Getting your child interested in hiking isn't always easy or straightforward but it will pay dividends for the rest of their lives. The benefits may not be obvious to a small child, however. This post is is intended to give you some ideas and share my experience hiking with kids.
I have a (as of this writing) 4 year old daughter who loves to go hiking with me. We've turned it into something fun that we do together, just her and I. That didn't happen by me forcing her to come with me, though, I had to figure out ways to get her into it.
Rule 1 – Make it Fun
This, above all else, should be your guiding principle if you're trying to go hiking with your kids more. Almost everything that follows are really just ways to make things fun for them. What makes things fun for any given child will obviously vary so even just taking stock of the things your child enjoys and trying to incorporate those will go a long way.
As hesitant as I am to link rewards with food this tactic has proven useful as a way to generate excitement for a trip. We usually have a meal and a hiking treat that we'll bring along and eat around the halfway point or at the end. Lunch is usually something like sandwiches or some cheese and summer sausage. The hiking treat is usually candy.
Let your child be part of the discussion and give them some options or ask for their feedback. The more you can allow them to contribute to decision making the better. Hiking with kids shouldn't be a one sided thing.
Another way I've found to get my daughter excited to hike has been to buy her stuff. Again, not the kind of thing I would normally advocate but it's attached to a very healthy habit.
The important thing is that everyone loves getting new stuff, especially kids. Making them part of the conversation and allowing them to pick out their new gear can be really fun for them.
The things I've had a lot of luck with are:
- Backpack (check out our REI Tarn 12 review)
- Hiking poles
- Water bottle
The hiking backpack, while initially a gimmick, is now part of the way that we make hiking a joint effort. My daughter is responsible for carrying our hiking treats. She is really adamant about that.
Especially when your child is a pre-schooler comfort and security can be a big deal. While pushing them and making them progress in different ways is important, if you push too hard it's counter productive. You should try to find a sweet spot that keeps them having a good time without making things too easy on them. Hiking with kids needs to be fun and pain is the oposite of that.
A few things that I do:
- Take breaks literally whenever she wants to. This isn't often and it's not like we're ever in a hurry.
- Shoulders. I don't do this often but on hikes that I know are pushing her past her comfort zone I won't refuse a few minutes of letting her up on my shoulders. It's always been a fun thing for us and I know it makes her experience that much better.
- Carry her bag on occasion. I don't make this a habit either but, again, on long hikes or if she is having a lot of fun running and playing I won't say no if she asks me.
- Hold hands. This is sometimes a safety thing and I make her do it, but I generally won't refuse a request to hold hands if she asks.
Points of Interest
Kids aren't always the biggest proponents of doing work for the sake of doing the work. An easy way to get your kid excited for hiking is to make sure they know they will see something awesome and that you're not just taking a long walk.
Waterfalls are often at the end of short trails. If you live in the Seattle or Portland areas they are practically everywhere.
Mountains are big and impressive, kids love looking at them. My daughter can't wait to hike Mt. Adams because she saw it from a distance once.
Lakes are a great destination because in addition to looking cool your child can usually wade into them and have some fun.
Keep upping the difficulty on the hikes. If you really want to make hiking a long term hobby then you'll have to know how far your little one can go and match that with hikes nearby. Using Alltrails or Hiking Project will allow you to find nearby hikes and filter by distance and difficulty.