14 Tips for Hiking Happily with Kids

The problem: You have young children, but you really, really, really want to hire a hiking guide and go on one of the hundreds of invigorating guided hiking trips out there, and you don’t want the baggage of moaning and groaning company.

The options:

  1. Kiss hiking goodbye: Goodbye, Inca Trail to Machu Pichu, goodbye, exotic Australian rainforests
  2. Hire a babysitter
  3. Ship the kids off to boarding school

The (best) solution, however, is to bring the children along on hiking trips. Bam, it’s as easy as that.

Not only are children more capable endurance-and-strength-wise than we often assume, they’re great adventurers who love to explore. GuideAdvisor has come up with 14 ways to make hiking with your kids a total success. Mid-hike meltdowns? Psh, there’s no longer such a thing.

1. Modify your goals, but have a fun target

Pick kid-friendly hikes that lead to fun destinations; lakes and waterfalls are always a hit, and they’re great spots for a picnic too.

2. Be Peter Pan

Now’s your chance to pretend you’re a kid again, and since your children will one day turn red at your goofiness, make the most of being your child’s equal: look at nature through their disbelieving eyes, hike at a place more comfortable for their little legs, and don’t stress about mileage or elevation gain.

3. Make your pet a Sherpa

With children comes added equipment (more coats, infinite snacks, extra water, etc.), so why not put your pooch to good use — trust us, he’ll love it — and load him up with some of the day’s supplies. Be warned, however: send him off with the non-edibles!

4. Diapers? Definitely “pack ‘em in, pack ‘em out”

We know it’s rough, but you’ve just to do it: after scraping off “the goods” into a cat hole, pack used diapers in plastic bags, and trek ‘em out. Might I be hearing you praise your doggy-sherpa about now?

5. A dirty face is a happy face

Parents, in the wilderness, all rules pertaining to cleanliness disintegrate. Instead of wasting energy telling little Henry not to play with dirty sticks along the trail, relinquish control, and let the kid have at it; the more you can keep him entertained, the better.

6. Splash out on CamelBaks

To encourage your child to keep hydrated, equip him or her with a CamelBak; kids find them fun to use, and, in turn, they drink more. A well-fed and well-watered child is less likely to instigate the never-ending question, “Are we there yet?”

7. “Snazzify” snacks

For added incentive to keep on truckin’, bring along fun snacks that your child can look forward to. Saying, “We’ll stop soon for some chocolatey trail mix,” is much more encouraging than, “In just a bit, you can have some apple slices.” Another snack-related tip is to take your child pre-hike snack shopping; this excursion will build excitement.

8. Stock up on FUN!

To make doubly certain that your child starts associating hiking with fun, be sure to include some of the following on your trip:

  • Swimming
  • Fishing
  • Skipping stones
  • Rock scrambling/ bouldering
  • Story-telling
  • Picture-taking
  • Treasure-hunting
  • Swing-building
  • Drawing (pack paper and crayons; this may be a good thing for your child to be “in charge of” in his or her backpack)
  • Singing (especially hiking-centric songs like, “The Ants Go Marching”)
  • Playing with compasses and maps
  • Climbing on fallen-down trees
  • Pretending their hammock is a ship
  • Picking up random objects and asking what they see (for example, a stone may look like a cookie, or a stick may look like a ski pole)
  • Making a shelter using the natural environment and clothing

9. Enlist their help

Nobody is too young to keep our Earth clean, so be sure to ask your child to chip in with the tidying up. Bonus: since they’re closer to the ground, they can more easily spot micro-trash!

10. Bring a friend, or hike with another child-full family

Like most adults, kids love company, so make your child’s journey into the woods that much more enjoyable with a friend in tow. Together, they’ll joke about, perhaps forgetting they’re even in the midst of an hours-long hike.

11. Add a twist to “I spy”

Turn “I spy” educational by saying something like, “I spy something poisonous,” following it up with a lesson on Poison Ivy. Other fun games are the “ABCs” (start at the beginning of the alphabet and identify something on trail that begins with “A,” and then work your way through all the letters) and “The Never Ending Story” (for this game, one person begins a story and then passes it along to another person to continue the plot and so on).

12. Bring to life semi-neglected senses

Comment on smells and temperature changes instead of just sight. For example, if you’re in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, ask your child to sniff the cracks in bark trees: often they smell like vanilla!

13. Clad them in cool gear

Little kids like to feel professional and grown-up, so buy them a few items that make them feel confident. Little backpacks (with something small and light inside) are great, as are headlamps. In terms of dress, avoid open-toed shoes and cotton socks (they’re slow-drying and prone to causing blisters), and make sure your child is wearing a hat. Sunglasses are a bonus. Sunscreen is a must.

14. Equip them with a whistle

For added security, give any child over the age of 4 a whistle to use in case of emergency. Teach them that three blows means “I’m lost,” and instruct them that it’s not to be used as a toy.

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