How to Hike With Kids and Stay Sane While Doing It!
Keeping things positive is crucial to nurturing a love of hiking for little ones.
Ok, so let me just throw it out there right off the bat - this post is not meant to sound like I’ve figured it all out or that I don’t have frustrating days trying to get my kids outside and hiking. But I’ve had enough people ask me how we manage to hike so often with a 5 and a 3.5 year old that I thought it would be worth sharing my experiences and (hopefully) giving you a few tips. We’ve been pretty intentional about getting outdoors since having kids and here’s what has worked well for us.
Underestimate your family’s ability on distance and hills.
There have been some great hikes that I would have loved to do and we’ve simply learned (after a few hard lessons) to stick to easier stuff with kids. I’ve learned to reset expectations on how much we can do. My thought is I’ll teach my kids to enjoy hiking and the outdoors while they are young and we can always do the harder trails when they are older, after building experience, confidence, and (hopefully) a love for hiking.
Make plenty of time for resting and stopping.
Even on the easier hikes, it’s best to take your time and linger. This advice is not simply so that your kids don’t tire out! Some of the sweetest moments of our days outdoors have been when one of my daughters stops to find a leaf (“mommy, this red leaf is for you since you love red”) or a treasured rock. Take time to be present, to hear the crunch of the leaves, to talk about and notice the different trees and plants.
Use age appropriate carrying gear.
For our family, we’ve invested in a few key items – a Baby Bjorn for the smallest tots, then a riding backpack from about 1-3 years old. My most recent find is a Piggy Back Rider, which allows older preschoolers (~3-5) to stand on a bar that’s harnessed on an adult's back so that kids can walk for a while and then stand and ride when they get tired. Trust me, it’s amazing and a game-changer when kids want to walk but can’t keep up for the whole hike.
Bring tons of snacks and liquids and make them special for your kids.
I often pack things that aren’t “everyday” for my kids when hiking. The delight of gummies or special juices that they really only get when they are hiking makes kids happy. Some might view this as bribery, but I view it as positive association!
Figure out what makes your kids tick.
My 5 year old loves dogs and so one of her favorite things to do is hold the leash while we are hiking. She’ll tackle 3 miles easily if she gets to hold the leash of my old, patient Labrador Retriever. My 3.5 year old loves water, so I'll try to find an out and back to a water feature (waterfall, creek, etc) to get her going.
Don’t be afraid to reward after your kids finish.
I’m not past bribery, and I’ll often tell my kids we can stop off to get an ice cream after we are sweaty post hike. They get excited and I remind them of the treat when times get tough.
Accept that there will be whining and complaining.
Perhaps the hardest pill for me to swallow is giving myself grace when things don’t go as planned. There will be “boo-boos” and mosquitoes and falls and tired, worn out kids…but I try to remember in these moments that I am taking literal steps to instill a lifelong love of the outdoors in my girls.
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