Five Tips for Joyful Hiking with Little Kids

As someone who leads a lot of hiking outings with little kids, today I’m going to address a question I’m frequently asked by parents…. “How do I get my child to enjoy hiking?” Listed here are what I believe to be the five most important tips:

  1. Keep it short: The first thing you must do is give up the idea that you’ll be able to do the long hikes you used to do before you had children. Little kids simply don’t have the stamina. Begin with super short outings (1/2 mile to 1 mile) at nature areas close to home. Gradually build up to longer hikes. Also remember that your child might have a lot of energy at the beginning of the hike, and you’ll begin to think, “yes, today we’re going to get a longer hike in!” Keep in mind that you have to hike back to the car, and your child child will suddenly at some point run out of steam. If you forget to keep it short and go too far, you’ll end up with a whiny child who will insist on being carried all the way home. Even worse, you might end up with a child who hates hiking. Absolutely no forced marches.
  2. Avoid steep hills: Kids can have amazing stamina as long as a trail is relatively flat. When faced with a hill, however, children can become whiny little monsters pretty quickly. If hills are unavoidable, I’ve found carrying my child to be necessary, which is super hard the older the child gets. Before my son turned four, I kept my Ergo Baby carrier in my backpack or around my waste at all times for those moments when he refused to walk one more step. Want to avoid having to carry your child? Skip the hills until your child is older.
  3. Forget about the destination: Forget about the days when you’d plan your hikes around a destination, such as a beautiful alpine lake or that location with the gorgeous views. Little kids are all about the journey. For a child to fall in love with hiking, they must be given time to explore along the trail. If that means picking up a stick and playing with it for fifteen minutes, so be it. Give your child the time to experience the awe of nature. Let your child splash in that little creek along the trail. Squat down and watch the ants with your child. Lie down and look up at the trees. Climb on the rocks. Slow down and enjoy the views. Hiking with children is all about patience.
  4. Let the child lead: Hiking becomes a game when the child is allowed to lead. Try to make the hike into an adventure for the child. Ask, “what’s around the next bend in the trail?” You’re child will probably say, “I don’t know.” Your response? “Let’s find out!” … then run along the trail with your child. If you don’t have a destination in mind (see tip #3), and you come to a fork in the trail, let your child choose which direction to go. Children love exploration, and, well, isn’t that what hiking is all about?
  5. Bring lots and lots of snacks: Children burn through energy pretty quickly, so fuel is a critical component for successful outing with your little one. It’s fun to pack a picnic lunch, but it’s even more important to bring along quick snacks for the child to consume along the trail. When my boy turns whiny, it usually means he’s running out of energy. It’s amazing how quickly he comes back to life after a quick bite to eat. Our favorites? Mashups Squeezable Fruit, fruit ropes or fruit sticks, string cheese, chocolate-covered raisins, Clif Kid Z Bars, a bag of mixed nuts, and crackers. And always, always, always bring lots of water.

Have fun!!

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66 thoughts on “Five Tips for Joyful Hiking with Little Kids

  1. great tips. we’re going to start hiking soon (when it cools down) with my 3 yr old grandson. Some ideas while obvious I hadn’t thought of. And #3, forget about the destination, is great advice for all ages

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  3. Pingback: Five Tips for Joyful Hiking with Little Kids | childrenworking

  4. Thank you for your tips on hiking.

    Welcome! Thank you for subscribing to follow my blog. I hope you are encouraged, inspired and enjoy the photos I take of life’s events as seen through the lens of my camera.
    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

  5. This post brought back fond memories of walking with my son when he was little ( he’s now 19 and with super long legs can easily out stride me even just round the block!) We had a dog, which always seemed to help because he would chase after and play with the dog, forgetting about the distance travelled. We also used to play Lord of the Rings, Robin Hood and Harry Potter with the sticks and other prop we found along the way :-)

    • Such fun memories!! Yes, the pretend play while out exploring can be so much fun. For my son, during our nature outings, we’ve played ninjas, Star Wars, hide-from-the-werewolves, firefighters, superheros, etc… So fun!

  6. Even a walk down the street which has the built-in ‘we can stop and play with a stick or look at a leaf for fifteen minutes if necessary’ component, helps build enthusiasm for hikes – outdoors becomes synonymous with exploration.

    • I completely agree! The majority of our “hikes” are around our neighborhood, and each of these neighborhood walks includes many, many stops to check out stuff (leaves, lizards, mushrooms, flowers, clouds, snails, whatever….).

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  8. I really like “Forget the Destination.” I’ve so frequently observed well-intentioned parents rushing the little ones along, and overlooking great possibilities right under their noses. This is a great and helpful list!

