When we first started hiking as a family, it was new and exciting, and the kids loved it. As time went on, though, our seven year-old started getting antsy. He’d complain if we said we were going hiking, insisting it was boring, and even downright refusing to go.
We knew we had to figure something out to get him more excited about hiking, or we’d be forced to stop hiking as a family altogether. Luckily, over time, we were able to come up with a few different ideas that helped salvage our family hikes.
Whether you hiked before kids or are discovering hiking as a family for the first time, hiking with kids is completely different than hiking on your own. To be fair, doing most anything with kids is different than doing it on your own, but that’s another story.
Here was the typical hiking with kids scenario in our house:
Mom: “Wow, look at the beautiful scenery!”
Kid: “I’m hungry!”
Dad: “Let’s take a -”
Kid: “I’m bored.”
Mom: “This trail looks interesting!”
Kid: “I’m tired!”
I like to think it’s not unique to our family, that our kids will find a way to make us aware of their fatigue, boredom, and hunger, no matter what we try to say. And that somehow, when our kids aren’t enjoying something, they make it extremely difficult for anyone else to enjoy it either. If I’m wrong and it’s just us, please don’t ever let me know.
We believe that hiking as a family has so many benefits, both in terms of bonding, and showing kids your commitment to health and activity. While it can be tempting to push off family hikes until the kids are older, there are so many foundational emotional and physical health benefits to pushing through and creating a family culture of enjoying hiking.
So to make hiking with kids more enjoyable, we’re sharing a few tips that have helped us create an enjoyable hiking experience for the whole family.
How to Make Hiking With Kids Enjoyable
Tip #1: Geocache
If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it’s basically a live scavenger hunt you can do virtually anywhere. Small caches are hidden in various locations, and your job is to find them. You’ll need to download the free geocache app, which will give you the general location of the cache, and even provide a hint if you’re having trouble finding it.
This helps keep kids engaged by giving them a destination. Instead of feeling like there are miles of hike ahead, kids are excited to keep going and find the next geocache. Some caches even have a logbook to sign, and the app can keep track of all the caches you’ve found on your travels!
Tip #2: Hike to a Fun Destination
Similarly, try to have a fun destination or activity planned for the end of your hike whenever possible. When you’re hiking to a lake, river, or waterfall, kids are excited to get there, and far less likely to complain.
One of our favorite hikes is at Lake Somerville, where we kept catching glimpses of the lake that we would (eventually) jump into.
Other fun hike-to-destinations include Lake Houston Wilderness Park, where you can hike alongside (or even IN) a shallow creek, and Chalk Ridge Falls, in Belton, Texas, where the trail down from the parking lot eventually leads to a beautiful waterfall, and cool refreshing river!
Tip #3: Try a Scavenger Hunt
As an alternative to, or even in addition to geocaching, you can run your own scavenger hunt along the trail. If you’re really ambitious, you could do a bit of research about the plants and wildlife you can expect to see on your hike, and then include those in a scavenger hunt.
Alternatively, you can use a more general scavenger hunt that includes items you may or may not see on that particular hike. Decide on a family prize to get (ie. extra smores, family game, etc.) if you find more than 10 items on your list.
Tip #4: Use Hydration Packs
If your kids are anything like mine, they do NOT like carrying their own water. And again, if this is merely a failure in my parenting, and your children love carrying their own water and never just absentmindedly hand you their water bottles as though you were the family pack mule, allow me my blissful ignorance.
But this was an issue we were experiencing and after a while, we’d had enough. Because honestly, if you can’t even carry your own water, is there any hope for you?? Not to mention, water bottles are heavy!
I probably wouldn’t have made such a fuss about independence if it was a tissue or something, but once we were talking about real weight, it became a matter of some urgency that we find a solution.
We contemplated outfitting them with fancy hiking backpacks, but when it came down to it, we realized a whole backpack just for a water bottle is overkill. So we bought hydration packs for the kids this past summer and they were total game changers.
Hydration packs are basically mini backpacks that hold just a bladder of water. They’re typically insulated, to keep the water cold, and have tubing that extends out and over your shoulder, ending in a spout for easy drinking access.
The hydration packs were life-changing for two reasons. First of all, if a kid was thirsty, they could take a sip as they walked, with no fanfare needed. (Ok ha, fine, who am I kidding, there was still plenty of fanfare. “I’m thirsty!” “Take a drink from your pack!” “But I’m thirsty!” “Right, so take a drink from your pack!” “Ohhh ok!)
Secondly, there are no water bottles to carry – each kid carries their own pack on their back, making water easily accessible to everyone whenever they need it.
These are the hydration packs I recommend. When looking for packs, they don’t need to be fancy, but you should make sure there is a cover over the spout, so when they take off their pack, it doesn’t drag in the dirt.
