We can all agree that one of the amazing gifts young children give us is forcing us to slow down.  If you’ve ever let a toddler lead a hike, you know what I’m talking about!  But, there may also be times when distance simply must be covered.  You might be encouraging your little hikers to lengthen their distance. Or perhaps you’re the one having to usually keep up with them, but on this particular hike they are dragging. We’ve all been there.

Here are a few tips and strategies to try that may keep them moving on the trail:

1. Pick a hike with interesting features along the way or at your destination.

Make your life easier from the get-go!  Little ones do best on a trail with lots of reward for the work, such as creeks, waterfalls, bridges, boulder fields, or fields of flowers.  A hike in a tree tunnel for miles and miles?  Good luck with that.

2. Pick the best time of day for your kids.

Lots of families hike in the morning, but maybe afternoon is better for your crew.  Capitalize on those natural energy highs and plan to catch one of those if you can.  Avoid the hottest time of day, when everyone’s energy will fade.

3. Bring a bike (if allowed on trail).

Miles can be covered on a bike that would have been a whine fest on two feet! Even bringing along a stick horse can do wonders.  This is, of course, because they are not walking but riding a horse (duh!).

4. Make it a game.

Pretend something together, like you’re a family of bears just out of your den from the winter and on the hunt for food.  Distraction is the key here – get their minds off their feet.

5. Use sibling (or trail buddy) rivalry to your advantage.

“I’m not sure, but I think your brother can skip further than you,” or “Let’s see who’s the fastest by racing to the bridge ahead!”  You get the idea – use this frustrating reality of family life to your benefit!

6. Feed them, often.

It takes more energy to hike than hang out at home.  Maybe they are legitimately dragging because they truly are running on fumes!  Offer a healthy snack with protein and carbs – cheese and crackers, granola bars, nuts and raisins.  Don’t ignore pleas of “I’m hungry!” on a hike or you will pay for it by carrying somebody out.  On that same note, always bring way more food than you think you need to.

7. Drink water, often.

Even mild dehydration can slow anyone down, especially on a hot day. My kids have their own hydration packs, and I’ve learned they drink a lot more when they carry their own water.  Plus, they can drink and walk at the same time (fewer stops!).  Flavoring the water can help too – a splash of Vitamin Water, lemon, or juice.

8. Resort to silliness.

Your little one has slowed to snail’s pace and whining has begun.  Without warning, take off running down the trail yourself and see if they follow.  Now this could backfire, and you may end up with a weeping, traumatized child you have to carry the rest of the way.  But still, it could be worth a shot.

9. Dole out treats.

Maybe you do it every ½ mile covered, or every switchback, or every 10 feet.  I have fond memories of a short, steep hike up to a fire tower with my 3 and 5-year-old.  They started strong, but the climbing took its toll.  That’s when I whipped out the Tic Tacs I’d brought for just such an emergency.  I told them they were energy, and I would pass them one when they claimed they could go no further.  Amazingly, it was just the boost they needed.  This works best if you use a rare treat – or chocolate.  Chocolate always works.

10. Go ahead and give them a short lift.

No, you don’t need to carry them the whole way!  But sometimes they honestly get tired, and nothing you can do will change that.  A few minutes on someone’s shoulders, or riding piggy back can buy you some more mileage.  Hopefully, just enough to get you back to the car!

No matter which strategy you use, stay positive, you will eventually get to where you want to be!


Looking for more inspiration and ideas for hiking with your family? Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media (including individual branches pages) for recommendations from other members who are getting out there with their families!

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