You were an intrepid hiker BK (before kids) but now, the diapers, messy food and added chaos has removed and reduced it from your activity list. This question seems to come up a lot, so SBM has taken it on and offered some new ways to introduce your family to hiking with kids.

Q: My husband and I hike a lot but have not yet taken our son with us as he is only four and we fear the 1/2 way through, “Pick me up!”. We go on small hikes with him when we go camping. I was looking to find out when you started out your boys doing real hikes, how far they actually make it when they are small. Any advice on what to expect?

Beginning Hiking with Kids

A:  We started taking the kids with us very young – before they could walk, and once they were walking, we would take them out of the backpack and let them run up the trail until they tired out. I have seen the first mile of a LOT of our trails around here for that reason. But my advice would include the following:

1) Start out small and have a goal in mind at the end. If there is a pond to throw rocks, or see ducks, then you are more likely to convince him to get there.2) Don’t be discouraged by turn-arounds. Prepare and explain to  him that you will be outside walking for a while and to enjoy things along the way. Ask him if he is ready to turn around before he asks you. Or, if he is done before you begin, encourage him just a little farther. I have used every trick in the book from hopping ten hops then running and hiding behind a tree, to counting to 100 steps before you get your next Skittle.3) Boys love to pee in the woods. If you haven’t discovered this, keep it as a secret and use it as a reward when you are at your wits end.4) You will have to pick him up, but if you use the enticements from #2, you’re back will be happier. Praise him and encourage him – if it’s a happy experience he’ll want to go out again. I always bargain – “I’ll carry you for 100 steps, then it’s your turn again.” When they get whiny, I ask if they’ll carry me.5) Bring his friends. Chatting with a friend distracts from the parent-nag (“can we go home, I’m hungry, I have to pee…”). If you can find games for them along the way – counting rocks, finding bugs, butterflies, spider webs – all the better.6) Keep it simple. If you are packing a tarp, snacks, games, picnic lunch, books, water bottles, toys, etc, etc. it becomes a huge production instead of a simple hike. Less is definitely more, as long as you carry the necessities.

Beginning Hiking with Kids

As for us, last summer (my boys were four and eight) we did 3 solid days of hiking from 4 trail heads and over 10 miles of trails. Their longest hike was 5 miles round trip and 2400 feet elevation gain. That amazed me. I thought for sure I’d carry someone, but they made it. They each had a good friend with them and chatted and explored the whole way. Add excitement by pointing out things that they would otherwise miss (history, geology, nature, etc).

I find that if they are doing well, I don’t interrupt. Kids are kind of natural in nature if you give them the chance. Let him get dirty. Find out what he likes about hiking and encourage that, whether it’s running or talking or looking at all the trees, grass, leaves, bugs or listening to birds.

My 9 year old is determined to go backpacking with me this summer, and I use that as encouragement to “train”. Do it often and make it fun.

Hope that helps!

Beginning Hiking with Kids

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