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Taking a hike can be a great way to encourage family bonding and exercise. Of course, in the era of tablets, screens, and air conditioning, your kiddos may not initially enjoy the hiking experience.
This is particularly true when they are younger - but fear not. There are ways to make hiking fun for kids. Children of all ages should have the opportunity to enjoy a little wilderness with their families, so we are here to encourage you along the way.
Make Hiking Enjoyable For Kids
There are so many benefits to hiking that creating an environment where your children will enjoy hiking is aworthwhile goal. The exercise is good for your body, and the scenery is good for the soul.
Immersing them in the outdoors early is one way to encourage a healthy lifestyle as they grow. Sometimes you have to get a little creative as a parent, so let’s round up some ideas to make hiking fun for kids.
Top 10 Ideas To Make Hiking Fun For Kids
Here are some of the top tips to make hiking more fun. The best tips are the ones that work for your entire family and help your child have a great time hiking. The journey is at least as important as the end destination, and maybe more so.
Kids will see all sorts of interesting things along the way. They will want to stop and check them out. They will be more interested in what they see than in hiking. Know what? That’s ok. You can use the hike as a time to learn to identify things along the trail. They will be more likely to retain the information because they’re interested.
1. Ask About Them
Planning is the first step in hiking. Ask about the kids’ ideas, too. Involving kids in the planning step will help them feel like the adventure is theirs. Even if they think they will not enjoy a hike, letting them be part of the planning will encourage them to take part.
You don’t have to give them control over what and where you hike. Offer a choice between two destinations or get their input on what type of terrain to hike. Let kids pick what snack to take, and a backpack to wear. Let them pack their gear. The more included they feel, the better they will like the process.
Then, along your hike, ask about their thoughts, dreams, and worries. The answers will naturally vary based on their age. You might hear all about the latest transformer robot from a younger boy or all about the drama at school from your daughter that is on the verge of finishing elementary school.
The point is to allow time to focus on them. Allow your kids to share the things they want to share, and you may find that they start to look forward to hiking more and more. This may also give you insight and offer a bonding opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise had.
2. Go At Their Pace
Kids enjoy hiking more when you go at their pace. Most kiddos want to stop and examine trees, plants, or dirt. They want to enjoy the trip, not just rush to the end of the hike.
Let them look closer at nature. If you have time constraints, plan to hike a shorter distance, so there is time to stop and smell a flower or wade in a creek. Rushing through a hike takes a lot of the fun out of it.
Teach children about respecting wildlife. Show them the proper way to deal with plants and animals that cross the trail. You are likely to see birds, bugs, and spiders. You might see squirrels or rabbits. Larger animals may show up in some locations. Take the opportunity to help the kids learn.
As other hikers pass by, take no mind. You have to make an effort to enjoy hiking with kids if you want them also to have fun hiking. Pick a hike near a lake or somewhere flat with beautiful scenery so that even though you might be moving at a slower pace, you can still enjoy the nature around you.
3. Bring A Friend
When you bring a friend, it’s a sure way to make hiking more fun. Kids love to have friends with whom to share experiences. If your friends are not available when you go hiking, you may meet other hikers on the trail. If they have kids, too, consider hiking together for a while.
Kids may like racing along the trail to the top of the next hill. They will often make up their own games. Hiking is a great way to make friends or deepen friendships. Other kids help to keep the kids occupied during the hike.
Taking a break from hiking is more fun when friends are along, too. Sharing hiking snacks and taking a moment to explore adds to the enjoyment.
4. Go To New Places
It is fun to go to new places. If you have recently started hiking, most trails will be unique. If you have been hiking a lot, the usual local trail might seem boring. Choose some new parks to visit. A new trail can make the experience exciting again for kids.
Most states have a website that lists national parks and state parks. They usually show whether the park has hiking trails and may even offer maps of the trails. See how many trails are available and set up a schedule. There may be enough to hike a different trail every week.
If you have friends that like to get outside, ask them about their favorite parks and trails. They may have some great ideas you had not yet considered. Of course, invite them to join you, especially when you go to the paths they recommend.
5. Let Them Take Pictures
Kids love to take pictures. Digital cameras are relatively inexpensive, so you can get each kid a camera to take photos. Smartphones also have cameras, and many kids have a phone. For tiny kids, have them point out things to capture and take the pictures yourself.
