Hiking can be a lot of fun. And, kids can be a lot of work, however, they can bring you back to the adventures through their eyes. Kids see the world completely different and it can be super amazing to listen to them see new trees and plants. And, who knows, maybe wildlife will jump out and they will get to experience that.
However, when you are hiking with little ones remember that the world is their agenda. Go with an open mind and ready to leave should the meltdowns begin. After all, all that fresh air, exercise, and sunshine can take a toll on the little ones.
If you plan to go hiking with kids the first and most important thing you need to pack is your patience. Yes, we said it. You need to have patience with them as they find a little caterpillar or want to climb up a tree. Don’t go hiking with a destination that doesn’t allow a little “off the beaten path” exploration.
Allow them to explore and be in the present with them while they explore. Answer the questions you can answer and for those that you can’t write them down and look them up when you get home, together.
Taking kids on hiking trips is fun but don’t make the trips so very long that their fond memory turns into a nightmare. Remember, kids have limited time in which something is fun, then they are going to want to move onto something else. Keep the hiking to a minimum of a couple of hours and go where there are fun things to explore and see.
Maybe you will find a hidden lake or look for animals. However, with kids, it is kind of hard to find animals as they tend to be a bit noisy. But, squirrels are typically up in the trees and are certainly fun to watch.
Yep, as with any adventure that will take longer than an hour with kids, take snacks. And, for this exercise, we wouldn’t suggest some sugary snacks. They are going to be out and about and the true hunger might just set in. Pack something that is filling and good for them, a sandwich or meat and cheese. A little protein can help them fill that void and keep them fueled.
Bring Lots of Water
Bring water to drink and maybe some small squirt guns could be fun as well. Kids will get thirsty out there on the trails. And, explain to them that it is not safe to drink from rivers or puddles. Keeping the kids hydrated will allow them to have fewer meltdowns.
Remember they are kids and go with it. Being flexible will allow you to completely enjoy your time out in the woods. Let them explore at their pace and if they get tired ask if they want to go home. You can always come back as well if that’s an option. They are kids and kids love to explore and sometimes in our eyes waste time. Take the kids with flexibility in mind and you will enjoy it so much more and so will they.
Do Day Hikes
Before trying an overnight hike, we recommend several day hikes. This will allow the kids to get the feel of what it’s all about. And, maybe have a tent night in the backyard, this will also get them used to sleep in a tent. The idea here is to prepare them for the unknown. Kids aren’t always fond of the unknown and sleeping in the woods can be a bit scary to them. Talk to them and find out their feelings as well.
Let them Explore
Let the kids climb the trees and rocks. Touching and feeling the bark is what they want to do, let them be kids, and explore the world around them. As long as it’s safe of course, this will slow down the progress of your hike, but remember, being flexible is apart of bringing the kids along.
You can do a scavenger hunt! Print off a sheet that has things for them to find like an acorn, squirrel, leaf, etc. This can be fun for the entire family. Or, if you have Geocaching in your area, that is another fun adventure you can do. Giving them some time to do besides just hiking can be fun for them.
Or play eye spy while in the trails. Guess and animal, where you pick and animal and give clues to what it is. They have to guess it. Start a story with the kids, each one makes a sentence and it rotates around. Being clever and creative with this one can mean hours of fun.
Bring Your Pets
If you have a dog, bring him or her. Kids love to do things with their pets. If you have a friend that has a dog, borrow it for the day. Pets love to get out and explore as well and it’s a good distraction for the kids.
Let them Help
Let the older children participate in helping with the decision. Getting them involved in what to pack and where to go can be fun for them. Preparing for a day hike isn’t rocket science. Maybe make a list that they can follow and of course check their bags to ensure they have everything. This will help them to learn what is important when going on a hiking trip, something they can use in the future.
