Hiking with kids is not for the faint of the heart, especially if they’re young! We’ve been hiking with our boys for several years now and each hike seems to get easier and easier. Keep reading to learn my best tips for hiking with kids!
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1. Start Them Young –This is one of my biggest tips, start traveling and hiking with your kids when they’re young! If you follow along on our adventures, then you know that we are a road tripping family. I’m constantly asked, “How do you get your kids to ride in a car that long?” We started them out really young and they don’t know any different. I suggest this with all aspects of travel, whether that be driving, flying, hiking, snowboarding, etc. If you start them young, it will simply become a part of their muscle memory and will be a familiar activity.
2. Know Your Kids – You know your kids best, so make sure this is something that they will not only enjoy, but can also handle. Hiking is not for everyone and that is okay. I am all about pushing my kids to try new things and be adventurous, but I also want to have a great time on vacation! Hiking would be no fun for anyone if your kids were miserable the whole time. Know their abilities and their limits and ultimately do what’s best for your family. That might even be waiting until they’re older or hiking without them.
3. Break in Hiking Shoes –This is a great tip for anyone hiking, even adults! There is nothing worse than having uncomfortable shoes or blisters when you’re walking. It can be even worse for kids. And if you have kids, then you know that they are going to outgrow their hiking gear just about every season. We purchase these sporty, waterproof hiking shoes for our boys and they play outside in them for several days or weeks before we leave for our next hiking adventure! Trust me on this, do not hike in brand new hiking boots before breaking them in!
4. Fuel Up – This is another great tip for everyone in your group. Hiking can be strenuous. Make sure to eat a big breakfast or lunch, depending on what time of the day you plan to go hiking. There is nothing worse than trying to have a fun family day and one of your kids is in a whole mood because they’re hangry. This happened to us with our little one and I can promise you, it was not one bit of fun once he got hungry. We refuse to leave for the trails until we know that our kids are well fed and full!
5. Bring Lots of Snacks, Food, and Water –We bring a whole hiking backpack full of snacks and water for the trails. Again, we’ve had a pretty tough experience with our youngest one and learned our lesson. We buy these hiking snacks, which my kids love. I also bring sandwiches and Lunchables and lots of beef jerky for extra protein. And we load everything up in our cooler backpack to keep all the food and drinks cool.
6. Start with Shorter Hikes First – Another really important hiking tip is to start with shorter hikes first. This allows you to assess your kids’ hiking abilities and see if they’re enjoying themselves. You can also practice short hikes or walks around your neighborhood or in a nearby park to see how long your kiddos can last before getting tired or bored! Once you’ve done some shorter hikes, then you can start adding longer trails to your itinerary!
7. Bring a First Aid Kit – I cannot recommend bringing a first aid kit when traveling enough! It never fails, my oldest son falls on every single hike and needs a Band-Aid for his scrapes and cuts. At this point it’s become a joke in the family, but I’m always prepared. We also include sunscreen, bug spray, and bear spray in our hiking backpack!
8. Go at a Slow Pace – When you start hiking with your kids, you should go at a slow pace. Don’t expect your kids to be able to keep up with adults. We follow all hiking rules, but on some trails there are fun places for kids to climb and explore! I highly encourage this, hiking will be a better experience if your kids are having fun! Take breaks when you see that your kids are tired or need snacks and water! You’ll be surprised at the memories you make when you’re surrounded by nature having a nice rest and talk with your kids.
9. Be Flexible – Being flexible goes hand in hand with knowing your kids. If you can tell they’re struggling or not having fun, then you might need to stop more often for breaks or simply call it a day. Don’t expect for everything to go perfect, especially when you’re first starting out. I promise, it does get easier and easier the more trails you hike.
10. Plan Fun Hikes – One of the biggest hiking tips that I’ve discovered is to plan fun hikes! This not only adds to the excitement, but if you plan something fun the kids will be eager to make the hike to see it. For example, I usually plan hikes that will lead us to a swimming hole, waterfall, cave, or rocks to play on. When my kids know that something fun awaits, they don’t complain as much because they’re excited to make it to the end. Check out our Top 10 Hikes Across the US for ideas on great places to hike with your kids!
11. Know the Weather – Depending on where you’re hiking, the weather can change quickly. When hiking in the mountains in the summer, chances of a pop up rain storm are pretty high in the afternoon. I suggest being prepared for any weather conditions and knowing the best time to hike at your destination. If you’re in Utah in the summer, you’re going to want to hike earlier in the day before it gets too hot in the afternoon. If you’re in the mountains, you might want to hike later in the day when it gets warmer.
12. Bring Extra Clothes – I highly recommend bringing extra clothes for your kids when hiking. Mine always seem to find water or mud to play in. And once they’re wet, they want dry clothes to continue hiking in. We bring raincoats, extra gloves and socks, and a change of clothes or swimsuits in case there’s a water feature. If I know there’s water to play in, I let my kids hike in their swimsuits and then they change into dry clothes once we’re back at the car.
13. Keep it Engaging – We like to keep the kids engaged, especially when they seem tired or bored. We might come up with a scavenger hunt on the fly. Most of the times it’s as simple as looking for something a certain color or trying to be the first person to spot wildlife! My husband is the best at bringing small balls or a Frisbee for a quick game of catch. And once, my boys invented their own dodgeball game with a pinecone. That was pretty entertaining for all of us!
14. Let Your Kids Help Choose the Hike – I like to let my boys help decide which trails to hike once I have a destination in mind. I use the AllTrails App to find the best hikes for us. Once I narrow down a destination and a list of hikes that are easy or moderate, I will show the kids some photos and let each of them decide what trail they’d like to hike. They’re usually so proud of their choices and excited to hike the trail that they picked! And of course, Jereme and I hype it up and constantly point out how great their choice was.
15. Give the Kids a Job – This is a great tip that has come in handy for us several times, especially for my youngest. If we’re hiking with our dog, we let him carry the leash and walk her. If we don’t have her with us, then he usually has the binoculars and is in charge of finding something cool to check out when we stop for breaks. Sometime, it’s the little things that make a huge difference!
16. Have Fun – Finally, my best hiking tip is to have no expectations other than having a fun time with your family! It might all go as planned or you may have to end your day early. But being together and getting outdoors is so rewarding! Pack your patience, have a great attitude, encourage your kiddos along the way and enjoy every moment with them!
Hopefully you find some of these hiking tips helpful! I really can assure you that it gets better and better each time. It doesn’t always go as perfectly as planned, but hiking is such a great experience for kids. What are your questions or hiking tips? I’d love to connect with you, so leave a comment if you have any recommendations, need help planning a hike, or have a question! Happy trails, my friends!