Try a video scavenger hunt. Instead of collecting items, collect pictures of objects. See who can get the largest variety of things, or the most different trees, or the most different birds. Pick any category and get everyone on board. You could also have a regular scavenger hunt list and use it as a guide.
Kids usually don’t take pictures of the same things adults do. Fill an album with the pictures later to remember the trip. Be sure to write something about the picture and the date to help with remembering.
6. Take Their Favorite Snacks
Hiking can be a hungry pastime, so take their favorite snacks to munch. Things that come in individual packaging are convenient. Kids can eat smaller portions and make them last longer. If you let the kids pack their own snacks, you can be sure they will like them.
Remember to take any trash with you when you leave unlea trash can is provided. Leave no trace of having been there. Pack out anything you pack in. Kids need to learn trail etiquette, and that is the main thing.
Make sure to have plenty of water. Other liquids may taste great, but water quenches thirst. Take a water break regularly. Kids can consume snacks and drinks while walking, but breaks are good. Taking time to eat snacks will help you maintain your collective strength along the trail.
7. Have A Scavenger Hunt
When you have a scavenger hunt, it keeps kids entertained and engaged in the hike. They may find hidden treasures as they hike and examine nature. The whole family can participate since finding some items may be a challenge.
Bring along a treasure box for the best things. They will be great memories of your family hike. Just avoid saving any keepsakes that may rot or decay.
If you go to new places regularly, expand the scavenger hunt list to include things specific to each area. Encourage kids to explore the area to discover things you may not have known to expect.
8. Let Them Use An App To Help Navigate
Letting kids use an app to help navigate keeps them involved. GPS apps allow kids to see where they are and where the trail goes. They can keep up with progress and have a better idea of how much longer it will last.
Electronics are part of life, and having an app may be what some kids need to bridge the gap between screens and nature. If you have one device and more than one child, have them take turns using the app.
9. Let Them Carry Their Own Gear
Start young, letting them carry their own gear. Even toddlers can wear a small backpack with a snack and a toy. In fact, small water packs are available, where your toddler can carry their own hydration. Just make sure the bite valve is kid-safe (and kid-friendly) before handing over the responsibility.
By the time they are teenagers, kids can carry everything they need. Consider having your teenager keep the family snacks and have the pack a few hammocks for good measure. Reaching a summit and hanging a hammock is an excellent way to accentuate a good hike.
10. Chronicle The Trip (Draw Pictures or Write Story)
Have kids chronicle the trip. Draw pictures of the plants and animals. Write the story of where they went and who did what. They can write down what made the hike so much fun.
They can do this in steps, during breaks, or all at once after returning home. They will have more detailed information if they do it each time you stop for a snack, as it is still fresh in their mind. Pause by a plant to get a sketch of it.
Some kids may want to use a recorder to make verbal notes instead. Whatever method you use, you will enjoy revisiting the event later.
Keep Kids Engaged
Keeping kids engaged can be a challenge. Kids often have short attention spans and get bored with things reasonably quickly. However, there are lots of ways to help kids love hiking.
Kids like to be a leader, so consider taking turns leading. If the trail is not well marked, the leader is the one using the GPS or app.
You might also try a moving type of hide-and-seek. Each hider runs ahead and hides near the trail. The others watch to see if they can spot the hider. If the whole group passes by without noticing, the hider wins. Otherwise, the hider loses, and either way, it’s the next person’s turn to be the hider.
Call It Something Other Than Hiking
Change how your kids perceive hiking by calling it something other than hiking. Some alternatives include:
- Backpack expedition
- Exploration odyssey (you may have to define this one)
- Nature walk
- Trail trek
Ask the kids what they want to call it. They may have more ideas than these.
How To Make Hiking Fun For 2 & 3-Year-Olds
Here are some tips to make hiking fun for 2-year-old and 3-year-olds, too. While their little feet may not be able to walk as far, they can still enjoy getting out into nature. When the kids get tired of walking, you can encourage kids to keep going with some hiking games.
Remember to build in plenty of breakpoints for smaller kids. If there is a lake along the trail, you can teach them to skip stones or let them throw rocks into the water.
Bring along a magnifying glass to look at the plants and bugs that fascinate the littles. Hiking with kids is almost like a new experience when you see things through their eyes.
