How Do You Hike with Kids? Just Take a Deep Breath and Jump
Our two middle kids on a short nature trail near us.I get a lot of parents asking me how I hike with kids. They say it is intimidating. They worry their kids will hate it and then they'll be stuck somewhere in the woods in misery with tantrumming kids. Or that they're just plain scared to go by themselves.
Here's my advice: Start small. If you've never taken your kids on a hike and you don't walk regularly around your neighborhood, start with a short, local nature trail. It doesn't have to be a "named" miles-long hiking trail. In fact, for safety reasons if you're a hiking novice, then this is a better choice your first few times out anyway (and I have plans for some safety tips in a future post, so check back for that topic). When our family started hiking, we maxed out at flat one mile loop trails. We frequently took .8 mile loops- in fact we often still do! Some hikes are even paved (although this hurts my knees)! Just get out there. There's no shame in tiny hikes. Everyone has to start somewhere and the more your kids hike (and you!), the further your family will be able to go. Just get out there. Start. Don't wait until your kids are the "perfect age." EVERY age is perfect! I promise.
Our two oldest girls a few years ago on a Joshua Tree National Park hike
Do your kids balk at the word hike? Do they walk when you go to the zoo, or the library, or the museum, or the park? Chances are they will be fine. Give your hikes a rebranding. Call them walks or adventures or a boogie in the woods. Do a scavenger hunt along the trail. Pick something to count. Our three year old loves finding spider webs, lichen and fungi- especially the fungus that looks like ears on the trees. Our six year old loves spotting squirrels. Our oldest loves looking for small waterfalls or water bubbling in streams and creeks. Find the blazes on the trees on your trail. Have a race to see who can get to the next one first. Be silly.
Two of my kids decided to do the mountain pose in the middle of the trail
Take breaks. Throw rocks in the stream. Turn over logs to look for bugs. Bring lots of snacks and of course plenty of water. Buy hiking-only snacks. We like luna and lara bars for our "hiking-only" snacks and my kids look forward to our snack breaks to eat the stuff I don't normally purchase. Or bake special hiking muffins. Our two oldest, Eleanore and Adelaide still talk about the time we baked muffins, left the house when it was still dark, and ate breakfast and watched the sunrise on a hike.
Hiking with babies is especially easy, and even more so if you're breastfeeding. Put the baby in a carrier, bring a diaper and wipes and go! Our babies have always spent the majority of our hikes napping. The gentle rocking of my walking puts them right to sleep.
Here are my SEVEN TIPS for HIKING WITH KIDS
1. Hike to a destination like a creek, climbing tree or waterfall. Some kids love having a destination and it gives them motivation to get there.
2. Take up geocaching- finding secret treasure boxes in the woods is just plain fun and motivating for everyone of any age!
3. Bring along a favorite stuffed animal friend for the adventure- our three year old loved introducing his stuffed turtles to landmarks on his hike:
4. Take pictures and stop for photo breaks. Everyone can look for something unique to photograph. Or just take goofy selfies.
5. Make up silly songs. We had fun making up new words to the tune of "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" a few weeks ago on a hike in the mountains.
6. Look for funny shaped leaves or collect special ones to take home for crafts. Or just try and find one as big as your head.
7. Keep an extra special snack waiting in the car to entice everyone to hike back. Sometimes the hardest part of a hike is getting back, and having suckers or gummy bears in the car can really motivate tired legs to keep going!
Just go. Pack a bag with snacks and water, put on your sneakers and go. Just get out there. It's not complicated- I promise. To steal a quote from the first Appalachian Trail book I ever read, which started my obsession: It's just a walk in the woods.