5 Tips for Hiking with Kids and Toddlers

Five tips for hiking with your kids to help make it fun and enjoyable for everyone!

When I was a week old, my parents took me on my first outdoor adventure. It was just a short hike to a local lake, but I strongly believe growing up doing trips like this helped grow my love for everything in the outdoors. I am a father of two boys, who are currently 5 and 2. Like my parents did with me, I have started to expose my boys to the outdoors through hiking, camping, kayaking and photography from a very early age. Every chance I get, I take them along with me to explore some new corner of the world. Over the last 5 years and many adventures, I have learned a few tricks to make hiking with my sons fun for everyone.  

1. Know their Limits

Knowing my sons’ limits was the first lessons I quickly learned. When my first son was born, I put him in a child carry backpack and thought I could still hike 20 miles in a single day; boy, was I wrong. At about 4 miles, he no longer wanted to be in the backpack, and the trip was no longer enjoyable for either of us. As we hiked more, and he got use to riding in the backpack, he was usually good for about six mile trips. As he aged and learned to walk, he would hike some and ride in the backpack when his legs got tired. Even with him hiking part of the time, our adventures could not exceed six miles. When my second son was born, my oldest was upgraded to a full-time hiker, and I found 3-4 miles in a single day to be his sweet spot for enjoyable trips. Anything longer, and the joy of hiking quickly became a chore and lost all of the fun of being out in nature. Everyone is different, so knowing your child’s limits is key to a fun and enjoyable hike. If hiking becomes a chore for them, it will become hard to get them motivated for the next adventure. 


2. Hike to a Destination

When I plan my hiking trips with my sons, I look for something to hike to within their mileage range. Whether it’s an outlook, waterfall, or giant tree, having a clear goal is key. By hiking to a clear goal, this will make them excited about the hike. And when they reach the goal, they will feel like they have accomplished something. 


3. Take Breaks

My eldest son loves to take breaks. When we are hiking, he loves to stop to pick up a rock to add to his rock collection or an acorn to add to his acorn collection. He also loves to stop to climb rocks or logs. For him, the end goal is nice, but he really enjoys the hike and wants to experience everything along the way. These breaks are either for resting or for exploring. Also, I have found taking a nice long break while at the goal destination really helps the return hike to go smoother. This can include eating a snack or lunch and exploring the area and, in my case, taking lots of pictures. 


4. Use Snacks as Motivators

Sometime my eldest son needs a little extra motivation to avoid taking a “break” every 6 steps. For this, I have found that M&Ms work for him. When needed, I tell him every time he hikes to the next blaze, he gets another M&M. I also use games like I Spy and racing to a tree/rock as fun ways for us to enjoy the hike.  


5. Have Fun!!!

Hiking is a fun and enjoyable activity, and for me, it’s one of the best ways to experience nature. If I am having fun, I know my boys will be having fun. I remember all of the great hikes I went on growing up and how much fun I had exploring new places. Getting my boys out into the outdoors to not only experience it but to really enjoy it is something I hope and feel like I am achieving. 

To fine your next hike for your family click here!

Published: December 27, 2016

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Brandon DeweyExplorer

Richmond

I am a Father, Photographer, Adventurer, and World Explorer (26 countries and counting). I'm from the Bay Area but I'm currently living outside of Richmond, Virginia.