6 tips for hiking with children for the first time
As a divorced father with two children, I am in charge of planning the activities every other weekend. Living on just one salary, I can’t afford to constantly spend money on arcades, trampoline parks, cinemas, and other expensive activities.
The kids loved exploring a nature reserve near their home and taking short hikes from one end of the property to the other. When the walks got too predictable, I spotted other hiking spots that were accessible by car. Our hikes gradually became more difficult with each outing.
Last summer, we took a family vacation to Lake Placid and hiked the trails and mountains of the former Olympic Winter Games site. I watched the kids dominate the trails and climb mountains that would have seemed intimidating a year ago. Our hours spent roaming the local parks turned my kids into adventure junkies, and they called the trip “the best week of their lives.” We are already planning our hike for next year.
Hiking is now a family tradition for the kids and me.
Are you planning to go hiking with children for the first time? Hiking is a healthy activity that the whole family can enjoy if you plan properly, keep things fun, and encourage kids to be adventurous. Whether you’re planning to hike with a toddler or plan to drag your older kids out of the house and tech, here are some suggestions for hiking with kids of all ages to make the trip. fun and rewarding first adventure for everyone.
Prepare the day before
Waiting until the morning of a hike is never a good idea. The day before the trip, make a list of everything you and the children will need for a nature walk. Bring copious amounts of snacks (more information in a second), binoculars, trekking poles, small digging shovel, notepad for jotting down items of interest, extra pair of socks for each child in case the ground becomes sloppy, sunscreen, wipes, antiseptic spray and a few bandages. Pack a bag as if you are going to be living outside for a while.
The reason you’re better off packing the night before is that you’re more likely to remember everything during the extra time. Throwing things in a bag twenty minutes before stacking them in the car is a sure-fire way to forget essentials.
My suggestion is to overload a bag while keeping in mind that the more stuff you put in a backpack, the heavier your bag will be on your back all day. Unless you have older kids who can take some of the load, you’ll be the person carrying the stuff around, so keep that in mind before you fill your bag with unnecessary items.
Snacks are crucial
Packing enough snacks for an afternoon in the woods is essential when hiking with children. In fact, I would say that not bringing enough food, drink, and snacks can derail an otherwise fantastic day in nature. Make sure you pack a wide variety of options – salty, sweet, and healthy – and bring enough water to put out a small wildfire. Children will drink fluids every time you stop to view the map.
Hiking is one of the few times that I feel perfectly good with my kids eating sugary snacks. Everything that keeps them hyper and ready to take on more miles. I will also use candy and sugar as an incentive to keep going until the next stop.
Let the children lead the way
My son is constantly running in front of the peloton. If it’s just the three of us, he always has a football field in front of him. If there is a group of us, I usually don’t see them until we get to the next resting point. It’s important to let kids think they’re in control of the adventure, even if they’re just following a man-made trail in the woods.
Let the children set the pace. Ask them for advice along the way on where to go next. “Should we take the blue track or the yellow track?” Allow them to make choices for the family. Let them choose when and where to stop. Don’t try to push them every time they stop to look at rocks, weird bugs, awesome mushrooms, massive cobwebs, and random creatures. Hiking with kids will involve a LOT of stops, so be prepared.
Speaking of stopping to take in the views, use this time to congratulate the kids on how they are doing so far. Go above and beyond by telling your child how they crush this hike, how good they can climb rocks and jump over tree roots, and how strong they look. Make sure to use that positive reinforcement even if they aren’t doing it really well.
Keep an eye on the miles
I made this mistake very early on with the kids. I had paid little attention to the amount of land covered on foot, and I had never stopped thinking that the younger one gets tired faster than the older one. The three miles on the outside involves three miles back, and the little legs connected to kids with smaller attention spans can’t handle that much.
If possible, choose trails with natural loops that bring you back to the starting point, preferably not far from the car. Every now and then you may need to carry the youngest child for a little while to get a few miles in less time.
Let them take memories home
My children developed a love for walking in the woods at a young age. They spent summers in a camp that encouraged turning the property’s woods into a Lord of the Flies-type village. The children were accused of picking up sticks, branches, leaves and anything that could help build shelters. Both children are excellent at discovering tree branches that make perfect walking sticks, swords or magic wands.
Of course, these items must come home with us. Being the son of two neat monsters, I struggled to allow the children to bring massive stones and sticks into the house until I realized the children were clinging to these pieces of nature like a reminder of the day and not just to torture my OCD tendencies. My son can remember where and how he found every branch and every stone in his collection.
Don’t force the hike on them
A few years ago I coached my son’s lacrosse team. The children were between 6 and 9 years old. Before the start of the season, the league organized a coaching clinic to review the rules. One of the league organizers gave this final instruction to all parents and coaches present. “You have a job this season – make sure the kids have fun and don’t hate sports.”
The same goes for hiking. Just make sure the kids have fun and don’t hate wandering the woods all day. You want the kids to have as much fun as possible. If things don’t go as planned, don’t panic. Hiking with kids isn’t about covering as much terrain as possible or getting from point A to point B in the shortest possible time. It’s about instilling a love of hiking in your kids and spending quality family time outdoors.
Hiking with kids is what you do with your time together. Make the experience as fun as possible and your kids will beg to hike every weekend.