Hiking with Kids
Hiking with kids provides a healthy way of building bonds with your family and with nature. Walking with your children provides a much more relaxed form of exercise than organized sports, and it includes more parent-child interaction.
Unfortunately, the idea of taking your family hiking through the woods may not have the same appeal to your children as it does you. If you would like to turn your kids into enthusiastic hikers, it is your job to ensure they have a good time.
Here some helpful tips and tricks to help make your family hiking trips more enjoyable:
- When hiking with kids, start with short hikes (2-3 km) that you are familiar with.
- If your children are very young, look for paved pathways for your stroller or wagon. There are many parks that have nature trails which are accessible to strollers (or you can look for wheelchair accessible signs). Another good option is to take them in a child carrier on your back.
- Set your goals based on the youngest child's ability.
- If you are hiking with a group of children, allow them to take turns leading the pack.
- If you are able, allow your child to bring along a friend - it adds to their fun factor.
- Encourage them to observe nature. Try looking for animal tracks, bird watching, naming wild flowers, hunting for rocks or fossils, bugs, etc. Take along a bird or bug book so that they can learn more about the creatures they see along the way.
- Encourage your child to create his own illustrated nature journal.
- Play a few games along the way. Playing things like I Spy and scavenger hunts allows them to observe and learn about nature while having a great time.
- Plan to take lots of "energy stops" (instead of rest stops) and enthusiastically hand out energy-giving treats (try our healthy snack recipes), along with some juice and water. If they come across a fallen tree or large rock that they want to climb, take advantage of this as a play/snack break. A good rule of thumb is to take a 10-15 minute break every hour.
- Planning a picnic lunch for your kids hike? What about a Teddy Bear Picnic? Each child could bring along their favourite stuffed animal in their own backpack.
- Have a fun goal ahead of you - "I can't wait to see that waterfall (river, lake, glacier)!"
- If all is going well, congratulations! You may want to consider heading home, ending on a positive note rather than push on and have them lose their enthusiasm.
Kids Hiking Gear
What to Bring Along When Hiking With Kids
For your first few short family hikes remember to bring along lots of enthusiasm, snacks, water and a first-aid kit. As your walks get longer, you will also need:
- Water - One large bottle for each person, plus a few extra.
- Sunglasses and hats for everyone. A hat not only protects you from the sun, it can also protect you from the wind and rain and help keep you warm.
- Plenty of sunscreen.
- Mosquito repellent and insect repelling clothing (please visit my Mosquito Repellent page for more great information on how to avoid the bugs).
- Wet wipes and tissues.
- A whistle and an orange plastic garbage bag for each child is highly recommended. Please see Kids Hiking Safety (Hug a Tree and Survive) below for a full explanation.
- Consider giving the kids their own disposable cameras - It will definitely add to their fun!
- An extra jacket/sweater, extra pair of dry socks (a must!), and even a change of clothes can't hurt.
- Some kids like to carry their own packs - keep them small and light. Be prepared to carry it yourself if/when they have had enough.
For additional information on backpacks, trekking poles and hiking clothing, please check out the Hiking Gear page.
Kids Hiking Safety
When hiking with kids, make them aware of the hazards around them (without trying to scare them). Be sure to tell the young children to stay in your sight at all times (in other words, they must be able to see you). Older kids like more independence. Allow them to go ahead of you on the trail instructing them to wait for you at any junctions, road crossings or mountaintops. However, encourage them to stay within earshot.
Hug a Tree and Survive:
This proactive, preventative program originated in San Diego, CA, after a nine-year-old boy became lost and tragically died in the wilderness.
Give each child a whistle and an orange plastic garbage bag. Ensure that they carry these items in their pocket or backpack when hiking in the wilderness. Give your child these instructions before each and every outing.
If they ever get lost:
- Stop immediately and "hug a tree" - in other words, stay where they are and don't wander any further.
- Blow three short blasts on their whistle - three of anything is a universal distress signal.
- Make a hole in the garbage bag and put it on. This keeps them visible, as well as warm and dry.
Assure your children that they will be found if they stay where they are and not to wander any further. Teaming up with a buddy may also help them from drifting off trail.
Other safety considerations when hiking with kids:
- Check your first-aid kit before each outing. Replace any missing items.
- Open-toe sandals are not always the best idea for hiking kids. Fancy hiking boots are not always needed either - simple well-fitted running shoes usually do the trick. For tips on fitting a shoe properly, see our Hiking Boots section.
- Kids get chilled faster than adults. Dress them in layers - and remember an extra sweater and an extra pair of dry socks.
- Warn them about poison ivy and poison oak if it grows in the area you will be hiking in.
- Warn them about eating berries and plants. They must check with you before picking anything.
- When hiking with kids, remind them to drink frequently. Children often forget that they are thirsty (especially when having fun), so try to remind them as often as possible.
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