Hiking is one of my all-time favorite activities, so I do it almost every week with my two kids. Our preference is to hike with dad but that means we would only hike on the weekends and holiday and I need more trail time than that. As a result, I have been hiking solo with my two kids since my daughter was six weeks old. My kids are now 2 and 5 and we are outdoor-loving, hiking fools. Not every trip is perfect but the important thing is that we are spending time outdoors as a family. I have had to make a lot of adjustments over the last couple years but I hope some of the lessons I have learned will help you in your quest to hike with your kids.
Most of my tips come down to one major action: PLANNING. I am a planner by nature. I enjoy working out logistics and organizing. It is just how my mind works. Even though I am a little stressed when trying to get out the door, I am also a little excited because I am following through with my plans. Makes me feel like I am accomplishing something (I know, I am odd). I generally starting thinking about my schedule for the next day the night before. Which means if I am going hiking, I am planning for it the night before. And that is my number one tip: plan the night before.
Here are the specific things I plan for the night before.
Destination – Can’t make a schedule until you know where you want to go.
General Tip for Hiking with Kids: Find trails with unique features like rivers, waterfalls, bridges, observation towers, wildlife viewing blinds, etc. This gives your kids something to look forward to and to get excited about. My son loves bridges. So I find as many trails as I can with bridges and it makes hiking so much more enjoyable for him. Sister tends to want to do whatever brother is doing.
Weather! Maybe there is a time to hike when it isn’t raining or it will let you know if you need to bring extra equipment.
Schedule – What time do you need to leave so you can make it home for naps, preschool, etc.? Are you going to need lunch on the trail or will snacks be enough? How long do you have to hake. This may cause you to rethink where you are going hiking.
Meal or snacks – Plan what you will be taking for snacks and/or meals and prepare as much as you can.
Equipment – Don’t forget things like a small first aid kit, extra cloths and shoes in case the kids get into the water or mud, baby carrier, camera, etc. I keep my first aid kit and knife in my purse at all times. That way I don’t have to think about them when I want go hiking. Plus, I have used the first aid kit more when my kids are at the park than I ever have when we are hiking.
Prepare the kids – I don’t just mean getting them dressed. I start talking to my kids the night before about our hiking plans for the next day. If the trails have fun “destinations” use them to get your kids excited about your outing. My son in particular does better when he knows what the plans are.
Plan Games and Activities – Having games and activities really makes a difference when hiking with two kids and there are plenty of options that don’t require extra equipment. For example, we love to sing, I make up scavenger hunts, I help them find interesting things to explore (animal tracks, nests, feathers, nuts, leaves) and we take snack breaks. Super simple. Even if both kids are having a good day, I think it is important to help our kids learn to explore and recognize all the unique features nature offers. If we are having an especially bad day, we usually take a super hero hike. In other words, I let my kids wear their Super Man capes while hiking. (picture – super-hero-hike)
Now that I have told you everything to do the night before I have a confession to make, I don’t always do all of these things the night before anymore. I have been hiking with two kids for so long that most of these things are almost second nature and it is a lot less scary getting out the door. But until it became second nature, this is what I did.
If you need ideas for snack or games/activities check out my boards on Pinterest: Food – Snacks and Kids – Outdoor Activities. Both offers tons of ideas for all skill levels. Don’t like what I have, search Pinterest or Google it. There are so many amazing bloggers out there that offer excellent advice.
Now, a word of caution, despite all of my planning there are times when things don’t go as I want. Sometimes this means we don’t get to hike and other times we just go on short hikes. One of the toughest times in my life was when my son was three and my daughter was a newborn. My son literally decided he wasn’t going hiking anymore and he didn’t, for a time. It wasn’t an option for me to carry a screaming three year old and a newborn on the trail at the time.
I tried bribing him with candy and threatening to take toys away. But none of these made a difference. What did make a difference was mud. He spent one morning play in the mud and from then on instead of telling him we were going hiking, I told him we were going hunting for mud. It worked extremely well. You can read more about it in my post How Mud and Bubbles Saved My Life.
I have talked to multiple outdoorsy parents and ages 2 to 3 are the most difficult. Your kids will test you, but don’t give up. Accept that your kids aren’t always going to like hiking, it is ok. But, as I did with the mud, you can usually get your kids excited about some aspect of hiking when they are young. After all, it is worth all the work. Our kids need time in nature.
Last though, I can’t stress enough the importance of a good carrier. I know, you’re thinking, duh this is a basic of hiking with just one kid. But when you are carrying one child and running after another it is that much more important to have a comfortable carrier. And it isn’t just about me being comfortable either. You want the child in the carrier to be as comfortable and happy as possible too. It is one less thing to worry about.
Happy Hiking! Please let us know what your tips are for hiking with multiple kids in the comments below.
Mae Kiggins is mommy to two little ones. She studied forest management and environmental education in college and worked as a park ranger, research assistant, forest policy intern, and environmental sciences academic adviser. Nowadays she spends her time connecting my kids with the outdoors and teaching environmental science on the side. – To learn more about her or read her blog.