Hiking with Little Kids
One of my favorite memories from childhood is hiking. Though I know I didn’t enjoy every second of our hiking and camping adventures as a kid, I only remember the fun stuff: playing “hug a tree” with my sisters and finding the best hiking sticks with my dad.
Now that both the kids are good walkers, my goal this summer is to do at least one hike a week together. It can be intimidating to head out on a hike with kids at this age (especially when my husband isn’t able to join us), but I never regret it when we do. We are so lucky to live in the PNW where there are so many beautiful hikes just a short drive away.
S and D enjoy and benefit so much from these hikes. D is much more focused on the goal: getting to the destination (e.g. the beach or mountain top) than S is and she loves to check our field guides to identify plants and creatures along the way. They both love moving their body and pushing their physical limits. At the same time, they both make many stops along the way, to pick up tiny objects and notice small insects or flowers.
I also benefit from these hikes with them! Hiking is something I have enjoyed since before kids and I love getting to share it with the kids. It’s a form of self care for me too!
Let them take the lead! When we pick a kid-friendly hike and allow plenty of time, it’s more fun for us all. Children gain such confidence from getting to lead us on hikes rather than the other way around! While exploring new hikes is really fun, going back to old ones can be especially motivating for young children who feel more confident and capable there.
Take lots of breaks. Bring more water and snacks than you think you’ll need. I try to plan for one snack per hour plus a packed lunch for our destination. Breaks happen far more often than 1x per hour though. When we allow for lots of stops, we get to notice all the small things our children notice, such as hidden bugs, forts, or “bridges” or the sounds of birds in the trees above.
Bring a kid carrier. While S likes to walk as far as he can, he still needs breaks or even a short nap in the Deuter carrier. We used this for D up to age 3, but now, at almost 4, D is hiking the whole way on our 3-4 mile hikes.
Have a destination in mind. The hikes don’t have to be “epic” for them to be enjoyable and rewarding. Toddlers find excitement in stumps, dirt, and hidden bugs. But it can be especially motivating for preschoolers to have a destination to hike to: a river to wade in, a beach, a great view, a waterfall or a field of wildflowers. This makes all the effort feel worthwhile and offers a new sensory and visual experience for the kids too.
Quit while you’re ahead. Aka when your child is still happy! If you’re new to hiking, start small and flat. Build up from there as they become more accustomed to hiking. It’s okay to have a picnic lunch before the destination and decide to simply turn around!
What we Pack
This is crucial! I’ve learned the hard way. I have a google doc for packing lists, including half day hiking trips. Your packing list will vary depending on where you live and what kind of hike you are taking. Below you’ll find a few of our kid essentials for hiking. In addition to snacks, lunch, and water for the kids, don’t forget your own food and supplies too!