10 Quick Tips for Hiking with Kids
Hiking is one of our favourite family activities and we love doing it in the mountains, the woods and the prairies. It's been a rather large learning curve though navigating how to successfully hike with kids and adults and to make it enjoyable for all. Here are the top 10 things we've learned.
1) Keep it under 5km round trip. Our very first hike we did with the kids we took them all the way to the Ink Pots at Johnston Canyon. We read "3-4 hours" and thought "Sure!". With whining kids it took 6 hours round trip and they were miserable for a good stretch. Keeping it under 5km seems to be a good distance for them. Obviously flex this based on your own kids. Ours were 9 and 11 on our last 3 mountain trips and this number worked for us.
2) Snacks and More Snacks
I feel this is a general parenting hack and also important in hiking. Bring easy snacks and bring many of them. Energy bars, nuts, gorp, fruit, veggies, breads and cheeses, cold pizza, etc. Often we'll pack our main backpack with a loaf of artisan bread, a block of cheese, sandwich meat and flavoured mayo and just make our sandwiches when we stop for a picnic. Yes we could pre-make sandwiches but when you're getting up early, spending all day exploring and falling into bed exhausted every night you don't always feel like doing meal prep somewhere in there. It feels more adventurous to use your pocket knife to cut, spread and prepare on a rock on a mountain ;).
3) Kids Carry their Packs
We make sure our kids have good, size appropriate backpacks to carry their own stuff. This includes a water bottle (or canteen on a strap is even better so they don't have to go in their bag to get a drink), a pocket knife, a rain poncho, extra socks (you know someone is going to get too close to water), some individual snacks and it's where they put that special rock they inevitably find and need to keep. It also helps to have a place for them to keep any layers they shed while hiking.
I know - sounds weird but these are a game changer for us! Kids can't whine if they have something in their mouth! lol. We buy bulk bags of lollipops and each kid packs a handful for each hike. The sugar is worth the distraction it brings for when they find the hike monotonous.
5) Stop to Play
This is often hard for us. My husband and I like to keep moving, always wondering what is around the next bend, keeping our bodies moving in colder temperatures, etc. Our kids though don't love just walking. They want to climb, imagine, play, explore, skip rocks, etc. We now take frequent breaks to let them play on the trail and then keep moving. It's a compromise that works for us. If our kids can make something up to play that involves moving forward that is a major win lol. One time Hannah found a stick that looked like a bow (for arrows) and a handlebar for a motorbike. She drove that motorbike for a solid 3 hours and "shot" anything she needed to along the way ;)
6) Walking Sticks
Walking sticks are nice to hike with, can help you in uneven terrain, activate your arms more and be used in play. There is also much joy to be found in finding your perfect walking stick, whittling it smooth, carving in details, sanding it smooth and oiling it. I want to carve a little symbol to represent each park we've hiked on my stick. We always have our knives on us and can whittle if we stop for a bit and I keep sanding blocks in the camper. Every man over the age of 60 on a trail will also comment about how nice your walking stick is ;). They get it.
7) Scavenger Hunt
Often we'll make a goal for something to find on a certain hike. Maybe it's a heart shaped rock, a branch shaped like a gun, a green rock, etc. Giving them something to hunt for enhances their engagement. There's a hike in Kananaskis to Troll Falls where people have hidden troll dolls along the trail. My kids loved that hike because there was something fun to look for.
Download the app (the paid version is worth it) and see if there is a geocache on your trail. That'll be fun for the kids to search for and find. Make sure you bring along some little souvenirs as if you want to take an item from the cache you're going to have to leave one. Pins from your city, small toys, etc are great items to carry and trade.
9) Sing Songs, Tell Stories
Often we are hiking in bear country and so it's actually a safety measure for us to make some noise. Especially because we prefer trails that are remote and rarely travelled (we're not a fan of peopley trails). When we're the only ones on the trail we want to make some noise so we sing songs. We make up songs, chants and call and response songs. It's fun and silly. If my daughter is getting bored we have her make up and tell stories because she loves to talk and it keeps her entertained for hours. You can also play would you rather, 20 questions, and other games to keep minds engaged. We always joke that Hannah is our natural bear deterrent because she never stops talking
10) Take Time to Notice Nature
It sounds obvious but at times it's easy to be so focussed on the hike and getting to where you're going that we miss out on all the magnificent bits of nature we're passing. We love collecting pictures of different mushrooms, noticing how ice forms on certain things, looking for and identifying wildlife tracks, spotting bird's nests, identifying different trees/acorns, investigating mosses etc. Apps like Leafsnap and iNaturalist allow you to take pictures and get help identifying plants and animals. Nature Passport allows that as well and gives you challenges to complete to earn badges. Make sure you stop and cultivate your child's (and your own) natural curiosity. It'll result in a love and a connection with nature that you can't find in a text book.
What are your tips for hiking with kids? I want to know them all!