Studies have shown the positive impact that time in nature has on human beings. Taking your kids on hikes is a time to teach them to appreciate and be grateful for the natural world. It is a time away from electronics and schedules. It is a time to be free, take breaks, make detours and just go with the flow! Attitude is everything – and I’m talking both kids and parents! Hiking should be fun and you want your kids’ memories of hiking to be positive ones.
We’ve collected our best hiking tips to make sure hiking is something your kids will want to come back to again and again.
A little planning goes a long way.
- Snacks, snacks, snacks. I can’t stress this enough. Hiking burns a lot of energy, and kids need to stay fueled up to make the hike a successful one. Bring your kids’ favorites, and lots of them! I frequently bring a secret stash of “Super Fuel” for when my kids need a little extra motivation to keep going or to just get back to the car! My kids run on marshmallow power; sometimes licorice power. One fun idea is to let your kids make their own trail mix or energy balls the night before a hike. They are usually super excited to eat snacks that they had a hand in making. You can find lots of ideas for trail mix and energy bites on Pinterest.
- The Outdoor Backpack – I have found that letting my kids bring a backpack can help make the hike fun. Pro-tip – make sure the bag is something that Mom or Dad are able to stash in their backpack because at some point you will end up carrying everything! Things that we have found to be good hiking take alongs – a small magnifying glass, a sketch book and color pencils for when the artistic inspiration hits, a camera, a small field book to identify trees, flowers, animals etc., sunglasses, walkie-talkies can be really fun on a hike. Keep the kids packs light, I usually let my kids pick out 1-2 things max for their bags.
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go – Letting the kids be involved in the decisions is a way to keep them engaged. Look at maps together to decide which trail you are going to hike.
During the Hike
- Follow the Map – Pick up a map or other interactive materials at the visitor centers. If there are no copies of maps take a picture on your phone if there is a map at the trail head.
- Little Photographers – Let your kids take control of the camera or your phone camera (if you trust them to do so!) They will find all sorts of things to take pictures of! Another idea is to make it a theme hike – how many different colors can we find on the hike, take pictures of as many different kinds of leaves that you can find etc.
- Walking Sticks – Finding the perfect walking stick can make a youngster feel like a professional hiker. Another fun walking stick idea – find a stick that you can drill some holes through. Use some twine to tie treasures onto the walking stick such as feathers, twigs and anything else that you can attach to the stick!
- Step it Up – Pedometers can be a fun motivator for kids – How many steps was the hike? Can you go further than your previous hikes?
- Create your own Hiking Scrapbook – you can add pictures, maps, number of steps, highlights of the trail, funny things that happened on the hike, etc.
- Be a Friend to the Earth – Bring a bag and pick up litter. This is also a great thing to do in your own neighborhood.
- Bring a Friend – Let your kids bring a friend with, or plan a hike with friends or family.
- Find a Hiking Event – State Parks and Nature Centers put on some really great hiking events. We never miss the Story Walk that Lebanon Hills puts on twice a year. Lebanon Hills also does a great #optoutside event on Black Friday. They hide figurines along the trail to find. Last year was a Paul Bunyan theme and there were 20 or so Babe the Blue Ox figures to find.
- Positioning the Hike – The dreaded “I’m bored”, “I’m tired”, “when are we done” AKA the whining. Sometimes calling it a hike is enough to make kids think that it will be work. There is a lot of persuasion in a name, instead of saying you are going hiking call it going on an adventure or some other motivating moniker. When my kids were younger and watched Dora the Explorer I used to call my girls “explorer stars”, they loved it!
- Let it Go! Kids are world famous for getting distracted, so a rigid schedule might not be the best plan when hiking with kids. A hike is the perfect time to support and encourage their natural curiosity. Distracted by a rock? Have to turn back to see the pattern on the tree bark? Go with it!
- Play with It
- Play follow the leader and give kids turns at being the leader
- Take breaks! This is why you packed all those snacks!
- Play I-spy, sing songs, make up the silliest verses you can think of for ‘Down by the Bay’, do a scavenger hunt.
- Hiking can be a great time for props – let the kids wear a cape, a princess dress, or whatever costume they want! Whatever keeps them in the adventurous mood!
- Pick hikes that have a reward at the end. Nature centers may have a natural play area or fun indoor play areas. Hike at a park that ends with a playground. Take a hike around a lake that has a swimming beach and cool off after the hike! Hike on trails that have features that kids find exciting, such as bridges, boardwalks, docks etc.
- Backup Clothes – Have extra clothes, shoes and plastic bags for wet/muddy items in your vehicle. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have changed in the back of the car after a hike. Being able to put dry clothes on for the ride home can help curb a very whiny ride home!
- Yes, More Snacks – Consider keeping extra snacks in the car in case you each everything you brought on the trail. Or have a plan for a special stop after the hike for ice cream or a smoothie!
- Positive Reinforcement!!! Tell your kids how great they did. Talk about the highlights. You want to keep them excited for your next hike!