OUTDOOR BASICS

Hiking With Kids: Get Yours Out of the House and Out on the Trail!

Little hikers
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

As technology becomes more a part of our children’s lives, it is getting harder to get them off of the screen and out into nature. Hiking with your kids is a healthy way to spend time as a family and experiences new things.

Unlike another day of sitting around the house, a day in a natural setting will make memories that will last a lifetime and you will have a great time hiking with kids.

Couple relaxing outside.

Getting your kids away from what they have gotten used to can be a real effort, but it is worth it. Hiking for a day or spending time at a public nature area can seem like a lot of work, but with some planning and strategy it will be a lot easier than you think.

There are many things that can make a day outside a lot of fun for your whole family, but you have to approach the trip in a way that engages your kids. Show them how much there is to do outside, and limit their exposure to electronics for a little while.

This guide will talk about you ten simple ideas that will help to get your family out of the house, and into nature for some great times together.

1. Start Young

If you grew up doing a lot of outdoor activities then this might sound strange to you, but most kids don’t go outside much. Less than half of children spend time outdoors today, and in some cases that percentage falls to the low double digits based on location. While we like to think that kids will naturally take to outdoor activity, that is really not the case at all.

Start young and be active.

So if you want to have kids that like to go into nature for a hike, get them out there when they are very young. Starting them off in a backpack is a great idea, and when they are old enough to walk for 50 meters on their own, being in a natural place won’t seem so foreign to them. If you get your child out into nature when they are still toddling around, they won’t be put off by a running animal, or some crunching noises in the bushes.

2. Be Realistic

Part of getting your kids out into the woods is knowing how to make the experience kid-friendly. Your children are probably going to be a lot more fascinated by experiences than by covering long distances, at least when they are starting out.

Family on picnic in the park.

If you have a child that only a few years old, and you expect them to walk a mile with you through the woods, you are setting yourself for a nightmare. Everyone is going to have an awful time, and you will never be able to convince your child to go on a hike ever again. Instead find a park where you can have a picnic, and take some short walks during your time in nature. Letting your little one stumble around and inspect the ants or look for squirrels is going to be a lot more fun than setting some sort of distance that must be hiked in order for your day to have been a success.

Keep in mind that your child is seeing all of these things for the first time, and they will likely be fascinated by what they see around them. It is your job to encourage that, and give them the space to build positive memories. Once you do that, getting them back to the park the next time is going to be a whole lot easier.

Father and daughter watching birds.

As time goes on and they warm up to nature days, hikes can get longer and they might even end up pushing you further down the trail.

3. Bribes and Snacks

Kids love to eat yummy things, and when you are getting them away from the house and into nature you need to take full advantage of that. When you are at home and your kids are sitting around with their screen of choice they are not going to be burning up much energy. But once you get them out on the trail, the opposite will be true.

Cooking marshmallow in a campfire.

If your kids are starved for energy they are going to make your day miserable. It is going to be a real challenge to get them to back outside ever again if all they remember is hunger and trees, so you need to allow time for lots of little breaks.

Bring along really tasty, energy rich foods and make them a part of the experience.

This gives you the opportunity to give them a great surprise at the first pit stop when you pull out the industrial sized chocolate bar, and tell them that by the end of the hike you are going to eat it all.

You don’t have to worry about the sugar and calories if you have your kids hiking around, they are going to burn off pretty much anything you give them. The risk is that they won’t have enough stamina, chocolate and snacks will help them to make positive associations as well.

Kid eating snacks.

In addition to giving them energy and making a good impression, having something that your kids want can help you to get them a little further down the trail as they get older.

The next time you talk about a family afternoon in the woods they will know that it means a big bar of chocolate is on the way, and a lot of fun time with their family too.

4. Empower Your Kids

Always remember, you are trying to get your kids out into nature; you are doing this for them. One of the best ways to get your kids excited about a day in the woods is to let them be in charge of what you do. Let them plan the day, and decide what you will do as a family. In addition to making them feel good, this will make sure that you are all doing things that they enjoy.

Hiking with a tour guide.

It is really important that they have fun; if your kids are having a good time and doing what they want, they are sure to want to do it again. If you have more than one child it is no big deal, you can rotate who gets to do the planning and be in charge. So not only will your kids learn about responsibility, but they will get some lessons in sharing as well.

5. Include Friends and Other Families

Being with their parents all day can be a bore for kids, and is sure to keep them from wanting to go on another boring family day. A sure way to get your little one interested in a day out is to have other kids for them to be with the whole time. It is a lot more fun for them to have other kids to interact with, so make sure that your child has a companion for your hikes sometimes.

Hiking with kids.

It is even more effective if you know another family that has similar interests, and can be your outdoor buddies. This will really help you to lighten up your workload as well, and will allow nature days when both parents can’t make it. Two moms or two dads can take all the kids out, and not have so much work to do.

