USA: Hiking with Kids
We are approaching summer in my part of the world, which means prime hiking season! I hike with my two boys all year round, but I love this time of year when things are a bit less wet. We live along the Cascade Mountain Range, so there is no shortage of amazing vistas and gorgeous forests to explore. I have been hiking with my kids since they were babies, most often on my own. My sons are now elementary school age, and while some things have gotten easier over the years, some have not. Endurance and motivation are continual challenges.
All of those lovely photos on social media usually have some rough backstory moments. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so we keep at it.
Today I share some tips on planning a hike and keeping little feet moving along the path.
Choosing a Trail – It’s important to start any journey with a clear plan. Map out where you will go. Depending on where you live, there are often trail websites as well as guide books available that will tell you which are good hikes for kids and when is the best time of year to go. Take into consideration the drive as well as hike length and elevation gain. Are you considering a hike to a destination such as a waterfall or lake, or do you want a no-pressure meander in the forest? Find out if there is a bathroom at the trailhead. And if you do pick a hike with water features, have a plan for when your kids get wet, because they always do.
Safety – Once you have some ideas, make sure to check weather and trail conditions online or with the closest ranger station. Provided the trail looks good and you have any required permits, you can start gearing up. Make sure to pack the 10 essentials plus extra clothes, food, drinks, books, games, and toys for the car. If you are heading to a trail that will be near any ridge, look out, or peak, have a plan to keep little ones safe. I always liked to bring a special blanket that we called the safety mat. When we were in situations where the kids needed to stay put, I brought out the safety mat and they knew there was no leaving the blanket. You may even offer stickers or other rewards for following safety protocol. Lastly, whether you go solo with kids or with friends, have another adult who is not on the hike as your check in buddy. Let them know where you are going, when you plan to return, when you will call to check in, and where they should call if you don’t.
The Drive – Hopefully your kiddos enjoy all those goodies you packed and let you focus on the road. I always keep an eye out on the drive for fun places to stop for a meal or a treat on the way home. I keep it under wraps, but there comes a point on a longer hike when saying “let’s just get to the car, and we can go get ice cream” helps a ton.
Hiking Goals – If your kids have a concept of distance or elevation, talk to them about what you are doing. Give everyone a map if available. Or better yet, give them pencil and a little notebook and have them draw the trail with noticeable landmarks. Consider having them take photographs along the way. My kids LOVE having a camera to carry and will take tons of photos. If the kids are younger, consider picking a favorite tv or book character to pretend to be and act out an adventure on the hike. My boys loved Thomas the Tank Engine, so we’d pretend to be the engines on the narrow-gauge line up on the mountains. If your kids are older, try geocaching, because everyone loves treasure hunting.
Bribery – There is no other way to put it. I bribe my kids. If the drive is super long, they get to play extra video games in the car for being good sports and coming along. I pack treats along with all the healthy stuff. In the photo above, my boys are shown on a mountain peak. Leading up to that moment, my youngest was beginning to bonk at the site of the final climb. I let him know if he made it to the top, he could eat all the cookies before his lunch. He was thrilled, and as the photo shows, we made it. Maybe video games and cookies aren’t going to work for you, but there is something special you can do to reward all that effort.
The last piece of advice I will offer is to always know that at any time you may need to bail.
Maybe it happens on the drive or on the trail, but set a clear expectation with yourself that it will be whatever it will be, which may mean only a few feet down the path. But the more you get your kids out on the trail, the more accustomed to the work they become. And before you know it, you are on top of a mountain having the cookie party of a lifetime!
Do you explore the outdoors with your children? What tips do you have on keeping them safe and moving?
This has been an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. Photo credit to the author.