Have you ever set off hiking with kids only to turn back half way? Do your kids moan at the suggestion of a hike but are happy exploring once they get started?
We have experienced this and more many times, but we still persist and look for suitable hiking trails for kids as much as we can. Why? We love to hike and hiking with children is a great opportunity to bond as a family and to enjoy the outdoors with your kids.
So how do you make family hiking fun? With a little planning you can ensure everyone has a great time.
Based on our experience hiking with the kids on 4 continents, here are our top tips for hiking with kids.
- 1 1. Find Kid Friendly Hiking Trails
- 2 2. Review The Hiking Trail Ratings
- 3 3. Be Prepared When Hiking With Kids
- 4 4. Check The Weather
- 5 5. Good Quality Kids Hiking Gear
- 6 6. Wear Good Quality Hiking Shoes
- 7 7. Pack Plenty Of Water
- 8 8. Good Hiking Snacks For Kids
- 9 9. Take A Friend
- 10 10. Start Your Hike Early
- 11 11. Read Trail Information
- 12 12. Put The Kids In Charge Of The Map
- 13 13. Note The Time You Set Off
- 14 14. Plan For A Lot Of Breaks
- 15 15. Enjoy The Conversations
- 16 16. Play Games And Sing Songs
- 17 17. Have Treats On Hand
- 18 18. Don’t Underestimate Your Kids
1. Find Kid Friendly Hiking Trails
We did a lot of hiking pre-kids. Short trails, full day hikes and multi-day hikes too. This is all still possible with kids, but you do need to make some changes to accommodate smaller legs and find kid friendly hikes.
We find the best hiking trails for kids are ones with interesting sights along the way. It could be a creek, kid friendly waterfall hikes, large boulders to scramble over or spectacular views along the way.
Fun hiking trails make family hikes so much easier. The diversions help the kids focus on the fun stuff rather than the walking.
For teens and tweens ready for a challenge, choose trails for kids that will reward them for their persistence. When you reach the summit, celebrate the achievement with them.
Best Hiking Books
If you want to plan ahead, there are many good hiking books available to help you choose family hiking trails.
In the US we found this guide to the National Parks a great resource to help us find the best hikes for kids. It has detailed hiking trail ratings and clearly indicates which are kid friendly trails. Click to read the reviews and see the price.
Lonely Planet also has a great range of hiking books available including:
Banff, Glacier and Jasper National Parks in Canada
Hiking and Tramping in New Zealand
Trekking in Nepal Himalaya
2. Review The Hiking Trail Ratings
The best family hikes will depend a lot on your kids’ age and your (and their) hiking experience. We highly recommend you look at the difficulty, distance and time required for a trail before committing to the walk.
Trail distance and technical sections (like ropes, ladders and steep drop offs) are important considerations when choosing family friendly hiking trails.
- Very long trails are more challenging with kids and require more experience and an extra level of planning.
- Technical sections can be too physically challenging for small children and nerve wracking for inexperienced parent hikers!
We find intermediate trails are achievable for our primary school age kids and us with an average level of fitness.
For difficult trails we research what makes it so before making a decision. Distance, steepness of the trail, technical sections or elevation all factor in.
Our kids have completed many trails classified as difficult without too much trouble. They are often scampering ahead, scrambling over rocks while we try and keep up with them!
Best Family Hikes For Beginners
If you have not done much hiking with kids, start with shorter walks. Nature trails for children are a good place to start as they tend to be short with a lot of information boards and points of interest along the way.
Look for short walks and stroller friendly trails (less than 3 miles / 5 kilometers) in your local area to get started.
3. Be Prepared When Hiking With Kids
Unexpected things can happen when hiking, so one of our top hiking safety tips for kids is to be prepared for changes in weather or for injury.
Safety hiking essentials for kids (and without kids too) include:
- A small first aid kit like this one.
- Swiss army knife like the fieldmaster here.
- A basic whistle also comes in handy not only when you are hiking in bear country but as a precaution if you become lost.
4. Check The Weather
It is important to check the weather before you set off, especially when hiking with kids.
