She was very serious about her job.
My daughter Ariel and her dad were busy carrying a 6 foot branch down the trail. Now granted – she was about 1/2 the length of the branch . . . And granted the branch was twisted and rotted – not good for much building . . .
But that didn’t matter. She had a job to do. She’d hired her dad to help with a serious smile and look of determination as compensation. And that was that.
As we wended our way down the trail circling boulders and trees, she focused on her job. Aside from a few deliberate breaks, the branch would not fall and she would not fail.
An hour later this six-year-old branch mover had accomplished a major feat. As she and her dad set the branch carefully down by the trailside, she handed her dad the final payment. A proud triumphant grin that said, “We did it!”
In the course of this hike (and many others) I learned an important lesson: Hiking with children does not follow the normal rules of hiking. Goals are not so clear and the process is not necessarily about simply walking forward.
Hiking with children is a different activity altogether.
The good thing is, if you embrace this change to how you hike, you also get rid of one of the major obstacles to hiking with children: Whining.
We’ve certainly had days with a child on each of our backs as we crested the trail. But all in all, once our children were old enough to come out of the baby backpack carrier, we’ve tried to err on the side of our kids using their own two feet. Sometimes we simply let them know that no if’s and’s or but’s, they’re walking.
But we also shifted our perspective to change hiking to something that kept them entranced and motivated.
Make sure you cover the basics – stay hydrated, have good footwear, good snacks and clothes to keep you warm or cool depending on the season. Make sure you have a good map and a first aid kit. Plan for safety and relative comfort.
Once you have these covered, you’ve taken care of the bulk of the challenges facing you in enjoying a hike with your kids
Now comes the good stuff – the stuff that changes a hike from being a chore . . . to being an adventure or magical mystery tour.
So here you go – 9 ways to hike with children and turn it into something fun.
How To Hike With Children Tactic #1: Sing
This tactic is as old as the hills. Thanks to the Seven Dwarves, we got the great hiking diddy, “Hi ho, Hi ho!”. We spent several years hiking to “I love ap- ap- ap- apples and bananas”. You can do call and response songs like the old camp favorite, “The other day . . . the other day . . . I met a bear . . . I met a bear . . .” And long repeat songs like the Rattlin’ Bog work great for making the trail disappear. Even make up a song.
How To Hike With Children Tactic #2: Tell A Story
Once upon a time, my son Orion threw a twig off a cliff at the top of a mountain we had hiked up. For the entire trip down he told me what he imagined happened after he threw that stick. First it hit a bird flying and knocked it down to the ground and then a passing fox picked up the bird and brought it to her fox cubs . . . and then one of the fox cubs went exploring . . . and then . . . the story went on . . . and on . . . and on. Both he and I were surprised when we reached the bottom.
How To Hike With Children Tactic #3: Let Them Navigate
When my children discovered trail blazes (the markings for the trail), it became a contest to see who could spot the next one first. Before we knew it we were cruising – dashing from one painted tree to another. Give them a map, once they’re old enough, and they can get lost in evaluating distances and contour lines. Add a compass to the mix and you’ve got two intrepid explorers who think they’re off to Alaska!
How To Hike With Children Tactic #4: Clamber
We couldn’t help chuckling on one hike when the two little miscreants complained that they were tired 3/4 of the way up. The reason we laughed instead of berating them was that they had shimmied up every big rock we passed on the trail. If you account for the extra mileage up and down rocks, they had doubled the trip. Like I said, the standard goal – reaching the top of the mountain – may not be the best measure of success here.
How To Hike With Children Tactic #5: Make Believe
Since my son was in my belly, we’ve been hiking the mountain that rises up behind our home. And along the now very familiar trail were some very familiar – and magical – friends. One tree had been knocked around and sprang up again until it looked like a unicorn nodding its head. On every hike, we solemnly walked under it’s chin, letting the magic seep in. Not too much farther down the trail, was the old elephant, a log that looked just like an elephant raising its trunk in greeting.
Sometimes we were seeking dragons. Sometimes we were escaping them. But hikes with children can always use a good dose of imagination.
How To Hike With Children Tactic #6: Race
Okay, caution has its place . . . But if you’re physically up to it . . . And if you have the dexterity to go with it . . . race. Leap from rock to rock, push yourself to go faster, push yourself to beat everyone else. Jump on the picnic table at the bottom and raise your hands to the sky as you celebrate your victory.
Okay, be a little cautious – no need to crack a nose or wear out your knees. Don’t go beyond what you’re ready for at the time. But even if you just choose a nice smooth stretch with just a couple tree roots to make it interesting when you leap over them. Race.
How To Hike With Children Tactic #7: Wonder
How did that rock get here? How did that tree manage to grow on that rock? Why are there no trees up here? What a weird mushroom! Take the time to look and ask and think and ponder. You can bring a book along. But I prefer to leave the books for when we return home and spend more time on the trail pondering and looking.
How To Hike With Children Tactic #8: Reward
One of my favorite hiking memories is snuggling up in a cleft of rocks one November day and sharing a couple cups of hot hot hot ramen noodles. Doling out venison jerky comes as a close second. There is nothing so delicious as a simple meal at the top when you feel exposed and adrift in the big outdoors. Hot chocolate, biscuits, a crisp apple, peanut butter sandwiches . . . blueberries provided by the mountain!
Nothing feels so luxurious as the simple things in life brought out by some hard work up against the elements. And anticipation of reliving this kind of experience will spur your children up the next mountain top. And the next.
How To Hike With Children Tactic #9: Collect
I’ve had pockets weighed down with rocks. Crimson leaves spilling out of my backpack. Acorns, odd knots of wood. A woolly bear caterpiller. And lots of great sticks (usually smaller than the one my daughter brought down). Let them get absorbed in collecting – you know there’s always a better one a few feet up the trail!
Got some great tactics for transforming hikes with your kids? Please add your comment below – and then hit the trail!
About Sarah Clachar And Fit Family Together
Since expecting their first child, Sarah and her husband Cassius have made fitness a core part of their family life. From biking to hiking . . . from the heart of New York City to a farm in New England, they have found a way to stay active together. And through all this exercising as a family they discovered that family fitness builds not only strong bodies – but stronger families.
A professional health writer with a BA in biology, gardener and foodie Sarah brings a wealth of expertise in nutrition and health. A personal trainer and inveterate tinkerer, Cassius brings innovation to making family fitness work.
Ready to make family fitness part of your family life? Take the Fit Family Together 7 Day Family Fitness Challenge and put your own family fitness plan together.