Hiking with kids . . . is fun . . . seriously it can be! When we started full-time traveling, we weren’t a big hiking family so it has taken some time for all of us to figure out how best to hike as a family and we are definitely making progress. We have gone on a hike over 6 miles long with our 4 kids under the age of 9!
Fast forward to when they were 11, 9, 9 and 7 and we did a 11 mile hike in North Cascades without a lot of pre planning or any specific gear. Kids are so capable and have so much energy. Hiking is a great way to teach them how capable they are!
Hiking with kids can be an awesome time and a great way to bond as a family. Below we share 15 tips on how to make that happen:
Table of Contents
Expectations When Hiking With Kids
This is the biggest one by far. Your expectations have to be realistic. There are going to be challenges when you are hiking with kids. Don’t expect everyone to be happy all the time and don’t expect your kids to hike beyond their limit.
I am not going to sugar coat these tips or make it seem like our kids are hiking miles down the trail with big smiles on their face all the time. That is 100% not the case. Even now when they are 15, 12, 12 and 10 there are still times when they are crying on the trail or throwing a fit about having to hike.
Just like how as adults we don’t always want to do something. It is the same with kids. However what we have learned is if we can get out on the trail and get started the frustrations start to melt away and the bonding time with our kids starts.
Sometimes that doesn’t happen until we have hit our destination and are making our hike back to the car. But every time it happens at some point. Which shows us it is worth pushing through and doing these family hikes.
Get Over It
Another big one. If your kids do break down while you are hiking, either from being tired, falling, or just being bored, address the situation. This may mean having to stop and take a break in the middle of the trail or carrying your kid (even if they are 5, 6, or 7) for a little while.
Once the situation is addressed, get over it and move on. Don’t dwell on it. Instead be upbeat and happy and continue on with the hike. Your kids will feed off of your energy so be prepared for this one so you can bounce back quickly when things get tough.
Plan to Stop To Let the Kids Explore
If you are like me, you like to start and get to the end. I like to walk fast and keep moving. With kids that isn’t always the case. It will make the whole experience better if you give them a chance to stop and explore now and then. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to keep moving or a 1 mile hike could take 4 hours.
If they see something they want to explore, let them stop to check it out, but just remind them that you have to keep moving to reach your destination, have your picnic or get your “Power Pellets” (explained below). This would also be a good time to bust out a game idea to help get them moving again (game ideas listed below!).
Oh the Power Pellets have saved us quite a few times. These are little pellets that we give the kids and tell them they are magical energy tablets so they get a burst to keep hiking! (Shhh…they’re really just Tic-Tacs).
They are the perfect size for giving kids, they are yummy, and are easy to carry with you on a hike (they fit right in my fanny pack!). It makes the kids feel like they have this burst of energy when they eat them.
Sometimes I tell the kids before we start that we have them. Other times I keep it to myself so they aren’t asking the minute we start the hike :). It is up to you how your kids handle that if you want to tell them up front or not.
If you are looking for a good bag to carry your power pellets in check out this Aer City Sling review.
If it is a longer hike, I double up. We bring the Power Pellets and suckers. Suckers work great since it takes the kids a while to eat them and they are occupied as they are walking so they keep moving.
Ring Pops are also great since they last a really long time or else any other kind of sucker that your kids like.
Yes I just recommended you give your kids sugar and candy. Don’t feel guilty if there is a situation that calls for it this it. Plus they are out running around and burning energy. Not guilt needed!
Hiking Snacks For Kids
If you are hiking to an end point like a scenic view, lake, park, etc., then it is always a good to pack a few snacks for your kids. This doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal, but just simple things like graham crackers, granola bars, or fruit snacks.
Finding hiking snacks for kids doesn’t have to be hard, just think of things your kids like that you would pack in their lunch or are easy to take with you. You can also get the snack size zip lock bags and make little snack bags for each kid with their favorite chips, crackers, candy (might want to steer clear of chocolate if it is hot out), etc.
If you have older kids you could get them a kids sized small pack to carry their own snacks and water in. This has been helpful for our kids as they got older – so they could eat their snacks when they wanted to and they weren’t always asking us to get them out of the bag again.
You can also add things like a magnifying glass or a safety whistle (but may want to talk to the kids about only using the whistle in emergencies or else they will be blowing it the whole hike :)).
Don’t forget to bring your can of beer or bottle of wine so you can energize (or relax) too! We like to bring this along and have it when we get to the highlight of the hike. It helps us sit down and relax for a minute and take in the beauty around us.
Hiking Games For Kids
There are a few hiking games for kids that we have found work well. They don’t take any equipment so they are perfect.
- Story telling
- Ask each kid a questions and from there put a story together. For example is the story about a boy or girl?
- What is the kids name?
- Where are they going?
- What do they do when they get there?
- And just keep going and putting the story together as the questions are answered.
- Guess the animal
- Pick an animal and then the kids ask questions to figure out what animal you are thinking of.
- Then have your kids pick an animal and they are the leader who people ask questions to.