Tip #5: Make sure to stop regularly for snacks
In a very scientific experiment, we determined that the kids were infinitely less cranky when we packed wholesome, balanced snacks and breaked regularly to eat.
We packed things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, beef jerky, and nuts, crackers, or dried fruit, and we’d pass out the entire mini-meal at snack time, ensuring we had a variety of nutrients to keep us fueled.
We found this particularly helpful in the afternoon. No matter what we were doing, we’d break for what we called our ‘4 pm fueling’. This helped us maintain even energy levels and eliminate the hangry whining.
Tip #6: Up the fun factor with walkie-talkies
One of our kids’ favorite things to do on hikes is to split up and then relay our findings to the other party via walkie-talkie. Using the AllTrails app (an invaluable hiking resource), we’ll identify loops or forks where the trail diverges temporarily, but merges again a short distance away.
We’ll then split up with each adult taking a kid, and keep in constant contact via walkie-talkie, making sure, of course, to use proper walkie-talkie etiquette. That includes using only our assigned code names, in case enemy spies are listening in. Over and out.
Additional Tools to Help Your Kids Enjoy Hiking
Hiking Logs and Guide Books
Depending on your child’s age, they might enjoy a log book to draw the various animals and/or plants they see on their hike, or a guide book to help them identify what they’re looking at. Whichever you choose, guide and log books can help keep kids more engaged during a hike.
Here are some options to choose from.
Backpack Explorer: On the Nature Trail: What Will You Find?
Geared towards kids aged 4-8, this kid-friendly guidebook explains a lot of the plants and wildlife kids might see on the trail. It even comes with a magnifying glass to encourage hands-on exploration!
This book encourages kids to log the details of their hike, such as trail, date, location, distance, weather, and difficulty. It also includes writing prompts like best things about the hike and a place to put a description of the things they saw along the way.
You never know what beautiful bird species you’ll see when hiking, and binoculars can help kids (and adults) see those birds more clearly! Kids will feel like real explorers wearing a pair of binoculars around their necks.
Unfortunately, when it comes to binoculars, you tend to get what you pay for. Here are some binocular options that offer the best bang for your buck.
Celestron – Outland X 8×25 Binoculars
While advertised as adult binoculars, these are small and compact enough to be used by kids as well. Plus, they’re fairly kid-proof, with an armored exterior to protect them in case they’re dropped. They’re also waterproof, and fog proof, and come with a handy neck string.
Dreamingbox Compact Shock-Proof Binoculars For Kids
If you’d rather opt for low budget binoculars, these might just do the trick. They’re shock proof, so won’t break easily, and have cushioned, adjustable eye pieces.
Ensuring Safety While Hiking With Kids
When hiking with kids, you’ll also want to make sure you have everything you need to ensure a safe experience. Here are some ways to ensure your family and children are safe.
Safety Tips for Hiking With Kids
Make sure each child and adult has a safety whistle attached to their pack. Yes, you may have to endure endless whistle blowing in the car when you first start out, but it’s a small price to pay to ensure your child’s safety in case he or she ever gets separated from an adult. Ok, maybe not a small price, but still worth it.
Make a plan to go over basic safety rules with your child. Explain the importance of staying in one place if they find themselves lost, and that they should blow the whistle until help arrives.
If your kid is the adventurous type who loves to run ahead, you might find an adult whistle can come in handy. We taught our kids a Von Trapp-style whistle pattern so they’d know when we wanted them to stop and wait for us.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit comes in handy for both kids and adults. Hiking exposes you to a variety of potential dangers, including bug bites, poison ivy, scrapes and bruises, and being prepared can make all the difference.
A good first aid kit will include antiseptic wipes, band-aids, sting relief, tweezers, and bandages, to name just a few. You’ll also want it to be compact enough that it doesn’t take up a ton of room in your backpack.
Here are a few options I recommend:
Coleman Family Size Emergency First Aid Kit – 82 Pieces
This kit comes in a compact, crush-free metal container and is small enough to fit in your backpack without taking up too much space. It’s got all the basic first aid necessities, including sting-relief wipes.
First Aid Only 299 Piece All-Purpose First Aid Kit
If you want to go a step farther, this 299 piece has all the basics, plus helpful tools like scissors, tweezers, pain relief medication, and even vinyl gloves. Despite being packed with so many first aid goodies, it’s still compact enough to take up limited space in your backpack.
Those are all our tips for making hiking with kids more enjoyable and safe. If you enjoyed this article, share it with your friends!
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StephanieOctober 15, 2020
Love this list! It makes me want to go shopping and get my kids all ready for hiking when we can go again. You are definitely it alone in the kiddos whining department. My 8 year old is the same way- complains about going then has fun. ?
AdrianeOctober 16, 2020
These are great tips. We get plenty of complaints while hiking. Our last hike ended early when my six year old took a bunch of sand to the mouth.