Hiking with kids can be fun. No really, I am serious! There are just a few things you should keep in mind when going about it. It isn’t too much different than hiking with your friends. The main difference is probably that your friend agreed to go because they wanted to, and your kids are going because you decided to take a hike. Am I right? So, make it fun for them so they will agree to go in the future!
This has been the first year where Laddy has really done any amount of what I would classify “real hiking”. He doesn’t like the term “hiking”, so we call it “going for a walk in the woods.” It seems he likes walking in the woods. He is hiking a few miles a time, on his own, with no help (other than your regular encouragement), with very little complaining, and here is how I do it.
#1 – Start them young! That’s right! Chuck them in the pack, go, and don’t worry about it. We started taking laddy to Tryon Creek State Park and Forest Park in Portland as an infant. They like the fresh air, the birds are flying around, there are trees blowing in the wind, squirrels dashing hither and yon. There is a lot to look at. They are going to do great and that fresh air helps mom and dad with any baby blues.
#2 – Make sure you are doing walks/hikes that are not too long or too steep. Let’s face it, your kid hasn’t been conditioning for this walk. Their little legs have to make more steps than you to get anywhere. They are going to get tired, so know their limits and try not to go too far past them (you can probably get a little more out of them than they think, but don’t push too much). You also want to make sure their first time is really great so they will want to go again!
#3 – Don’t take them on an empty stomach, in the rain (unless you are really prepared), or during nap time (if they are walking on their own). Ever been hiking in the rain when you are hungry and tired? Times it by 10 and that is how your kid feels (best I can figure at least!). You can make the rain fun by dressing in rain gear and making a point to get really dirty and wet. We do that around here. We have a bunch of dry, warm clothes and towels waiting for us in the car. And we always do it well rested and with food in our tummies, and lots of snacks in our packs! If you child is riding in a pack, they might nap on the trail, so you have a little more flexibility.
#4 – Make it fun! Mom and dad, do a little homework about the area based on your kids interests. This summer for us was all about starting to recognize different plants and flowers. There were lots of Foxgloves in bloom and our state flower is the Oregon Grape. We looked for each of them while hiking in different places and your kid is going to get so excited when they can recognize them on their own. It also gives you a teaching opportunity. Every single part of a Foxglove is poisonous, so Laddy has learned that we only look and admire and never touch or taste. History is a great thing to talk about because you are smack in the middle of it, and the kids can really get a better sense than from a book. We also spend time looking for slugs, spiders, different bird varieties, all types of animals, and animal tracks are a big hit too. If we didn’t know what something was, we take a picture and look it up when we got home. Thank goodness for Google!
#5 – Give your kid a map of where you are walking. They like to know where they are, plus it gives them a lesson in map reading. State Parks offer maps of hiking trails (usually for free in Oregon) and they are great. As you walk, point out your location on the map so they can see their progress.
#6 – Set goals! We are big goal setters around here. Not only can we use it to get a little further, but we reward bigger accomplishments. For instance, on the trail we will look at a map and say, “OK, we need to have a little snack. Let’s walk to this curve in the trail and then we will stop and eat.” The kids will be so busy walking or running to the curve, they won’t complain about their hunger. One of the bigger rewards we did was offering to buy a special Silver Falls State Park badge if Laddy completed 3 hikes in our long weekend. Little things can go a long ways. He did it and spent the next month telling anyone who would listen about the badge he earned. It builds some good confidence and a little patience!
#7 – Visit the Park Ranger and sign up for the Jr. Park Ranger Program. Even if your kid might be younger than the age limit, they are flexible and you can help them. It teaches them about the things they will see in the area like different animal scat, tracks, different flora and fauna, and other special things. Mom and dad, you might learn something too! This summer we learned about “whale burp”, “mermaids purses,” and baleen. Cool stuff!
#8 – Be prepared! I am the daughter of an Eagle Scout and this was a mantra in our house. I still believe it.
- Make sure your cell phone is charged completely,
- You have sunscreen,
- You have an extra days worth of food and water for each of you,
- You have layers of clothing and a solar blanket,
- You have told people where you are going and when you are going to be home,
- You have a small light of some sort, waterproof matches, and
- You have a map and a compass (and you know how to use them!). When your phone has no GPS signal, you are going to need them.
This might seem like over-kill , but you never know what will happen. Also, make sure you have plenty of day light for your hike. REI has a more extensive checklist for day hiking that you might like to check out. Mother Nature is the boss. Don’t forget that!
#9 – Leave no trace. Teach your kids a great lesson by only taking pictures and memories, and packing out all trash. We only want to leave footprints behind (and those should stay on the trails).
#10 – Make sure you pack your humor. This is supposed to be fun!
Now get out there and enjoy the great outdoors with your family!
Update: Here is a list of more hiking items we like to take now that our son is a bit older, but we still follow these main guidelines!