- We have even done this with our 4 year old in charge and it works great.
- Eye Spy
- A basic game of eye spy where you pick something and say I spy and give hints until they guess it
- Scavenger Hunt
- Kids always love a good scavenger hunt!
These hiking games for kids can take a long time and keep everyone occupied and hiking while you are also having fun together!
Talking While Hiking With Kids
This one works great with our older son. He tends to get really fixated on topics, so if we talk to him about them he will hike for hours. For example he is currently really into Nerf guns. So we talk to him about what Nerf gun he wants, why he wants it, what he things is cool about it, etc.
Hiking with kids is a great time to really bond with them and just let them talk. On our last hike our 6 year old talked for the whole 2 mile hike. Seriously, he talked the whole time. As we all know life is busy, but when you are on a hike there usually isn’t much else you can do, so it is a perfect time to just let your kid talk and to listen. It can be really interesting what they have to say.
If your kid doesn’t easily open up and talk then be prepared with questions you can ask like:
– What was your favorite thing about yesterday?
– What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
– What color leaves do you like best?
– What do you want to do tomorrow?
– Really anything about them that they can answer without being judged or that doesn’t have a right or wrong answer.
We have used our backpack carrier for our 6 year olds! We use an Ergo and yes, our kids are out of the weight limit but they still work for taking pressure off of your back while you are carrying them. Sometimes our 4 year old will stay in it for miles and sometimes he wants to get down and run. It is definitely one of our hiking essentials with young kids.
Just having it with us gives everyone a chance to take a break if they need it. Plus it is a good workout for Mom or Dad.
Don’t skip on this one. Your kids are going to get thirsty and so are you so have water bottles with you. Make sure you have brought as much water with as you can carry comfortably.
Backpacks are great for this and so are fanny packs (we use one like this). Depending on where you are hiking and how far be sure you are keeping an eye on water intake so you don’t drink all of it before you are even half way done with your hike.
Having the right hiking shoes for kids is very helpful. With the right shoes they may not trip and fall as much, lose their shoes, or have to worry about getting them wet or dirty. Don’t wear their best new shoes when you go hiking. Instead get a pair of Keens or an old pair of shoes that they can get dirty and wet. Keens are great because they have great toe protection.
Kids love exploring and to help them enjoy hiking, it is best to let them explore as much as possible and not worry about their shoes getting dirty or wet. If your kid doesn’t like wet shoes or sock bring an extra pair of socks or explain to them if their shoes get wet, you don’t have another pair with you. This may not work the first time but the next time around they will understand better.
Always have a pair of dry clothes in the car when you go hiking with kids. If possible, bring a change of clothes with you in your backpack on your hike. That way if the kids see a stream or fall in a mud puddle, you have clothes for them to change into. This goes with the idea of helping your kids enjoy hiking.
If they aren’t stressing about their clothes, they are bound to have more fun and to explore more if they are worried about getting their clothes wet. This also goes for parents – always have an extra pair of clothes in the car just in case you get caught in the rain or end up playing in the stream with your kids.
If you are worried about sun bring a sun hat for your kid too. Especially if you will be doing a hike out in the open.
Type of Hike
Our kids love a hike that has them climbing up and over things or going into the water. Think about the age of your kids and what kind of hike they would be into. We don’t always do kid friendly hikes – but instead push our kids to do hikes that are more challenging.
Also what you could handle – since you have to be able to keep up. Our kids love rock scrambling (where you are literally climbing over rocks and up rocks to stay on the trail) and would go for miles with that kind of hike.
Have An End Destination When Hiking With Kids
A loop hike is nice since you just go out and make a loop and you don’t back track on the same trail. But having an end goal like a waterfall or a lookout is also really cool and can motivate the kids to keep going to reach that point.
Just make sure you make it more than just about the picture when you get there . . . I took the kids a mile up a mountain to the Clingmans Dome lookout in the Smokey Mountains and when we got to the top Melia turned to me and said: “We did all of that just for a picture?!”. I bought all of them something at the gift shop when we got to the bottom :).
When you reach the destination you could set up a picnic. Or stop and take a break on a log to take in the scenery and give them a snack you have been saving just for that time. Or just give them a chance to run around or jump in the water (if by a waterfall).
Above all enjoy yourself!
Know that this isn’t going to be like hiking with adults and if that is what you are looking for, find a babysitter for your kids and go without them. Hiking with kids can be so fun and such a great family bonding experience so we recommend going for it! Don’t expect the first or even the 3rd or 10th time to go perfect because it probably won’t, but stick with it and you and your family will figure it out.
I bet if you tell kids that they are going to have Power Pellets and candy on the hike they will get more excited for it. I know I get more excited when I know I have a Mikes Hard Lemonade waiting for me on the hike :). Hiking with kids is all about doing what you have to do to make it work. Then over time it takes less and less of that and your kids get use to it and usually enjoy it!
Do you have any tips to add? Do you have a favorite family hike?
Here are some of our favorite hikes:
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