Remember they are Kids
Young kids could care less about scenic views. They are active and exploring little beings. So, keep that in mind when you are preparing to hike with them. Take things that will entertain them, maybe snacks, a camera, a favorite toy, or a pet can help. Let them be kids, but ensure they are doing it in a safe manner. Some kids can get very adventurous.
Look for wildlife signs
Kids love to explore and learn. Teach them how to know if you have wildlife in the area by looking for tracks. Or look at the trees for signs of wildlife as well as listen to the woods. Squirrels are tattle tails and will warn the others that you are there. Birds do this as well. Stop and listen to the sounds of the woods. Explain to them what to do when they have an encounter. Sometimes running is not the best option. This is a great time for a little educational experience.
Maybe pack a checklist of things to find while on your hike. This can be simple things such as maple leaf (For the younger ones, with a picture.), rock, squirrel, trail, animal, beach, acorn, and so forth. This will give them a fun activity while they are hiking. Because well, hiking, it’s just walking through the woods and once some little ones catch onto that they are going to ask, why? When that comes up, then pull out the activities and have some fun with them!
Pack on Layers
Kids are not going to be fun if they are too cold or too hot. Have them dress in layers so you can ensure they are comfortable and dry. Also, speak with them about playing in streams and water, since, they don’t always think ahead. Having wet shoes and feet can make for a miserable hike. Talk to them about the consequences that they may not think of.
Take Sunscreen, Bug Spray, Etc.
Remember kids are affected quickly by the sun. Be sure to pack and use the sunscreen as well as bug spray. There is nothing worse than being attacked by bugs and not having anything to help. The idea is to help them enjoy themselves and not ruin hiking for them for life. This can be easily done if it isn’t planned correctly.
Suckers are great because they last a really long time. They are a perfect distraction as well. Hiking isn’t always so much fun when you’re little. So, distractions are great solutions. You could also take something magical, that helps them with bursts of energy, of course, it’s something simple like a jelly bean. But, bringing this out during meltdowns can be a bit of fun for the little ones. These are safe solutions because they don’t have to touch them as well.
Talk to the kids when hiking and pay attention!
Talking to your kids while hiking is a great way to pass the time. Ask them about their day, what was the best thing that happened this week. What color leaves do they like, what do they want to be when the grown-up, just about anything will help them pass the time. And, who knows, you might find out things about your kids that you didn’t even know about. Let them chitter-chatter freely. And, explain to them the things you know about hiking. Tell them that it’s important to not get lost and to pay attention to where you are going.
Teach them how to use a compass and about the location of the sun. Explain to them various things on the trail to keep in mind. For example, if there are landmarks like a huge tree or a large rock, point that out to them.
Get the Right Shoes
Have the kids wear the proper shoes for hiking. Often times, we leave and don’t pay attention to what shoes the kids put on. This is a time when paying attention is important. You are going to be hiking and flip flops are probably not the best choice in shoe apparel. But, trust us, one of them will most likely try. Shoes are important for hiking but also for climbing and exploring.
And, have that chat with them, this is the only pair of shoes you have, so getting them wet isn’t the best idea. Let them wade in the water but take off their shoes so that hiking can still be enjoyed. And, let them know that it is an option if you are going somewhere where there is water. Kids and water go hand in hand and of course, they are going to want to touch it.
Leave the phone in the car
For older children and teens, tell them to leave their phones in the car. This will get them away from their screens and be in the present moment. We all love modern technology, however, it can get in the way of real relationships. Just take a phone for emergencies and shut off all its notifications to allow everyone to enjoy each other. Remember this is a great way to connect with your kids.
The most important thing when hiking with kids is having fun. Hiking with kids can be a safe adventure. The real main thing is to avoid meltdowns when out in the woods. Keeping them occupied and going at their pace will allow them to enjoy the hike as much as you. Watching them and explaining to them the various plants and what to look for and avoid can be a great educational experience. Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Nettles, for example, are plants that the kids should learn to identify and avoid. But, explaining what will happen if they don’t avoid them will instill they understand.