Before kids it wouldn’t be a big deal if it started to rain or the wind picked up while on the hiking trail. With kids it can be a bigger problem, especially for younger children.
If the weather is looking unpredictable, it is probably best to postpone the walk.
5. Good Quality Kids Hiking Gear
Using good quality gear and wearing appropriate clothing are important considerations to ensure kids (and you) stay happy on family hiking trips.
If they get cold or wet, it is not going to be much fun for anyone.
There is a lot of specialty kids hiking clothes great for more technical hiking, but layering clothes is the best way to ensure the kids stay warm and dry. This means:
- Base layer – long or short sleeve lightweight top
- Mid-layer – fleece or merino jacket like this one
- Outer layer – a good quality rain jacket with a hood like this one
- Shorts in summer, long pants in winter
- Don’t forget a hat and sunglasses too.
If you are hiking with babies or toddlers, a good quality baby carrier is essential.
6. Wear Good Quality Hiking Shoes
Sore feet and blisters are a sure way to stop hiking with children in its tracks.
This doesn’t mean you have to buy expensive kids hiking boots. There are many great kids hiking shoes that don’t cost a fortune and can be used day to day too.
We find our kids can do many easy hiking trails in good quality sneakers. For longer trails or more frequent hiking we recommend trail runners and hiking boots.
Best Hiking Shoes For Kids
Our top tip for low profile hiking shoes is to consider purchasing trail-runners. Trail runners are a great choice for occasional hiking and every day use.
Trail runners are very similar to sneakers as they have a low ankle profile and are lightweight. But they are also good for feet when hiking as they have a more sturdy sole for uneven terrain and often have waterproof options to keep feet dry.
We all own Salomon trail-runners and they are our go-to shoe for travelling and hiking. Click here for the latest prices on kids Salomon trail runners.
Another great brand is Merrell. Their Trail Chasers are one of the most popular choices for family hikers. Click here to find out more.
Best Hiking Boots For Kids
If you find yourselves outdoors a lot, it is worthwhile investing in hiking boots.
Good hiking boots for kids will provide ankle support, waterproofing, and a more sturdy sole for uneven terrain.
Modern quality hiking boots should not need to be broken in like older leather boots and your kids will love them!
We recommend Merrell and Keen hiking boots for kids. They are all good quality brands with many years of experience producing family hiking gear.
7. Pack Plenty Of Water
There is nothing worse than being thirsty and out of water when hiking with kids. Depending on the length of the trail and the season we are hiking, we usually carry 1 liter of water per person.
We have recently changed from carrying water bottles to carrying water reservoirs like this one by CamelBak.
They come in a range of sizes and fit easily inside a backpack.
We are able to carry much more water this way and it also means the kids can share the load by carrying a small backpack too.
We like the CamelBak reservoirs as they have proven to be very robust (no leaks!). Click here to check the best water reservoir prices.
8. Good Hiking Snacks For Kids
We tend to over pack food when we hike, but I would prefer to come home with food left over than have two hungry kids on the trail.
We suggest you pack a range of robust high energy foods that will last the day such as:
- muesli bars
- trail mix (a mix of nuts, dried fruit, seeds).
We also carry some lollies (candy) to encourage (bribe?) the kids through the last few miles.
Try to avoid foods that will break up if down the bottom of your pack such as bananas, crackers and stone fruit such as peaches.
If you are planning a longer hike, good hiking food for kids include bread rolls and some fillings for lunch. We suggest cured meat, cheese and vegetables such as carrots, radish and cucumbers.
9. Take A Friend
One of best hiking tips is to take a friend along. The kids play more games, tend to whine less and chat together.
On a recent short walk my son and a friend spent most of their time hiding, scaring their sisters and pretending to be howling wolves in the forest! The time whizzed by and they had so much fun too.
10. Start Your Hike Early
Start the hike early in the day when everyone has the most energy. We find hikes are more successful if we get up and head out early.
For something even more adventurous, start a hike in the dark. We recently hiked Mt Warning, in Northern NSW, Australia, to catch the sunrise from the summit.
