As a mom of two boys, hiking by myself isn’t always feasible. While I do love a good few hours out in nature alone, occasionally, if I want to be OUT, I have to take the kids with me.
Which is honestly, 100% fine.
My two boys are 5 & 7 years old, and they have been walking long distances essentially since they were old enough to walk (not really, but you know what I mean). We have the huge privilege of living in Europe for three years, and we made a huge point to travel as often as we could. And while my boys were small when we got there (six months and 2 years old, respectively), strollers were often a pain in the ass. Cobblestone, while beautiful, is not fun to bounce around in. Plus, it’s not always easy to carry a double stroller on trains or inter-city trams.
More often than not, we would carry the kids in a variety of packs, but once they got older (and heavier … my babes were not small by any means) it got a little too painful on our backs to continue.
So walk they must.
Granted, we were realistic when it came to the distance they could go in a day, and any of our trips involved lots of breaks and the occasional shoulder ride. But it wasn’t uncommon for my kids to do 5+ miles in a day with little complaint.
All of this to say, when we moved back to the states, it was a very natural transition to go from the streets of Europe to the trails of Colorado. Different terrain, but a normal activity for them none-the-less. They took to the trails pretty easily, and love spending a Saturday morning in some of our favorite spots. They can easily bust out 3-5 miles without complaint, and I LOVE that my love of nature has spread so easily to them.
That said, hiking with children of any age is not without it’s needed preparation. A few quick tips can make a difference in how your day goes, no matter the age of your kiddos.
10 Tips for Hiking with Kids
1. Plan your route. I cannot stress this enough as the most important thing to think about when taking your littles hiking with you. Know where you are going, and know the difficulty of the trail. Are you kids older or younger? Are they experienced hikers or is this a new hobby for you & your family? Are they capable of walking long distances, or do they break down easily?
Don’t attempt to do a six mile trail with a 1,200 foot elevation gain the first time out with your kids, if you’ve never taken them hiking before. Ok, maybe your high schooler could handle it, but your five year probably won’t be able to. I cannot recommend the AllTrails app (free) enough for planning routes. Most often, the comments will tell you if it is kid friendly, or if you should plan on leaving them home that day.
2. Bring lots of snacks! Remember that those little feet are working a little harder than you are. And if your kids are anything like mine … they will ask for snacks, and water, frequently! We love taking granola bars, homemade trail mix, cheese and crackers … anything that will give them a little extra energy boost. Water is also crucial, no matter the time of year, so make sure each person has a dedicated water bottle.
3. Dress in layers. More often than not, we start out wearing way too much, and it tends to get shed pretty quickly. But if it’s a cooler day, your kids will be glad to have started out with that extra jacket and gloves. The same goes for warmer days. If you’re out for a while, arms and faces may need a break from the sun, so make sure you have a light weight long sleeved shirt and hat to help with sun protection.
4. Bring a backpack. Extra jackets. Water bottles. Snacks. It all adds up. You don’t need a large pack to carry a weeks worth of stuff, but you’ll be glad you had a small one when things start getting handed back to you! (Oh, and don’t forget to throw a first aid kit in there with lots of band-aids. You’ll thank me later!)
5. Take turns on who gets to be the Hiking Leader. This is a common fight among my two boys … who gets to be the “leader.” I don’t know what it is about this designation, but if you have multiple kids, you’ve probably heard a version of this argument in your house before, or on any walk you’ve taken. Do 15 minute increments, or one gets to lead on the way in, and the other on the way out … whatever works for your family!
6. Take lots of breaks. The thing that I love about hiking is that it’s not just about finishing a trail in the fastest time possible. It’s also about truly enjoying nature. I never mind taking breaks because it gives us a chance to explore a little bit more. To play with rocks. To draw in the sand. To look at the plants around us and see what we can identify. So take those breaks and enjoy your surroundings. You’ll be teaching your kids to enjoy and love nature as much as you do!
7. Keep track of time. This is especially important if you are doing an out and back trail (versus a loop). My kids can generally go for about two hours, but not much more than that. That said, if we are doing a trail where we would hike to a spot, then turn around and go back, I pay extra attention to how long it’s taking us on our way in. Usually around that hour and fifteen mark, I’ll turn us around. It tends to take us quicker to get back then it does going in, mostly because they have done a fair bit of exploring on the way. But know your kids, and know what they can handle. That brings us to …
8. Know when to call it quits. You know your kids best. There is nothing worse than having to carry a screaming kid in the football hold for a mile or two. Watch for the warning signs, and know when they are about to be done. I rarely make my “goal” when hiking with the kids. There are too many distractions, and they tend to burn out easily. So call it quits when it’s time to call it quits. There is no shame in not finishing that trail, and you can always come back to it another time!
9. Have fun. Hiking is about enjoying nature, while also being physically active. Especially when there are children involved, just enjoy the time, and don’t worry about anything else! Enjoy those surroundings, and the quality time as a family!
10. Leave No Trace. This is one of the most important tips, in my opinion. Nature is sacred, and if we want to continue to enjoy our outdoor spaces, we need to preserve it the best we can. That means packing out ALL of your garbage, and taking it home with you. Bring a small plastic bag to make things easier. We like to bring an extra bag with us to pick up any extra garbage we find a long the way. Respect the space, and take care of it.
This is not a complete list of things you will need, but I hope it’s a start! Enjoy your time outside as a family! Happy Trails!