Family adventures are where memories are made. The easiest way to start an adventure is to step outside onto a trail together. A family hike is a great opportunity to spend time together, explore the world around you, and get some exercise outdoors.
As the founder of littlefamilyadventure.com I have some experience in exploring with your little ones. Here are seven tips for hiking with kids to help you enjoy the trail as a family and make life-long memories together.
Planning ahead will help ensure you have a great time.
1. Plan Ahead. Whether you're going for a short stroll, a rocky day hike, or something a bit more ambitious, always do your homework. In advance, research trail conditions, weather conditions, whether any permits (longer hikes) are required, and general rules. If hiking on public lands managed by organizations with staffed offices, you can call and inquire. The Bureau of Land Management website is also quite helpful. For all hiking, the AllTrails app is a helpful planning tool.
2. Start Easy and Build Stamina. When hiking with children, start with easier, shorter duration walks/hikes close to home. Choose routes with interesting features like waterfalls, scenic overlooks, water, etc. Over time you can build up to doing longer, more difficult hikes together. If your small one can't walk yet, there are a variety of child carriers that can help you get you out in nature. Similarly though, make sure you practice with short trails first-- this will help you build the muscle needed and also get your body used to the weight sitting on your back.
Try enjoying the little things on the trail.
3. Be Flexible. If you have kids, this is most likely something you're well accustomed to. Rather than pushing to go further and doing more, take the time to go at your child’s pace. Flexibility is essential when hiking with children. Focus on exploring the route rather than distance. Take the time to observe the bugs, the leaves, and the streams. Going into a kid friendly hike with the mindset that you are there to spend time with them will do wonders. You will find it a much more enjoyable way to spend time outdoors together.
4. Know What to Bring. Be prepared for the terrain and type of hike you plan to do. Dress in layers to keep comfortable on the trail and bring more water and high energy snacks than you think you’ll need. At a minimum, you should have 1 liter of water per adult and 1-2 cups for children for every hour hiking. Children can carry their own small pack with a water bladder or bottle to stay hydrated, a healthy snack, and a whistle for emergencies.
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5. Safety First. Be prepared for emergencies you my encounter on a hike. Your hiking first aid kit should include necessary items for cuts and scraps, foot blisters, splinter removal, snake bites, and twisted ankles. You may also want to consider taking a Wilderness First Aid course, which is specifically geared toward situations you may encounter while camping or hiking. NOLS is a reputable organization which has courses for everyone, form beginners to first responders.
Similarly, what happens if you get hurt? Share with your kids how to get help, whether it's how to dial 911, or teaching them how to blow the safety whistle we mentioned earlier to alert others that they need assistance.
6. Share Your Plans. Always tell someone where you will be hiking, how long you will be out, and the route you plan to take. Regardless of the trail length or difficulty, this can help save your life and the lives of your kids.
7. Stay Together. Teach your children the importance of staying together on the trail and what to do if they get lost. It’s important to stay in your line of sight at all times and wait at a trail junction is they are out ahead. Dressing in bright colors helps you see each other. Don't just tell your children to stay with you, but teach them why-- the dangers if they get hurt, of dangerous species (both four legged and two), and how getting lost in the woods can be very disorienting.
9. Leave No Trace. Your kids are going to follow your example, so make sure you are instilling in them the 7 Leave No Trace Principles. It's important to set a precedent on how to treat and respect nature, to pick up after themselves, to stay on the trail, and to respect others. By teaching them these rules at a young age, you'll be raising a great land steward. Read more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles here.
All in all, adventuring with your little ones can be an incredibly rewarding experience. These tips should help make sure that both you and your kids have a great time while hiking in the outdoors!
Nicky Omohundro is an avid traveler, hiker, camper, and mom of three teenagers. She is the founder of LittleFamilyAdventure.com, an active family lifestyle website that encourages families to have No Child Left Inside. Recently, she created Stress-Free Camp Meal Plans, grab-and-go menus and recipes, to help take the stress out of camp cooking and give families more time to enjoy their time together outdoors. For more information, go to https://littlefamilyadventure.com