6. Leave The Watch At Home

The last thing you want to do is make a schedule and try to make your kids stick to it. Your kids are not going to be in a hurry once you get to the park, and you need to let them find their own pace. If you try to push them to do things that interest you, they are going to hate it. Kids need to be given time to explore, and make their way through nature in a way they find interesting.

Group of kids watching birds.

If you are pressed for time, or can’t commit until staying out until sundown, don’t go. Being in a rush is going to destroy what is great about nature. Remember, if your kids have fun outside they are going to want to do it again. That is the whole point, right?

7. Don’t Make The Woods a Technology-Free Zone

Let’s face it, the screens are here to stay and by the time your child is old enough to talk they will already be used to having a screen in their lives. If you try to make nature a screen-free experience, your kids aren’t going to be big fans of that. And it’s not about letting them watch their tablet while sitting on a log in the woods, there are ways to make nature and high-tech friends. One of the best ways to integrate electronics and nature is geocaching, and it is not just for kids.

GPS for hiking.

Basically, you are going to use GPS to go on adventure in the woods, and the best part is that when you reach your goal, there will be something there as a prize.

Sometimes there are local organizations that keep geocaching routes, or you can make up your own goals as well based on your child’s abilities to hike. If you can’t find a local organization, just tell your child that there will be a surprise when you get to the destination, and give them something they are sure to love when you arrive at the goal. This is a great way for your kids to learn about reading a map too, and it really is fun for all ages.

Solar charger for gadgets.

Another thing that you can do to integrate your kid’s favorite screen into an outdoor adventure is to make it part of where you end up having your picnic. This will be more effective when they are older and can walk for a mile or two without major problems.

Just make sure that you hike out into the woods or a park, and when you all break for lunch allow them to do whatever they like with their screens. You might be surprised at how much of a distraction nature will be for them!

8. Build Confidence and Stay Safe

If you are getting into outdoor activities with your kids and they are no longer able to be carried in a backpack, you may have to deal with some skittishness. We tend to forget this as adults, but for a child that hasn’t had much experience, outdoors nature can be a very scary place. There is also the risk of injury when you are outside exploring, and it is very important that your child be given some first-aid training.

Playful kids enjoying the woods.

Not only will this help them to be confident, it will also give them useful skills for the rest of their life. Make sure that they know where the first-aid kit is, what is in it, and how to use everything that is inside. It is a good idea to sit down with your kids at home the day before you go on your trip, unpack the first-aid kit with them, and talk to them about why you have these supplies.

Also, talk about any dangerous or large animals that you may encounter, and how to handle an emergency when you aren’t at home. This will help them to feel prepared, and also learn life skills that will serve them no matter what.

9. Be Strong!

You will have to accept that your kids are going to have some initial complaints about nature days. Especially if you have waited until they are walking and talking, making the jump outdoors will be met with resistance.

Family hiking in the woods

It is important that you are strong, and know that sometimes the things that your kids complain about the most end up being the best memories. Be reasonable in your expectations, and know that the first few times outdoors are not going to be 100% hassle free.

10. Creativity and Education

There are many natural places that you can explore with your kids, like botanical gardens and public parks. Don’t limit your family to parks, look for other outdoors spaces that you can walk around in. Many public parks have programs for families, and kids especially. This can be a great way to get your kids outside and in a social atmosphere.

Nature photography at a young age.

Kids are naturally inquisitive, so look for programs that specialize in educating kids about the environment where you live. Make sure they are family friendly, and geared toward youth.

It Is Worth The Trouble

You have to know going in that there are going to be some struggles, but if you use some common sense and look for ways to make nature fun, you can look forward to some great times outside with your family. Remember that even if your kids gripe a little bit, they still might be having a good time.

Don’t expect the first time to be a breeze, but you never know you may be pleasantly surprised. Every child is different, and know that some kids are going to be happier in nature than others.

Family watching the lighted path.

Above all, know that you are doing a good thing for you and your family by encouraging physical activity in a natural environment. The wide open spaces have so much to offer everyone, we just have to go out and explore them.

Your experiences are valuable, and there is no better way to help others than to share what you have learned. If you have any insights that might help other parents, or any were inspired by these ideas please leave a comment below. You can be a big help to other parents who are getting their kids out of the house, and on to the trail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

  • Josh Barnes

    I have always believed that hiking is one of the best bonding activities that a family can do, so thank you for this article. I have a lot of friends who are still deciding whether to take their kids on a hiking adventure so I will be sharing this to them. Great tips by the way.

  • Daniel Carraway

    It might be scary to take the kids, but they have to learn! Just be patient and follow what we said here and things will go great!

  • Jamie Howard

    We are planning on bringing our kids on a hiking trip that is why I was researching about tips and tricks. Good thing I found this Daniel. I will use this to double check everything that we need to remember. It is a little scary, but the kids are excited.

    • Daniel Carraway

      That’s great. Have fun.

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