I love being outdoors, especially on the hiking trails. I try to pass that love to my nieces and nephew by hiking with them whenever I get the chance. They all thankfully appreciate the outdoors too, which makes me very happy! We have lots of fun hiking together and I love teaching them tips for enjoying and taking care of the outdoors.
You have to do some preparation any time you head out for a day hike, but especially when taking young children into the woods. I always come prepared to entertain and feed them to make the time enjoyable for all. Here are some tips I’ve learned for hiking with kids:
Let them lead the way. When the trail is wide enough, we all end up hiking alongside each other as we talk and point out cool things in the woods. However, when it narrows, I usually ask one of them to lead (my nephew loves this request). This makes them feel special that you ‘trust’ them to take the lead. The good thing about many of our local trails is that they either intersect, end up at the nature center/parking lot or circle back, so you can’t get lost. An adult should bring up the rear of the group to ensure no one wanders off or falls without any notice.
Let them carry a small backpack with water and a snack. Small backpacks shouldn’t be too heavy but I’ve found that my nieces and nephew like to feel involved in our activity so want to help carry stuff. Great for me so my pack isn’t too heavy! While I carry my water, sunscreen, wipes, first aid kit and a few other items, a small water bottle and granola bar are perfect for them. I discovered snacks are a big motivator to keep them moving (how are they starving 5 minutes into the hike when they finished breakfast right before we left the house??). We like to find clearings along the trail or a river for our breaks, where we can eat and talk about what we’ve seen so far.
Show them the map and let them pick the trail to hike. Most of our local park trail systems have good trail map signs at the start and throughout so we like to stop to read the map as a group. I give them a few options of trails we could hike, then leave it to them to decide (although when they can’t agree, I play the ‘pick a random number’ game before we stand for hours!). As we encounter trail signs and maps along the trail, they check our progress. These interval trail maps also help encourage and motivate them!
Make it fun! I sometimes will make a scavenger hunt list so the kids have something to look for while we’re on the trail. Examples of items to include are leaves, certain color flowers, squirrel, chipmunk, deer, bird, snake, etc. Sometimes signage along the trail gives a peek into the history or significance of the area. One sign shared that the local trail we were on was once a family’s backyard, which really impressed the kids and led to some great conversations about playtime and our ‘dream’ backyard.
Go to the bathroom before you get on the trail. We always ‘try’ even when everyone says they don’t have to – and every time we all end up happy we tried.
Talk about what you see – animals, color of leaves, trail signs and other cool things in nature.
Dress appropriately for cool or warm temps. Let them wear ‘old’ shoes or some that can get dirty so you can let them be kids and not worry about getting dirty while outdoors. Of course, all the same I do encourage them to avoid jumping into the middle of a mud puddle on the trail (just because I like my sister!).
Teach them about Leave No Trace, which teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. We talk about staying on paths rather than traipsing through plants, never littering, and respecting nature and wildlife since the woods are home to plants and animals.
Apply sunscreen – on children and adults, even when in the woods. There is always sun that pokes through the trees and sunburns can happen on cloudy days.
Have patience. I never start these outings with any preconceived notion we’ll hike a specific length of the trail or that it will be a quick trip. Just the preparation at the car (put on or remove jackets, check shoe laces, apply sunscreen, put on backpacks, and more!) takes plenty of time. When I take the kids hiking, I’m there to spend time with them, sharing something I love and hoping they develop a similar interest/love. These are truly moments that are about our time together. When we are leaving the park and they ask when we can go back, then I know it was a successful, special outing for all of us.
Do you enjoy hiking in the woods? What tips do you have for hiking with kids?