Is it possible to enjoy hiking with kids?
Before kids, hiking was one of our favourite activities when we traveled.
We’d have adventures climbing mountains as high as 4,000 metres and we’d spend days hiking many forest trails. It was bliss.
Despite the physical challenges, it was always one of the most relaxing and memorable things we’d do.
We now have a two page list of places we’ll return to when our kids are older and we can hike again at a proper pace, instead of the pace of a three year old. I just hope by then the knees aren’t made of metal.
Of course we haven’t given up hiking because we travel with kids. We still do it as much as possible and love taking Kalyra and Savannah along, we just do it in a different manner than when it was just us.
The girls often surprise us with just how far they can actually walk.
Their strength and stamina for hiking trails has definitely improved since we first set out on our Australian road trip last October, and most of the time our kids really enjoy it.
I know you may really want to hike with your kids but are unsure how to make it work. Our tips for hiking with kids will help you! Please share them with parents you know who will get a lot of benefit from them.
Amazing memories hiking with kids
I often think back to when I was a young child scrambling over rocks and walking through the bush with my parents.They are some of my fondest and strongest memories.
I think in doing it, my parents taught me a lot about walking as a fabulous tool for connecting, being present, and unwinding from the stresses and complications of life.
I hope I am setting my children up with the same gift for when they are older.
One of the most memorable days on our trip so far was when we set out for short 30 minute hike in Victoria’s Grampians National Park.
The Grand Canyon walk involved a couple of rock scrambles and seemed to be easy and interesting enough for the girls. It was part of the much longer and more strenuous hike to the Pinnacles, a 4.2 km return trip.
We reached the end of the Grand Canyon section when the girls decided they wanted to keep going.
Foreseeing the impending meltdowns about a kilometre up the track, I tried to convince them that a return back home was the better option.
But they insisted on moving forward.
So we went.
Savannah without shoes on, and Kalyra taking the lead.
2.1 kilometres later we arrived at the top of the Pinnacles for outstanding views of the valley below. I barely saw it, so in awe I was of my two daughters. They walked the entire way, laughing and talking and having an amazing time.
I learnt that day that kids usually know their own boundaries and you should never impose limits on them because they’ll always surprise you.
Have an awareness of what you think their limitations are and have a back-up plan in place, but sometimes you just have to open a space for them to show you what they can do.
Hiking with kids is well worth it.
Update: 6 years later and we’re still hiking with our kids. This time doing epic hikes like the 15 mile hike with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet in the North Cascades National Park, and the 11 mile hike to a glacier fed lake filled with icebergs in Glacier National Park.
16 Tips for Hiking with Kids
1. Choose your hiking trails carefully
Choose hiking trails that are best suited to the level of your children’s age and fitness.
We do our research first to assess if the walk will be manageable for our girls.
We also ensure that it’s a hike that is interesting for them – rivers, waterfalls, rocks, caves, wildlife, stairs, and rock art usually keep them occupied.
On the flat, we can do 4-6km walks or roughly two-to-three hours with a decent break at the half-way point for rest, food and drink, with 60-second drink breaks spaced periodically.
Here’s an interesting recent hike we did to the top of Mount Mansfield, in Vermont.
2. Allow your children to stretch themselves a little
Choose a trail and a time frame, but see if you can stretch the children a little further, even if it’s only 10 minutes more.
This is an invaluable lesson for them to discover their inner strength and to grow. It will also help you slowly stretch out the time limit for your hikes so you can enjoy slightly longer walks in the future.
We try and hold Savannah off from wanting to be carried on our shoulders as long as we can with master diversionary tactics (some mentioned below).
She often ends up on our shoulders, but we try to do it in short spurts. After she’s had a rest we coax her back down to the ground.
3. Pack plenty of food and water
You’ll always need more water than you think when hiking. Pack lots of light snacks – nuts, protein bars, fruit and sandwiches.
You want low sugar, high energy. We love to take a batch of our chocolate nut protein balls.
4. Start your hike with kids early
Everybody’s energy is better in the morning. And if you’re in a HOT location you’ll want to beat the heat of the day, or a place that tends to get afternoon thunderstorms you’ll want to avoid those too!
Plus, there will be less whining and demands to be carried in the morning, the later in the day the crankier our kids get.
And the other bonus is the earlier you start, the less people you’ll have to deal with, as we found out on our “couples walk” to famous Wineglass Bay in Tasmania.
Read More: Tips for travelling in the heat with kids
5. Have your camera ready
Hikes can be such a memorable experience, you don’t want to miss a magic moment.
I love to take photos of my children from behind. You can capture some amazing natural moments that tell the story of the adventure.
