be sure to allow plenty of time for kids to play around and explore while on the trail.)
Ensure that basic needs are met
All the hiking rules about dressing properly and taking plenty of food and water are even more important when you’re hiking with children. If your kids become hungry or cold on their first hike, it can turn into an unpleasant experience for everyone, so keeping them warm, dry, and well-fed should be a top priority. Check the weather and trail conditions and ensure that your kids dress appropriately (layers are always a good idea for any hike), make sure that everyone has adequate footwear for the terrain, and bring more food and water than you think you’ll need.
Let the kids take control
Kids enjoy the feeling of being in charge, so why not give them the chance to take control (within reason) while you’re on the trail? Take turns rotating who’s leading the group so that they have an opportunity to go first and set the pace. Let them make some decisions along the way, such as where to stop for lunch or which direction to explore. Give them some responsibility, such as carrying some essential gear in their backpacks or serving as the group photographer. If you give kids the opportunity to be in charge and help make them a vital part of the experience, you’ll increase their involvement in the hike and, in turn, their enjoyment of it.
Engage and entertain
As an adult hiker, the experience of being outdoors on the trail is usually entertaining enough, but young hikers often need a little more stimulation to keep them engaged. Choosing a trail with fun features, as mentioned earlier, is a good place to start, but there are plenty of other ways to up the ante along the way. Create physical challenges to engage kids on their level (“Can you jump over that puddle?”), learn some details about the area where you’re hiking so you can tell stories about it along the way, and play fun games to keep your kids motivated (hiking trails are the perfect place for scavenger hunts or games like “I Spy”).
A positive, optimistic attitude can go a long way when you’re hiking with your kids. Not only will it help you stay flexible if the day takes a sudden turn, but your kids will really respond to your enthusiasm. Focus on the fun parts of the hike rather than the difficult parts, give plenty of positive reinforcement so your kids feel like they’re doing a great job, and keep the mood upbeat. Chances are your kids will mirror your positive feelings and will associate hiking with having fun, which is good news for everyone.