Taking kids into the great outdoors can be a rewarding experience. But if you don't feel completely comfortable hauling your youngsters into the wilderness, the idea can seem daunting. We pulled together some tips to help make your time hiking with young kids as easy and fulfilling as it can be.
Before the Hike
- Bring Snacks
Kids burn a lot of energy while running around the woods, and you don't want to be caught miles from your car with a hungry child and no food. Make sure to pack plenty of snacks, and stop often to refuel. For kids that need a little extra motivation to keep moving, give them some fun snacks for every quarter mile they walk. If you're doing a challenging hike, like climbing to a viewpoint, bring a special treat for your child to enjoy at the top.
- Pick an Exciting Destination
Some kids may not be thrilled about doing a loop hike with no real destination goal, but most kids will get excited about hiking to hidden natural wonders. That might be a waterfall with a fun swimming hole or a cave with an ancient past. No matter where you set your sights, make sure your kids know where you're heading and what they can expect to find when they get there. This will increase their excitement and help set expectations along the way.
- Be Prepared for the Unexpected
Chances are your hike will go off without a hitch, but it's always good to prepare for surprises. You might be hiking in areas without cell phone service where a sprained ankle or broken limb can quickly turn into a serious emergency. Whenever you head outdoors, make sure to carry the 10 essentials--items that should be in your backpack no matter how short and sweet your planned hike is.
During the Hike
- Dress Appropriately
Even if you're heading out on a hike in the middle of summer, layers are always important. Those little ones get colder than we do, so bring along a jacket or warm shirt for them to wear, especially if you're hiking at higher elevation. Kids also aren't so great at staying dry, so remember to bring a pair of clothes your kids can change into when they're back in the car. The weather can change quickly, so make sure you're prepared if a rain shower or thunderstorm comes along to dampen an otherwise clear day.
- Go to Their Pace
Unlike adults, most kids don't march non-stop down the trail for miles--and you shouldn't expect them to. Let your kids meander, stop and pick up rocks and check out fuzzy caterpillars. When kids are hiking, the journey truly is the destination, and their time scrambling over rocks or jumping in creek beds is as much a part of the experience as reaching the overlook you're itching to see. Expect to move at a much slower pace than if you were hiking on your own. Enjoy all you can see when you slow down and watch the world through your child's eyes.
- Make a Fun Learning Experience
Kids are happy when they feel like they are an active and important part of the family's success. Let them know their cooperation is essential to a successful hike. It's also nice to give them fun jobs, like helping to filter water from the creek or picking out their own hiking sticks. Make a game out of the hike; carry flowers, trees and bird identification brochures and see how many species your kids can "I Spy".
- Talk to Each Other
This one may sound obvious, but hiking is the perfect time to have conversations with your kids away from the devices and distractions of the modern world. Ask your kids how it's going at school, what's going on with their friends or how they're feeling in general. If your child doesn't feel like chatting, come armed with your favorite campfire stories or songs. No matter what you choose to talk about, kids will bask in the glow of your undivided attention.