How to Get Your Kids Excited About the Great Outdoors
Hiking with kids can be a rewarding and bonding experience, but it can also be a challenge. I know this well, as we’ve been on lots of hikes with our kids, and the straggling and whining can sometimes make me want to swear off hiking with them altogether! Between navigating the trails, managing snack breaks, and keeping little ones going, it's easy to see why some parents might be hesitant to hit the trails with their children. BUT, last weekend we had two successful hikes with minimal complaints and lots of fun. So after years of practice and tips gathered from folks in the know, we've got some tips to make hiking with kids easier and more enjoyable for everyone.
Don't call it "hiking" - Let's be real, the word "hiking" can be intimidating for some kids (and adults!) Try using more kid-friendly terms like "exploring," "trekking," “getting some fresh air”, or taking a "nature walk." This can help take the pressure off and make it feel more like a fun adventure.
Pack plenty of snacks - Hiking can be hungry work, and it's important to keep little bellies satisfied. Pack plenty of healthy, portable snacks like trail mix, fruit, granola bars, and water. It's also a good idea to bring a few special treats for when the going gets tough (I’ve even got friends that bring Hershey’s Kisses and toss them ahead on the trail to keep their kids going!)
Make it interactive - Hiking can be a great opportunity to teach kids about nature, and there are plenty of ways to make it interactive. Bring along a field guide or nature journal (like this one at Washington, DC’s best sustainable kids shop Three Littles), and colored pencils. Encourage your kids to look for different plants, animals, and insects. You can also bring along a magnifying glass to help them get a closer look at the world around them.
Set realistic expectations - It's important to remember that kids have different abilities and stamina levels. Don't expect them to hike the same distance or at the same pace as you. Start with shorter hikes and gradually increase the distance as they become more comfortable. Apps like AllTrails can help you get honest reviews of hikes, and assess whether it’s a good fit for your family. When starting out, it's best to choose shorter, easier trails that are appropriate for your children's age and ability. This will help build their confidence and make the experience more enjoyable. As they get more comfortable and experienced, you can gradually increase the difficulty of the trails.
Be prepared - Hiking with kids requires a little extra planning and preparation. Make sure you have all the necessary supplies like water, sunscreen, and hats. It's also a good idea to bring along a first aid kit and a few extra layers in case the weather changes.
For babies and toddlers, bring a carrier - If you have young children or babies, it might be helpful to bring a carrier. This can allow you to cover more distance and tackle more challenging trails, while also giving your little ones a place to rest when they get tired.
Wear the right shoes - Proper footwear is important for any hike, but it's especially important when hiking with kids. Make sure your kids are wearing sturdy, comfortable shoes that provide good support and traction.
Let the kids lead - While it's important to set some ground rules and boundaries, try to give your kids some independence and let them take the lead on the trail. This can help them feel more invested in the experience and encourage them to explore and discover on their own. Tell them what color the trail markers are, and let them have fun finding the next marker and leading the way there.
Make it fun - The most important tip for hiking with kids is to make it fun! When our kids were little we’d often make up chasing or tag-type games to keep them entertained and moving, and take plenty of breaks to enjoy the scenery. Remember, the goal is to have a good time and create lasting memories with your children.
By following these tips, you'll be well on your way to a successful and fun hike with your kids. And remember, that every weekend (or day depending on where you are) is a chance for a re-do! So don't let one (or several!) trying experiences deter you! Don't be afraid to take your time and enjoy the journey. After all, it's not about the destination, it's about the memories you make along the way. Happy exploring!