This summer we stuck close to home and enjoyed some of the stunning wilderness right in our backyard, in Utah. Hiking is a wonderfully simple form of fun and exercise requiring very little gear and expense. No matter where you live- there are trails nearby. Here are 10 tips on how to hike with kids- get kids off the couch and into the wild without complaint and with a smile on their face.
1. Do your research. Talk to locals, friends, consult guidebooks and make sure you know what you’re getting into before you start. Ask others about their favorite hikes and recommendations based on kids age and experience. Start short and simple and work up in distance and difficulty from there. Kids will learn to love the outdoors if they begin by having pleasant memories of excursions, and then (fingers crossed) beg for more.
2. Snacks and breaks. Be sure to bring along plenty of food and water for everyone. I would highly recommend a Camelback or other hydration system with an easy access tube for drinking water. You will ingest a lot more water if it’s conveniently reached. Bring finger foods that are easy to pack and eat. Our favorite trail snacks are: Granola bars, trail mix, crackers, cheese wedges (in wax) and hard salami- don’t forget a pocket knife. Apples and peanut butter (in a small tupperware container), gummy bears, goldfish and of course a few treats you don’t keep in the pantry at home as an added bonus- a favorite candy bar, cookies of your choice in snack size packaging.
3. Choose a visually beautiful destination. Time flies by when there is a lot to look at and enjoy while hiking, and a stunning final destination will be an unforgettable memory kids will remember the rest of their lives.
4. Stop to smell the flowers. Don’t try to move too fast, take your time and look around at the details of your surrounding. Point out what you observe and encourage little ones to look closely too. Bring a guidebook and identify flowers, birds, insects, rock formations… Make it an informal, cleverly disguised, learning experience. You might be surprised at what you see when you look close enough.
5. Enjoy the wildlife, in whatever form you encounter. We love catching- or at least trying- little critter along the way wherever we are- snakes, frogs, fish, lizards, dragonflies, butterflies… Make sure kids get permission first- ask before touching a critter that might be harmful. We catch, observe and study, then put the critter right back right where we found it.
I think it’s crucial to teach kids to be kind to every living thing, to invoke empathy and wonder and instill a kinship and stewardship with nature that can only help them become better, kinder people throughout their lives.
6. Embark early, finish early. You always hear tales of getting lost, darkness falling, running out of water or food… (you might be able to tell a few tales of woe yourself) but try to avoid drama and trauma through preparedness.. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the whole hike by starting out early in the day and endeavoring to finish before everyone is too tired and upset.
8. Did I mention water? If the weather/temperature is permitting- let the kids get wet… constantly. A hot, dry hike with kids should be avoided. Take ‘dry’ hikes in cooler weather and plan summer, hot weather hikes into splashing-stomping-jumping-playing days of fun.
10. Have fun. Leave all you cares and worries behind. Be present and enjoy the company of those around you. Tell stories, sing songs, rap, reminisce, be silly. Likely (and luckily), you won’t have cell service in many place you hike, so use that phone only as a camera, give your kids the gift of your full attention and have a blast!
Here’s a short video by my spouse, The Talking Fly of our Sulphur Creek hike, in Capitol Reef National Park and the logistical basics on hiking it for yourself.