    • Thanks, Debra! Forgetting about the destination can help the parents relax, too. It’s stressful to be worried about “getting somewhere” when you have a toddler, who has absolutely no interest in getting anywhere.

  9. I started an adult hiking group last year. We aim to explore Joburg both in the city through our urban hikes, and nature reserves. Although my 2 toddler daughters have shown interest, I haven’t thought of getting them involved because of the strenuous nature of our walks. I definitely think I should start one for kids…thanks for prompting the idea!

    • You’re welcome! That’s the same path I took. First, I started the hiking group for adults (in my case, for women), and later one for families with kids when my son was a toddler. Now I manage both and enjoy the benefits of both worlds. I have weekly longer, faster-paced hikes with friends, as well as slow time in nature with like-minded parents.

  10. This was a wonderful post. We are a hiking family and have so many terrific memories. On occasion we even go on overnight hikes and I love seeing my kids not only get the exercise, but also enjoy the outdoors.

    • It’s something all children should have the opportunity to experience many times throughout their childhood. Your kids are going to take those memories into adulthood. Overnight adventures in nature are the best!

  11. Great tips, When I changed my trips from destination to exploration, when I removed the time element I found they were getting back to why I started walking and hiking in the first place. To look and see is the most important now, to watch the world changing around me. I also have just inherited two Grandchildren and am planning some trips with them soon. So a very apposite visit to my my blog, Thanks

    Jim

  12. I think this works for a lot of adults too. Love it. The tips gives an honest, practical view of what a kid wants. It gives tips that assures the experience is fun, safe and memorable. I agree, ” Little kids are all about the journey. For a child to fall in love with hiking, they must be given time to explore along the trail.” My son is curious about anything and pretty much we have so many stop overs and stops everytime but then its this unexpected surprises that sometimes gives us the most unforgettable journey. Thanks.

  13. Your post has made me miss hiking so much! We went all the time when we lived up in Washington state, but since moving to Texas we’ve sort of forgotten about it. I’m officially on a mission to find some fun hikes in the area! Love your blog! So glad I found it.

    • Glad to have found your blog, too! There seem to be great hikes just about everywhere (as long as we can adjust our expectations for what a hike should be like). Good luck on your quest!

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  15. Great tips! Kids really are all about the journey. I remember climbing Mt. Monadnock (in southwestern New Hampshire) with my son when he was no more than four. He had a tiny backpack, which he quickly filled with rocks (!) and lugged his Grover stuffed toy along with him. I thought it was all over when he discovered a puddle a couple hundred yards from the trailhead, but he made it. I used to hold his hand and tell him I was sharing my energy with him, and it worked!
    Eleanor

  16. We are Chipper for this! We like to say five feet every fifteen minutes. Taking time to explore what’s right in front of you makes it so fun for the child. So don’t worry about how far you go but be open to what you see.

  17. I love this post. I used to do lots of walking before the arrival of J and it is something I miss terribly. He is only two and a half but seems to enjoy a walk in our local trail. Great tip about the snacks, I must remember them.

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  21. Thank you for sharing the great tips! I am so happy that you’ve decided to write blogs about nature and parenting. As a novice mother, I consider your website a source of inspiration. Thank you.

  22. Hi. I co-sign Number Three, and I think that piece of advice has benefits for the adults as well. I remember a hike I took with my then-two year old son, to Mirror Lake, near Mt. Hood in Oregon. That experience forced me to realize how fast a hiker I’d become, and how much I missed along the way. We were focused on a destination, and yet being forced to slow down to a two-year-old’s glacial hiking pace cleared the way for all manner of experiences and sights. We made it to Mirror Lake, but it’s the pikas and the birds and the views along the way I remember now.

    • Agreed! I’m a fast hiker, too, and I was so proud of how quickly I could get up a mountain and blow past others along the way. Ha! How much did I miss??? It’s so pleasurable now to go slowly and observe the little things.

  23. This is so true. I love it that my kids are all old enough to hang in there for some real hikes, but the most fun we have is all the peeking under logs and into caves as we go.

    • Yes, I believe older kids (and adults!) should also take the time to look at the small things and enjoy the view, too. I have so much fun exploring with my son!

  24. Reblogged this on Learn.Grow.Imagine.Create and commented:
    Now that Madison is a great little walker, hiking adventures will be a new & fun adventure for us to enjoy together. I will most certainly have to “Forget about the destination,” as I am sure we will be slowly moving forward most of the time; but, once again, I am learning that parenting is all about slowing down and being in the moment. Enjoy these great tips & happy trails!

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