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Most outdoorsy people are well aware that hiking is a lot of fun. That said, many seem to have an idea that hiking is something that can only be enjoyed by adults when they are child-free. The truth of the matter? Hiking with kids is not only doable, but can be totally fun! In fact, we’d even go so far as to say it’s one of our very favorite family activities to do when out exploring the country.
All that said, there are some things you should know before you jump into hiking with kids. Going in unprepared could end in disaster and leave you believing the rumors that hiking is an adults-only activity. For this reason, we highly recommend keeping the following tips in mind when planning for a family hiking expedition.
Choose Your Trail Wisely
First and foremost, you will want to choose your family hiking trail wisely. Hiking with kids will likely mean choosing trails that are a little less challenging and a bit shorter. That said, this doesn’t mean you have to skip challenges altogether. It also doesn’t mean your family hiking trips need to be boring. There are plenty of moderately challenging and incredibly interesting trails out there that provide ideal hiking for kids.
Not sure how to find the right trail? We recommend using the AllTrails app. Start by looking for easy trails that are under a mile or so long. A trail that fits these criteria—and also includes a creek, a waterfall, easy climbs, lots of wildlife, beautiful views, or other interesting features—is sure to be a hit when hiking with kids.
If you have older kids and they do well hiking short, easy trails, consider moving onto slightly longer trails or ones labeled as “moderate”. Of course, you’ll still want to seek out those awesome features to keep things interesting for the whole family.
Some of our favorite hikes for kids can be found here.
Time Your Hike Right
The next step in planning a family hike? Deciding when to go out.
If you’re hiking with toddlers or taking preschool-aged kids along, timing is everything. Naptime hiking is out of the question unless you’re hiking with baby and you know he or she will nap in the carrier. Meanwhile, late afternoon hiking likely isn’t great if it’s very warm and sunny outside. Of course, nighttime definitely isn’t ideal, as you’ll be out too close to bedtime and could find yourself hiking in the dark.
In our opinion, the best time to hike with toddlers and preschoolers is probably before lunch. This is when the kids will have the most energy. It avoids both naptime and bedtime, and it ensures you aren’t out in the heat of the day.
Obviously, if you’ll be hiking with older kids or teens, the time matters a bit less, but if your kids tend to be cranky at a certain time of day, keep that in mind when planning.
Plan for Stops and a Slow Pace
Kids are natural explorers. They want to stop and look at things, touch all the sticks, and pick up all the rocks. Not only that, kids also have smaller legs and tend to need more breaks than adults might.
Because of these tendencies, you almost certainly won’t be able to hike as quickly as you would without kids—but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You see, when it comes to hiking, it’s more about the journey than the destination, and kids will force you to slow down, take in the scenery, immerse yourself in the moment, and really connect with nature.
Still, it is good to consider these facts going in and prepare for them. Try to give yourselves plenty of time to meander through nature. If you’re short on time, choose a shorter trail (or plan to turn back partway through) rather than trying to hurry the kids along. Rushing little hikers will only put a damper on their experience and will likely result in bad moods all around.
Know What to Pack
Once you’ve picked out the perfect trail and carved out time for your family hike, the next step is packing your bags. The question is, what does one pack when hiking with kids? What sort of kids hiking gear is essential, and what can be skipped?
Below is a list of must-have family hiking gear for day hiking:
- Weather-appropriate clothing
- Hiking boots or shoes
- Water and snacks
- Navigation tool
- First aid kit
- Baby carrier
- Venture Wipes
- Ultimate Hiking Logbook
Our article on the subject of packing for family day hikes includes links to some of the best family hiking gear on the market.
Find Way to Engage Kids
Besides the essentials, you will also want to pack some things to help engage the kids in hiking. Making a point of making the hike fun and interesting for them is sure to result in happier kids and happier parents. Not only that, it’ll leave your kids excited to go on their next hike.
Some of the best ways to engage kids on a hike include:
- Packing a kids camera and letting them snap photos of things they find along the path.
- Picking up some good kids binoculars to do some bird watching.
- Doing a nature scavenger hunt.
- Playing games like “I Spy” as a family as you hike.
- Playing Aqua Marooned!
- Participating in Junior Ranger programs at national parks, NPS sites, and some state parks.
Invite Friends Along
Last but not least, we highly recommend taking friends along once in a while when hiking with kids. When kids have peers to talk and play with, they tend to complain much less about aching feet and tired legs, and even the most reluctant hikers might find themselves happy to hop on the trail if they have a buddy to share the experience with. Besides, grown-ups have more fun hiking with friends too.
Wondering where to find friends when you travel full-time? Joining Fulltime Families and attending a rally, a hangout, or other event is a great way to start making connections and building your community on the road!
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