The kids reached the top with barely a complaint as it was such a novelty to hike in the dark!
11. Read Trail Information
Take the time to read information at the start of the trail. Not only do they have useful information about the trail, they often list animals or plants you may see on the way. Seeking out animals is one of our kids’ favorite hiking activities.
When hiking in the US National Parks, join the Junior Ranger Program and pick up an activity book before setting out on the trail. They are full of fun things to do while hiking with children of all ages.
The Junior Ranger Program transformed our experience roadtripping the national parks in the USA. The kids learned so much about the local area and were eager to stop and complete activities along the way.
12. Put The Kids In Charge Of The Map
Hand the map to the kids and put them in charge of leading you along the trail (make sure you have a copy too!).
This activity gives them a sense of responsibility, helps improve their map reading skills and distracts them from the (sometimes) mundane act of walking.
13. Note The Time You Set Off
Take note of the time you set off and the estimated hike time. This will help you gauge how you are tracking as you hike. It makes it easy to recalculate your likely return time if you are hiking at a slower than average pace.
We have found hike times are usually generous. With our primary school age kids we usually complete hikes well within the estimated time.
14. Plan For A Lot Of Breaks
This can be frustrating when you are used to pushing on and getting to your destination in the shortest possible time. But when taking kids hiking it is important to take regular breaks.
Take the lead from the kids. When they are slowing up or starting to complain it is often a good idea to take a break and recharge.
Find a nice spot to sit down, have a drink and a snack and enjoy the view. Let the kids explore, play games and relax. We used this strategy a lot when exploring some of the best hikes for kids in Yosemite National Park.
The breaks will extend the hike time, but it will also increase the likelihood your kids will have fun hiking.
15. Enjoy The Conversations
We have the most interesting conversations with our kids when we are out hiking. My son will often talk non-stop for hours on a particular topic (usually animals or football).
Being together outdoors with kids encourages everyone to relax and chat. There are no distractions. It is perfect one-on-one time. The kids may chat about what is happening at school or with friends.
It may be a program they have watched on TV or questions about the animals or people they see along the way. Hiking is a great opportunity to listen, learn and bond with your kids.
I also find this to be a helpful strategy if the kids are whinging. Ask them about their favorite sport team, what they are saving their pocket money for, or ask about a book they are reading. Before long they are chatting away again.
16. Play Games And Sing Songs
Playing games is a top tip for how to make hiking fun for kids.
Hiking games for kids include:
- Preparing a scavenger hunt to find a list of things along the trail
- Challenge them to compose a poem out loud as they walk
- Eye Spy is always fun for younger kids
- Make up stories that each person adds to as you walk
- Retell picture book stories they (and you!) have learned by heart.
- Take them geocaching as it gives them a focus for the walk.
Singing songs is also on our list of fun things to do on a hike with kids. Fun hiking songs for kids include Do your ears hang low, Going on a bear hunt, There’s a hole in the bucket and Wheels on the bus.
For older kids they will often know all the words to their favorite songs.
17. Have Treats On Hand
We always have treats on hand to encourage tired legs through the final miles/kilometers of a hot or long walk. TBH I think sweets are hiking essentials for kids! Ensure you have enough in reserve to make it to the end of the hike.
Set small goals (such as getting to the next corner or over the next hill) before having each treat. These small goals work wonders for motivation to keep going when with kids and hiking.
Offering a reward at the end of the hike is also a good idea, particularly if it has been a challenging hike. It might be an ice-cream, a cold drink or a swim at the beach – just something the kids can look forward to at the end of the hike.
18. Don’t Underestimate Your Kids
To close out our hiking with kids tips, don’t underestimate your kids! We often find our kids are physically and mentally capable of much more than we expect (and they realize).
While there will often be some complaining, sometimes it just takes a little encouragement to get them out doing things they haven’t done before. Who knows, you might find they love it!
We hope by exploring new places and discovering beautiful places along the way our kids will grow to love hiking as much as we do. It is simply one of the best outdoor activities for kids.
Did we miss anything? What are your favorite hiking activities for kids?Leave a comment to let us know!