Play ‘I Spy’ and Other Car Games
‘I Spy” is a simple game in which one player chooses an item within view, and the others try to guess what they chose. The rules vary by family. Some families only guess (some have limits on how many guesses), and some ask questions to help figure it out. The initial clue can be starting letter or color.
Speaking of questions, Twenty Questions is a great game to play on the trail. Kids love to stump their parents in guessing games. For a less competitive contest, try Would You Rather. Each person thinks up a choice between two alternatives. Everyone answers the question, and a discussion follows.
The picnic game is another common road trip game that translates well to hiking. Each person begins the sentence “I went hiking, and I brought” and names an item. The first person starts their thing with the letter A (such as “apples”). The second person says apples, then follows it with an object beginning with B, and so on.
Play Games that Keep Them Moving
Playing games that keep kids moving, like scavenger hunts, are a great option, even for little kids. Young children will need easier lists than older kids, but they might surprise you. If they get tired of playing, it is ok to set it aside and explore the surroundings without the list.
Follow the leader is an excellent way to keep the kids moving - especially if you let the youngster lead. You will want to be sure the trail is well marked for this one. Have the leader do other things, like swing their arms or step high, and all the followers must follow suit. Anyone who doesn’t is out until the next round.
Have a shadow chase. One adult or older kid walks ahead, so their shadow is in front of the others. Challenge the little ones to catch the shadow. Go faster than they were, but not too fast, or they will get discouraged or tired. Make hiking fun and not unpleasant.
Singing songs like marching songs can keep little ones stepping to the rhythm. Choose songs that have a good cadence. Some good options include:
- Ants Go Marching
- Baby Bumblebee
- Do Your Ears Hang Low
- My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
- On Top of Spaghetti
- The Other Day (I Met a Bear)
Nearly any song you and the kids know is good to sing, but the songs with a marching sound can keep them moving. Use music when hiking with kids to make hiking fun.
End of Hike Reward
Have a fun end-of-the-hike reward for the kids to look forward to when they get tired. If they know there is something special waiting, they get excited and are willing to keep going.
You can keep the kids motivated with simple rewards like where to go for lunch or dinner. It could be a treat like ice cream. Sometimes you can let the child choose the prize.
Take Your Kids Hiking!
Plan to take your kids hiking. It is good for everyone to get outside and spend time in the sunshine and nature. Plan accordingly, and avoid bad weather that might be treacherous. Hiking in thunderstorms is an obvious no-no, but hiking in the heat of summer might be dangerous as well.
Over time, find hiking gear that makes the experience more enjoyable. Having the proper equipment will help you navigate unpredictable weather as well.
You might also consider taking your dog hiking if they have a strong bond with your family. Grab a hiking harness and a collapsible water bowl, and you may find that your furry friend enjoys hiking more than any other family member.
Hiking with kids can be challenging, but it can also be gratifying, so one of our biggest tips is this: Don’t be deterred. Keep on trying, and find what works for your family.
Enjoy Time With Your Older Kids In the Great Outdoors
Enjoy the time with your older kids in the lifet outdoors. Kids grow up fast, and these times only last a little while. Make memories and build relationships with your kids.
You may be able to find a geocache in the area. Some regular geocachers have a stamp that is a unique symbol of themselves or their family. They use it to put their mark in the booklet that is usually a part of a geocache.
If your kids are all older, you can try to hike a trail that is more challenging terrain. Include some rock climbing. Have a final mystery destination. There are many great ideas available to keep more mature kids interested in spending time outdoors.
Young Kids Can Have Fun Too
Younger kids can have fun, too, hiking with the family. Choosing parks with wide trails can make it easier to hike with small children. There is room for small kids to hold an adult’s hand and walk side by side on wide trails.
Little ones can hike a trail that is shorter or adults can prepare to carry them after a while. The important part is to get out there and have fun.
Final Tips For Hiking With Kids
Life is too short to compromise the things you love. While hiking with kids might be a little different than hiking by yourself, you can still appreciate nature and get exercise as your family grows.
While we’ve listed particular tips above, other tips may be more general, even if just as important. Practice patience, model excitement, and enjoy your family.
If you can do those things, you are well on your way to enjoying hiking experiences!
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