Whether you’re already a family of outdoor lovers or you’re looking for new activities to do with your children, hiking can be great fun for many different age groups. When you’re preparing to take a hike with kids and toddlers, planning will be much different than taking a hike on your own or with a group of adults! Here are 13 tips to keep the family happy and entertained on any hike with kids and toddlers.
1. Keep It Interesting
Choose a hike that will be interesting for your children. If you have older children, let them help you plan the trip. For younger children, think about what kind of hike would keep them happy and entertained. If climbing is their thing, choose a trail with lots of rocks or boulders to navigate over or through. Taking a hike that ends in a waterfall, cave or other exciting natural or manmade feature is a great way to encourage and motivate your kids to stick it out to the end.
2. First Aid Kit
With little kids and hiking, scrapes and owies are just a fact of life. Be sure to be prepared with a first aid kit. You can buy a hiking first aid kit here, or create your own. The benefits of creating your own first aid kit include being able to pack fun, kid-friendly band-aids and a treat or two to make it all better.
3. Prepare to Carry Them
If you’re hiking with younger kids and toddlers, you already know you will likely be carrying them for some (if not all) of the trip. Plan ahead for this – don’t play pass-the-baby back and forth for the whole hike! If you already know you’ll be carrying your little one, invest in a baby carrier. Your entire body will thank you. For toddlers and younger kids, bring along a wagon! Not only is it a great place for them to ride when their little bodies are too tired to keep going, but you can also fill it with everything you don’t feel like carrying. As long as the trail isn’t too rough to pull it along, a wagon is a great idea when hiking with young kids.
4. Weather and Timing
A sure way to ruin hiking for your kids is to take them in adverse weather or trail conditions. Time your hike right and leave as early in the day as possible – you want to allow plenty of time for breaks and dilly-dallying! Along with timing it right, be sure to check weather conditions before and during your hike. Try to avoid hiking when it’s too cold, too hot or wet. This will save you complaints and clean up later on.
5. Prepare a Scavenger Hunt
Prevent boredom and complaints by giving your kids something to do while they’re hiking along. Scavenger hunts are great for that! You can find many printable scavenger hunts online on Pinterest, or you can create your own. Print scavenger hunts and paste them on paper bags to encourage collecting the findings to create a more rewarding experience.
6. Pack Snacks and Water
As always, be sure to pack plenty of snacks and water for the hike. Expect to have several small snack breaks! Use snacks as motivation to keep going on the trails, and frame them as energy-boosters when your little ones think they can’t go any further. Bring along things like jerky, nuts, chocolate and trail mixes. Generate excitement about the trip beforehand by helping them make their own trail mixes at home before the hike! You can find kid-friendly trail mix recipes here on Pinterest.
7. Take Breaks (and lots of ’em)
When hiking with kids, go their pace. It is not only unfair to expect them to keep up with you, but it’s a great way to turn them off to hiking forever. Kids will dilly-dally, stop often, and want to explore. Climbing rocks and looking through leaves will slow your hike down but it will keep the kids happy and will also give them a greater experience and memory of the hike.
8. Let Them Lead
Let your kids lead the way! Within reason, of course. Letting them lead the hike will give them a greater sense of control and responsibility. It will also keep them motivated and excited to reach the end point of the hike.
9. Create an Explorer Kit
Create a kid-friendly explorer kit to make their hike a more immersive adventure. Things you could include are binoculars, magnifying glass, a compass, a journal for their findings and even a collection bag. Kids love exploring and hiking is a great activity to use as a learning experience. There is so much in the natural world to discover together, and starting young can create a nature lover and advocate for life.
10. Identify Plants, Wildlife and Tracks
Learn with your kids! Try to identify any plants, trees, birds, and wildlife you come across while hiking. It’s always interesting to learn about the world around us and it’s fun to learn with your kids. Encourage them to keep a keen eye out for a bird or plant they haven’t seen before, this can keep them occupied for hours! Look for plant and wildlife identification apps on the Apple or Google Play stores to look up clues and characteristics.
11. Try Geocaching
Geocaching is a great family friendly hiking activity – it turns every hike into an adventurous treasure hunt. There are few things more magical than imagining hidden treasure as a kid, and geocaching turns a hike into an interactive treasure hunt that they can actively participate in. A Geocache is a cache hidden somewhere along a hike or location at GPS coordinates and usually consists of a small weatherproof box with trinkets left by other Geocachers and a logbook to sign and date. Encourage your kids to bring something small to leave in the Geocache for the next treasure hunters! The general rule with Geocaching is you can take something if you leave something in its place.
Geocaching is a great way to get out and explore places you otherwise may not have been – the caches hiding places range from easy to find to really difficult. You can download the free Geocaching app on your phone and get started right away.
12. Allow Collecting
Allow collecting items found along the trail, as long as it’s not discouraged by park or trail authorities. Bring along a collection bag for rocks, twigs, and pinecones. Allowing your kids to collect what they find will help them connect with the hike on a deeper level and have souvenirs from the trip.
13. Reward Them
Plan something special after the hike for a job well done. Whether it’s ice cream or their favorite food, unwinding after a hike with a special treat is great for the whole family. Kids like to be rewarded after completing things – it gives them a sense of accomplishment and will help ensure hiking is one of their favorite activities for years to come.
Keep it interesting, keep them satiated, and above all else… keep it FUN! With the right preparation and planning, you can create an interactive hiking trip that’s fun for kids of all ages. Take it slow and see the world through their eyes—you’re only young once!