Simple Tips for Hiking with Kids
Hiking with kids can be such a fun adventure!
With that said, it comes with its own challenges and responsibilities.
If you love the idea of getting outside and exploring nature with your kiddos, these are the things you need to know!
Check out my top 5 tips for hiking with kids — both human and furry alike.
On our first family hike, I quickly discovered that little feet simply can’t go as quickly or as far as big ones can.
Starting small was key!
We began with simple 15- 20 minute hikes and quickly built up to 3 or 4-hour hikes.
On your first hike, take some time to scope out the area, locate the bathrooms if there are any (if you have littles — you will totally thank me for this one later), and take baby steps.
Honestly, you don’t even have to hike the first go around. Just take some time to get the lay of the land and explore a little bit!
Then, re-visit that same area multiple times in a row — exploring further and further each time.
We typically like to visit the same hiking trail 3 weeks in a row, then come back for visits each season just to get a good feel for what it’s like during different seasons.
This is a super simple way to get familiarized with different areas & find your favorite trails.
Research Before You Go
I’m a huge planner, so I like knowing what to expect in any given situation.
Take some time to scope out the area you plan on hiking by looking online or glancing over a map.
Do some in-depth research to find out what wildlife might frequent the area and find out what amenities are around.
Trust me, doing this ahead of time will save you so many frustrations in the long run!
Plus, it can help keep your family more secure by knowing exactly what to pack, how vigorous the trail might be, and what wildlife you may encounter along the way.
Practice Hiking Safety
This! Always, always, practice safety measures and follow park guidelines when hiking alone or hiking with kids!
If you are hiking in an area with lots of natural predators, being aware of your surroundings while making constant noise is a must. This simply helps wildlife know you are there, limiting the possibility of sneaking up on a protective or aggressive animal.
I always encourage my kids to talk in their best outside voice or clap when entering more dense areas of the forest.
Research safety tips for coming across wildlife in your area (such as acting big and fierce, using an aid like bear spray, or playing dead) and teach your children how to use these safety tactics before going out!
Keep it Clean
One of the first things I noticed while hiking with my kids was the sheer amount of trash we come across in a single outing.
This is seriously one of my biggest pet peeves.
If you’re going to be outside or on a trail and you can’t be bothered to pick up your beer bottles or snack wrappers, you really don’t deserve nature — like at all.
PACK IN, PACK OUT isn’t just a national park rule. This should apply to us all and it should apply everywhere we go.
Our yards, playgrounds, state parks, hiking trails, and national forest lands – all of it!
If you bring it on the hike, it needs to go home with you as well.
*Pro-tip – Frequent an area that is overrun with trash?
Consider bringing an empty trash bag on your hikes to help elevate the problem! Not only does this give your children a cleaner area to explore, but it also teaches them to appreciate nature that much more.
Knowing they don’t have to be the mess maker to clean up helps teach children selflessness & responsibility!
Make it Fun
Unfortunately, we live in a time where kids are more used to screens than they are to the great outdoors.
This means they tend to get bored a little easier than you probably did as a young child.
I encourage outside play – every single day.
However, my youngest still gets stuck in that board zone and hiking isn’t always a quick fix.
On our first few hikes, I paid special attention to what caught her eye and kept her engaged while we were outside.
Strangely enough, it was as simple as collecting rocks, leaves, and sticks on our hikes — or as she calls them, treasures.
So every time we hike, I bring an extra bag and she collects all the treasures she can carry along the way.
She loves this activity so much that her bag is usually overflowing by the halfway point. So we take a few moments to sort, take photos of what can no longer be carried on, and start all over.
If your young child isn’t into treasure collecting, try simple task-related games such as Follow the Leader or Simon Says.
Taking frequent breaks to play in a creek or dirt also tends to be a fan favorite.
This will make your day hikes much more enjoyable while helping you stretch those outdoor minutes into outdoor hours!
What to Pack When Hiking with Kids
Having a bag pre-packed with hiking essentials makes getting out the door quicker and easier — packing and reorganizing that bag after hiking trips helps keep this process even more seamless!
When deciding what to pack in your bag, always start with the essentials!
That way if you run out of room, you can easily decide what to leave at home.
Simple snacks, such as protein bars are a must!
The rest of your hiking essentials will definitely depend on the type of trail you are hiking, the weather you will be experiencing, and the local wildlife.
Since we mainly hike in bear country and sometimes take on more vigorous trails, some of our other essentials include bear spray, extra socks, knives, whistles, rope, and winter gear.
Prior to your first hike, take some time to write out a simple list of personal hiking essentials!
We try not to hike with too many extras simply because a small amount of extra weight can feel like a ton by the end of a long hike.
However, there are a handful of extras we lean on for most of our outdoor activities. Check them out below!
Walkie-talkies for keeping in contact when we go separate ways — plus extra batteries of course!
Camera bag, wet wipes, and an extra bag for treasure collecting.
*Pro Tip: I highly suggest having everyone in your group carry a small backpack, just to lighten the load! This also allows each person to be in charge of their own water and snacks – win, win!
Hiking with Four-Legged Kids
If your family includes 4 legged kiddos as ours does, then pay close attention to these details.
While we technically have 2 dogs and 1 cat at home, we only have one 4 legged baby that travels and hikes with us on a regular basis.
Our sweet beagle craves adventure and can sniff for hours — not even joking.
Taking an adventurous pup on a family hike sounds a little more simple than it is though.
It’s incredibly important that you make plans for your fur baby, just like you would a human baby.
First, make sure you pack for the 4 legged members of your family
If your dog is anything like ours, bringing a towel or blanket for end-of-hike cleanup is a must!
This sweet girl gets muddy or wet on nearly every hike we take. So, we keep a large blanket handy in the back of our SUV for the ride home. It simply contains the mess and makes the ride home much more smooth.
Next, make sure you travel with doggie bags or a small spade! Not only is leaving dog droppings behind gross, but it can also be harmful to other dogs and wildlife in the area.
Simply clean up after your pup by picking it up, or burying it.
Also, make sure you are aware of pet rules or regulations when it comes to hiking in new areas.
While some areas allow off-leash hiking with dogs, other trails specifically ask you to leash your furry friend. We tend to frequent areas with less strict rules, but always carry a leash just in case.
If leashes aren’t your favorite, consider using a simple tracking or shock collar to keep track of your off-leash pets instead – this is actually our preferred method.
Lastly, give water in small amounts when on longer excursions & keep a water bowl in the car for less vigorous walks. We typically pour directly from our personal drinking water in small amounts throughout the course of a hike.
However, keeping a separate bottle of water intended just for your fur baby is also a great option!
Ready to Start Hiking with Kids?
Start planning your first adventure and never look back!
Taking our children hiking has brought so much joy and adventure into our lives — plus, we are making wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.
My final advice? Get off the internet and go take a hike 😉
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