6. Pay attention to the weather and pack plenty of clothes
This is the day you want an hour-by-hour weather forecast.
Don’t be afraid to cancel your plans if the weather is not working in your favour. It’s too dangerous to risk hiking in bad weather – that is too hot or too cold or too wet.
We attempted to hike to the top of Mt Kosciusko (Australia’s highest peak) but didn’t make it as we were under-dressed for the wind and freezing temperatures.
7. Pack a basic first aid kit
We’re usually hopelessly under-prepared for this, but really you do need to have a basic first aid kit with you, especially on those longer, more remote walks.
We need to practice what we preach here and are going to do a much better job of packing one, promise!
You can grab a ready made first aid kit like this or check out our road trip guide to create your own.
8. Have plenty of rest stops on your hike with kids
Help your kids find the strength to keep moving with a drink break every 15 minutes and snack break every 30 minutes.
And incorporate and photo opportunities into short breaks, as well as stopping along the way to look at interesting animals, plants and cave drawings as well.
Don’t just storm towards the finish line without taking in the moments along the way!
9. Watch your children’s signs
Know when your children are getting tired!
My daughter’s eyes are the first to tell me. As soon as I see that look, I sit us down for a rest or suggest we turn around.
Not only are tired children difficult to manage, they are also more prone to accidents. There have been plenty of walks that we’ve cut off early as the kids just aren’t coping. There’s no point if you all can’t enjoy yourself.
10. Time your walk
Know how far you have walked so you can ensure your kids have enough stamina for the return.
Sometimes we decide we’ll do an hour walk and set the watch for 30 minutes, so we know once we hit that time, we have to turn around to walk back.
11. Give your children roles on your hike
Kids love having important roles!
If I did not assign Kalyra the role of leader on our Grampians walk she would have collapsed on the ground with wails of I’m soooo tired and demanded a helicopter take her out.
As the leader, she had to follow the yellow arrow markers to keep us on the right path. She had to warn us about what was ahead and help Savannah stay focused and moving forward.
Savannah was chief encourager. “C’mon Mummy, you can do it. One more rock! Careful Mummy.”
We also appoint the girls as head kangaroo spotter, or chief songstress in charge of the singalongs!
I share more about giving children roles when you travel in my family travel planning toolkit.
12. Walk to the reward
Go on hikes that have a worthy reward at the end, or at least half way along.
Just today, Kalyra started to lose it on our short 3.2km return hike in Litchfield National Park. It was hot and she was whining she could not go any further (this was ten minutes in!).
I reminded her that if she walked just a little bit longer, we’d soon be at the beautiful waterhole for a refreshing swim.
It kept her moving and she was delighted when we arrived and had the waterhole to ourselves.
She even bravely went rock jumping on her own. And she made the return walk without a single complaint and did a couple more after that throughout the day.
13 Walk with friends
We recently travelled with some wonderful new friends from The Block Shop. We did little hikes together, which was fabulous as the kids held hands and played together and had such a fun time.
They made it up and down the quite strenuous walk to Gunlum Falls in Kakadu National Park and had a ball swimming together in the waterholes.
Us parents had a ball on a couple of our afternoon sunset hikes. The kids all played while we sat down to enjoy the magnificent sunsets AND adult conversation.
14. Play games to divert their attention
One of the easiest ways to keep them moving is to divert their attention with games. Our Pinnacle walk had plenty of cool rock tunnels and formations we could play games with on the way up.
We just made games up as we went along – Guess what’s coming around the corner? How many steps will it take you to get to the rock up there? Who can spot the koala?
We encourage the girls to make music with the sticks as they walk along and sing.
15. Enjoy the conversations
Hiking is a great opportunity to shut off from the distractions and enjoy a deeper connection with your children.
Use this time to chat with them. Share your stories and listen to theirs. This alone will take their minds off the difficulty of the walk. They will love this attention from you.
Sometimes it can be completely exhausting for you, if your child decides to talk for the entire four-hour walk like Kalyra did when we hiked around beautiful Cradle Mountain in Tasmania.
16. Have a relaxing and rewarding finish
Don’t have any plans for the remainder of the day!
Go for a swim, relax on the couch, watch a movie or just collapse in a heap on the floor. You may even want to give your children a special reward.
We bought the girls an ice cream after their mammoth Grampians walk. I can’t believe their faces didn’t fall into it.
As soon as they had finished, they ran down to the rock creek to scramble over the rocks as I lay in a heap on the grass.
If you have younger children, be sure to use a hiking backpack for kids. We loved our Kelty hiking carrier and it helped us enjoy lots of hikes with the kids.
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Do you hike with your kids? How do you make it manageable and enjoyable?