It happens to all of us eventually. We head out for a hike and suddenly realize while on trail as we try to negotiate with our child to move forward that this isn’t like the old days when we just gathered him up onto our backs kicking and screaming and marched on.

This was me a few weeks ago as I begged and pleaded with Mason to do a hike I really, really, really wanted to do, but he wasn’t having it. We sat in the parking lot and he was in his car seat, arms crossed, saying one simple word over and over, “Movie.” I tried the old, “No movie unless you go for a hike.” Eventually I somehow cajoled him out of the car, much to my amazement, but it was a long and arduous process. By the time we hit the trail, I was questioning if I was even up for a hike with all of the drama that led up to it.

Hiking with older kids by Shanti Hodges for Hike it Baby

And the survey says …

This got me thinking: What do my friends in the Hike it Baby community do? What’s the secret to keeping a kid excited about the outdoors all the time and not just occasionally? Sure, playgrounds are a no-brainer, but I’m talking about being really excited about the outdoors. I know I’m not alone.

I decided to throw up a survey and see what suggestions came out of the woodwork. Of the respondents, 31% had 4-year-olds, 24% had 5-year-olds, 7% had 6-year-olds, 11% had 7-year-olds and 21% had kids 8 and above.

Here are a few of the quick stats:

  • 60% said getting them on trail with other kids is more likely to mean a successful hike.
  • 47% said their kids were food-motivated, so snacks clearly matter.
  • 73% said they have been hiking with their kid since they were a baby or toddler.

And the community says …

1. Let them be the leader – Get maps and compasses, then ask your child to help decide what trail you’re hiking. Let them hold the map and lead the way on the trail. For fun, act lost and ask him or her to figure out the way back out.

2. Bring a friend – This may be tricky with the crazy schedules we all have, but having a friend along will help the miles click by quickly. Grab a friend’s child who you know has spent time on trail and is comfortable hiking and give your friend the afternoon off. Pick a trail that the kids can really explore together so it’s a big adventure.

3. Log it – Get a special trail journal and start tracking all the hikes you do. Maybe find a park or trail system where you can mark off how many times you have hiked a certain trail in a month or the year. There are challenges like 52 Hikes Challenge that anyone can join, so you can go online and join with your kiddo and let her pick the weekly hike to add to her challenge so she has a goal. You can promise something fun after 52 hikes, such as a new pair of hiking shoes or a new backpack.

4. Gear matters – Keep an eye on your kids’ feet. Make sure their footwear don’t pinch or have a slippery bottom. If his feet hurt but he doesn’t realize that’s what’s bothering him, he may not want to hike due to the discomfort.

5. Find magical trail friends – Search for Big Foot, fairies, gnomes or other magical trail friends. Dinosaur tracks can also be a good one if you’re in the Southwest. Find out what the local lore is in your area and add that storytelling to your hike.

6. What’s the end goal? – There has to be a reward along the way or at the end (i.e., waterfall, playground, vista). If you just aimlessly walk, it tends to be less fun. Not surprisingly, when you do epic-style hikes, your child will be more motivated. Just be conscious that the “epic” is not epically long; and if there’s distance, make sure there are a few pay-offs along the way, like a cave, before you get to the waterfall.

7. Age matters – While it can be tricky to find hikes where all the ages sync up, especially for people with multiple kids, if you find you’re doing a lot of baby/toddler hikes and have an older kid, make sure you also get out on a hike with big kids. It can be boring for an 8-year-old to always be with toddlers. While Hike it Baby is traditionally geared for kids under 5, there’s no reason you can’t post a hike for 8-year-olds. Just be clear in your description and do a shout-out for older kids on the Facebook group.

8. Wildlife and natural play structures  If you know a trail that has a lot of wildlife spottings, like birds, deer, black bears, beavers or whatever is native to your area, consider heading out for this trail. If there are also a lot of fallen logs or trees to climb, that’s another bonus. This may not be the best hike for a toddler so consider making it a “big kid” hike day and find those challenges that they’ll appreciate.

Hiking with older kids by Shanti Hodges for Hike it Baby

9. Technology on the trail – While we try to encourage less technology on the trail, tracking your hike or putting a tracker on your older kid’s wrist can be another fun way to keep him engaged. Show him an app like Strava where he can have an account (with your permission and information, of course), and then he can see his mileage and watch the funl. Relive is an app that links to Strava, Garmin and a number of other apps that shows you actual mountains and the ups and downs of your hike in 3D.

10. Hangry kids don’t hike – Make sure your kiddo has been well fed before you hike. If you know you’re picking her up from school and heading for a hike, make sure she’s well fed before you hit the trail. Load up snacks she really likes so it won’t be a challenge getting her to eat before you head out.

11. Perform on trail – Do a hike with a stage or something that is like a stage midway through and have your child plan a performance that you (and the group) will stop to watch midway through. If you have a showman on your hands, they’ll love the nature theater.

12. Plan a game in the woods – Bring a board game, card game, travel game and plan to play on a picnic table somewhere. That way, even if the hike doesn’t happen, you can still talk your child into spending some time outside.

These are just a few thoughts and while none of these might help or they all might help, I want to encourage you to just keep trying. There will be those up and down days, just like anything, but if you keep trying, eventually something will click and get you and your big kid out there.

Photos by Laura Castro.

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Do you have success getting your older kids on trail? We’d love to hear your tips below!

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