It’s no secret I love to hike, considering I started a movement of families hiking all across North America. As an outdoor enthusiast and mom, one of the most common things I get asked is, “What if your son doesn’t enjoy hiking when he gets older?”
Of course all kids have different interests, but the best way to be sure your little ones enjoy hiking is to make your outings comfortable, safe, and fun.
Here’s what to consider if you want to raise a little hiker:
Invest in Gear
Whether your child is three weeks old or three years old, it’s important to invest in good quality gear. From clothing and shoes to strollers and carriers, good products will help your kiddo relax and enjoy the ride.
If your children are under a year old, make sure you bring toys and games to keep them entertained during the hike.
When Mason was younger, we used to clip a retractable mirror onto his carrier or stroller. If he started to fuss or looked unhappy, we played games, or gave him his clip-on rattle, toys or soft books. It may feel like you are bringing everything but the kitchen sink on your hikes–and that’s ok. If it keeps you going longer, it’s well worth it.
Go with a Ranger
We recently went on a ranger-led hike for kids and learned all about slugs. Not only was it really fun for my 3-year-old, but I actually learned a lot too.
Since then, I’ve been able to teach other kids on hikes what I learned that day. Most city and state parks have free guided hikes with rangers at least a few times a month.
Plan Stops Along the Way
While you may want to hike a hard trail or move at a fast pace, it’s best to start out slow with your infant or toddler.
Remember: you and your little one are a team. If your child starts to get fussy or uncomfortable, look for a good spot to stop and explore for a bit. Be sure to bring a change of clothes in case your baby’s first outfit gets a little dirty on your adventure.
Gauge Their Reactions
Gauge your child’s reactions along the way and make accommodations accordingly. When Mason first started to walk, he would want to be carried or strolled for a bit, then he would get really fussy and want to walk on his own for a while. Now that he is 3 and a half, he likes to walk on his own more often, but still needs to be carried or strolled at times.
There is no wrong way to hike with your little ones, so just keep their need in mind, first and foremost.
Bring a Stroller
People sometimes think that once a child can walk, he or she should no longer be strolled. But forcing kids to walk the whole way isn’t the best way to them to enjoy hiking. I still stroll and carry Mason more often than not on hikes. This allows us to stay out longer and lets Mason decide what is most comfortable for him.
Go with a Group
Kids will go further, have more fun, and be more excited if they are accompanied by peers. I once did a 6-mile hike with a handful of families, and all of our kids made it the entire way.
During our trip, a 6-year-old got a little tired at the end, so we all took turns carrying him up a hill. Instead of whining or crying, he finished the hike with a smile on his face. Having a large group of kids to run and play together during the hike definitely kept the group moving.
Mason and I like to play “I spy” when we’re on a walk or hike. Games help keep his mind occupied instead of focusing on how far we have gone. There are all kinds of nature flashcards, scavenger hunts, and other activities to keep children engaged.
Bringing a stroller allows you to store all kinds of entertainment for the trail. We even bring coloring books on our outings, stopping at benches to color mid-hike. Whatever works best for you and your family is the way to go.
Make it a Habit
Don’t make hiking a rare occasion if you want your children to look forward to it. Try to hike at least 2 times a month, 1-2 miles in a trail setting. Even if you only have time to walk around the neighborhood, find fun ways to turn it into a “hike.”
Mason has a pair of hiking boots that we always put on him when we go out. He knows when we put on his special shoes, we’re going “hiking,” even if we’re just walking around the neighborhood.
Have a Last Resort Option
I carry lollipops. If Mason is having a meltdown during a hike, lollipops offer a great distraction. While you may not be able to finish your hike on extra fussy days, the candy will help get you down the trail and out of the forest.
If you want to raise little hikers, the key is getting them out there day after day, rain or shine. Creating positive hiking experiences will allow you to share your passion for the outdoors with your little one, and the memories you are create together will stay with your family for a lifetime