As a dad, I am always interested in finding activities that my kids enjoy and that I enjoy doing with them. One of the best activities I’ve found is hiking. Kids are natural climbers, and interested in exploring the outdoors, so it’s never a hard sell to convince them to go for a hike. But there are some things that can make it a pretty miserable experience. Here are the ways that we have found to keep hiking a fun, family activity.
Length is important. A hike that takes too long will quickly become a test of patience as the kids complain about how far they have to go or how much their feet hurt. Miles aren’t as important as time, if the terrain is challenging even a one mile walk may be too much. We recently completed a hike that was a 2 mile round trip, but with 1000 feet of elevation. With all the breaks, it took almost 45 minutes to get to the top, then we had to get back down again. Being flexible with your schedule is important as well. It’s hard to gauge how quickly children will hike, so if a hike is taking too long don’t be afraid to adjust your plans. A good way to ensure that a hike is not too long is to be heading back to the start well before you are feeling tired.
Route is important as well. Loop trails are great for grown-ups as the sights are different for the whole trip, but for kids they can be problematic. Having to finish a full loop can make a hike too long if you are not prepared for the distance, and it can seem never-ending for kids who don’t have an idea of how close they are to the finish. An out and back hike can be turned around at any time, and the kids see familiar landmarks on the return trip that give them hope for the finish.
The goal of a hike doesn’t have to be a destination, but it should always include snacks. Bring granola bars, or trail mix and eat them at the half-way point. If kids are older you can plan a day hike and eat lunch. Always bring more food and water than you think you need, even if you don’t eat it all it’s better to have a reserve than to run out. Trail mix is great for keeping kids moving when they are tired. They can be snacking on raisins and peanuts right out of their hand as they walk. As well as keeping their energy reserves up, it’s a distraction from sore feet.
Bring extra clothes. Jackets and hats weigh very little for a grown-up, but can be a huge source of comfort if the weather changes. Make sure you bring clothes for yourself as well, young kids walk slowly enough that you may not be generating as much heat as you would on a hike on your own. Raincoats or ponchos are cheap and pack down incredibly small, there’s no excuse for not having one at the bottom of your pack.
In Colorado we are fortunate to have trails in the foothills and mountains that offer incredible opportunities for hiking with kids, but mountains are not necessary for a great hike. Kids are interested in everything around them, and wildlife and insects can be found even on urban trails and parks. Take your time to examine things with them and you will find things to talk about both on the trail and long after the hike is over. It’s an adventure that everyone in the family will appreciate!