My kids know hiking is my favourite thing, they were both in hiking carriers by 6 weeks old. They’ve known hiking trails before they knew anything else. Does that mean they share my enthusiasm for the outdoors? Not always. It’s often a struggle for me to get them out there and keep them going once we are. The pull of the screens is just too much sometimes. But over the years I’ve learned some things that have helped to keep us all enjoying our time on the trails. Here are my top five tips for happier hiking with kids.
Choosing the right trail
When I solo hike, I like the quiet, the fresh air, the solitude, the views, the quiet. Let me say that again…the quiet. I don’t care if the trail is a skinny dirt path uphill the entire way, in fact that usually means it’s less traveled. But when I bring my kids, I make sure we pick a trail that is mostly flat and has multiple features. A trail that passes through a forest AND a field (changes up the view), has a stream, creek or pond (especially if they can take a bit of time to play around in the water looking for frogs, crayfish or bugs), maybe a boardwalk, or some rocks or logs to scramble on. The trail doesn’t need to have all those things but a couple of different features to keep them interested and change it up goes a long way in keeping them going. If you’re in the Hamilton-Halton area make sure to join the Facebook group where others post their family friendly trail finds as well. Search Hamilton-Halton Outdoor Family Fun.
Get them their own hydration pack. A hydration pack is a small backpack that has a water bladder/bag inside with a hose/straw that clips to the backpack strap, making the water accessible all the time without ever having to take the bag off. The main reason I recommend this is because kids love cool gear and love to play the part. Hydration packs usually have a couple of small pockets as well, so I also add a snack (always bring snacks). My youngest son really likes to feel like an outdoorsman so he has a whistle, some bandages and wipes in there too. The bigger plus of a hydration pack though? You don’t have to carry their stuff! Lighten your load! You can find hydration packs at most outdoor and sports stores (runners and cyclists use them too so they’re everywhere). For this post I ran into Walmart to check the prices and they had them for $20. It’s honestly one of the best pieces of kid gear we own and I highly recommend it for your kids.
Bringing walkie talkies on our hikes started out as just a fun thing to add. They love hiding on each other and and playing all kinds of games using them like Man Hunter, hide and seek and other scavenger hunt type games. But walkie talkies are also great for safety (bonus gear!). If you have one kid who loves to run ahead and another one who loves to dawdle, walkie talkies are a great way to keep tabs on all of them.
Let them Play
As adults we seem to always need a start and end point and we’re on a mission to get to the end. But kids are less interested in simply powering through. So let them play: climb trees, parkour over everything, do scavenger hunts, hide and seek, wade in the water, throw stones in the water, look for animal tracks, let them be the leader in charge of finding the next trail marker. If they’re older they might like geocaching, taking photos, or figuring out how to use a compass.
Keep it Short
Keep it short and know when to end the hike. This, again, goes against every fibre of our being as adults. We went through all this effort to get to a trail; we’re making every minute worth it! But that’s not how kids work. When they’re done, they’re done. This is especially important if you want them to keep enjoying it. If they’re also new to hiking you don’t want to push them past their limits. So, if you’re just starting out, pick a quick trail closer to home and as you hike more often and it becomes a habit, they’ll be able to go longer.
In my experience, it’s not always going to be what you expect out on the trail. Sometimes there’s whining and complaining. Sometimes you forget snacks. But most of the time, once you get out there, everyone has a great time and you definitely won’t have any regrets once it’s over. This top five list are the things I’ve found that make hiking a success for us and sometimes just knowing what works for others and being prepared with options, can be super helpful!
Hope this inspires you to get out in nature with your kids.