How to Make Hiking Fun for Kids

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As parents, we encourage our children to stay active. An afternoon of exploring the trails at a local park or a big hiking adventure may seem like fun to you but your kids may not agree.

Do ever hear whining when you suggest a hike?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Hiking can be fun for kids. Here’s how…

Involve Your Children When Planning A Hike

Get your kids involved when picking a hike. This will provide a sense of ownership so they don’t feel as though you’re dragging them off on your adventure.

Physical maps and apps like Hiking Project are a great way of involving your child in the planning process.

Expose Your Children To Different Types Of Hikes

Child in a hooded jacket sitting on a rock while hiking in a arid region.

Keep hiking fun by focusing on the interests of your child or expanding their interests by exposing them to different types of hikes.

Waterfall hikes are often a favorite. The waterfall hikes are usually shorter in distance and what a wonderful sight! Swimming below the falls in warmer weather is a fun reward too!

Or maybe a night hike with a focus on the moon, stars, fireflies, glowworms, owls, and other animals of the night. Sometimes playing with flashlights, glow sticks, and headlamps are of more interest to younger children. Put a string on the glow stick so they can twirl it around.

Watch and gauge their reactions to the different hikes. You may find that hiking through a forest is less interesting than an open field, deserts, or mountainous areas beyond the tree line. From an early age, I’ve enjoyed hikes with water elements… lakes, streams, rivers, and waterfalls.

We all connect with nature in different ways. Learning what appeals to your child in a beautiful adventure of its own.

Watch Your Kid’s Energy Level

A family of four (mom, dad, and two kids) taking a break on a hike above the tree line.

Read your children’s cues during the hike. Kids burn calories quickly so you’ll want to take occasional breaks and bring a variety of snacks with you, mainly healthy ones that they’ll enjoy. Pack some “special” snacks too. Something they don’t typically get to enjoy at home.

If your kid’s energy level drops, you may need to cut your hike short even if you haven’t reached your intended destination. The destination isn’t always as important as the journey.

It’s important to remember that while you want to challenge your child you also need to find a comfortable pace for them. Hiking speed should always be set at the pace for the slowest hiker.

Remember to always factor in plenty of time for the hike. You don’t want to rush through the hike. Rushing isn’t fun. Keep the luxury of time on your side.

Let your kid check out different things along the way. Let them touch and feel things along the way. They’ll marvel over things you’d typically miss. How wonderful to see the world through the eyes of your child!

Have Your Child Use A Navigation App

Though you want your kid to unplug from technology for a while, a navigation app isn’t a bad thing. Navigation apps and other essential navigation tools teach map reading skills while also motivating. They get to see where they’re going and their progress by referring to the trail map.

Give Your Children A “Job”

A child on a hike taking photos.

Besides watching progress on a navigation app you can assign children other responsibilities. Children love being involved and included.

This can be as simple as letting them take turns being the leader or telling them they’re the “medic” and having them carry the first-aid kit for a while. Have older children chronicle the trip by photographing your adventure.

You can even have your children carry their own gear like a backpack and possibly trekking poles or other items of importance like binoculars. Even a small child can enjoy carrying a small backpack. Keep the pack’s weight appropriate for the child’s size.

If your children are into recycling and the preservation of nature, carry a garbage bag with you and pick up trash along the trail. Giving back to trails is a wonderful experience that connects us to the trails we hike.

Teach Your Child To “Leave No Trace”

It’s never too early to teach your child the principles of “Leave No Trace“.

Help them minimize their impact on nature. Encourage little hands to look and touch items in nature but to leave things where they’re found.

Challenge your children to respect wildlife, properly dispose of any trash you encounter along the way, and be considerate of others while hiking.

Engage Your Children In A Game

A mother, father and two kids on a hike play a game like they are flying.

There are many trail games that you can engage your children in (e.g. “I spy,” 20 questions, a scavenger hunt, geocaching).  You could even create a story about your hike (e.g. you’re superheroes who have to reach the enemy’s base). Your imagination is your only limit here.

Don’t forget about the rewards! These can be anything from a small treat or a sticker. For instance, when you’re having a scavenger hunt give them a treat for each landmark you reach. You could also give them a treat for identifying a certain number of plants, trees, or other objects. Just remember to keep this at a level that’s appropriate for your child’s age.

You may also want to incorporate a reward at the end of the hike. Let your child choose where to go after. This can be as simple as getting some frozen yogurt or enjoying lunch at their favorite restaurant. When your child is finding the hike challenging, encourage your kid by talking up the reward. In doing so, time will quickly pass and, more than likely, they’ll forget what they were overwhelmed by or complaining about.

Have Your Child Bring A Friend

You’ll be surprised how motivating your child’s friend can be. Your kid will be so busy having fun and exploring with their friend that they’ll find no need to complain or nag.

Give Your Kids A Challenge

Your children’s resiliency may surprise you. While you’ll want to start with a short hike, as time goes by, try longer and longer hikes. The more time you spend hiking with your children the better you’ll be able to determine when you’re pushing them too hard and when you’re challenging them just enough.

Hiking with your kids can be a lot of fun. It’s simply a matter of incorporating some of these ideas to help keep them engaged. 

Little girl having fun on a hike. The graphic says... How To Make Hiking Fun For Kids.
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