Hiking as a family provides you with the opportunity to step away from hectic schedules, put down the electronics, and enjoy the beauty of nature with the people that you love. Involving children in your time out in nature makes something great even better, all the while teaching them skills they can use for the rest of their life. Of course, hiking with kids does come with its own set of challenges. Here are a few tips for executing a successful hiking adventure that will help to connect your family to the great outdoors.
Choose Your Location Wisely- For your first few times hiking together as a family, select a hike that isn’t too long or taxing. If possible, choose a trail that has a feature, such as a lake, stream, waterfall or something else that will keep kids occupied and give them a goal to reach. When planning a hike with little ones, start small. Select a trail that is suitable for beginners. As they become more familiar with the experience, you can travel farther and go on longer adventures. For very small children, even a nature walk around the neighborhood can get them used to the idea of a hike. When you are ready to hit the trails, a smartphone can help with free apps such as Map My Hike, All Trails, and Hiking Project. These apps can help you find trails near you and provide great information, both as you are planning where to go and as you are on the trail.
Allow Yourself Plenty of Time- Kids are natural explorers. One of the greatest things about hiking with children is watching them discover the world around them. Make sure to account for plenty of stops and opportunities for your little ones to touch and see the world around. Also, keep in mind that hiking requires a great deal of energy. Frequent stops for snacks (who doesn’t love trail mix???) and drinks will help to keep your child on target. You can also use breaks as motivators to keep your child moving by saying “watch for the bridge, we’ll stop there for our next snack.”
Make It Fun- Create games that you and your children can play out on the trail. Have them look for signs of wildlife such as scat, bird holes in trees, fur or look for certain colors in the plant life. Organize a scavenger hunt and have them find things are bumpy, smelly, small, big, living, wet…the list goes on! In keeping the fun, choose a child to be your trail leader. Kids love feeling like they are in charge. Having the children take turns leading the hiking group can help the kids feel empowered – just make sure that the leadership rotates or this could lead to arguments further down the trail. By allowing the kids to lead, you can also make sure that the pace is slow enough so they can keep up.
Teach Conservation- Teaching children to take care of the world around them is an important part of being in the great outdoors. Teaching kids about conservation when they’re young promotes a lifetime of eco-friendly habits. However, simply explaining concepts is rarely enough to make them stick. When out on a hike, make sure that all of your trash is collected. The “pack it in, pack it out” concept is fully embraced on the trail. To further reinforce this idea, bring a small garbage bag and have the kids pick up any litter they see on the way back to the car. By getting kids engaged in hands-on activities you help children understand the true meaning of conservation. For more information on the seven principles of outdoor ethics checkout Leave No Trace.
By going on a hike you are investing in your family, your health, and your world. So go, make a plan, and take a hike!