Unfortunately “H-I-K-E” to kids can all-too-easily become a “four-letter-word” they run from. It means a rapid pace, no break from mom and dad’s nagging and a grueling day on the trail. Not exactly the tone you want to send for a budding outdoor enthusiast, but easy to fall into all the same.

As adults, you have a destination, a goal and an idea as to how you want the day to proceed. The kids just don’t always agree! As a couple, my husband and I work hard to keep each other “in check.” If we want our boys to LOVE hiking, we need to LET them love it. We agree that household rules can be broken: bailing on the hike is ok, slowing down is ok, and bribing (also known as “motivating”) is absolutely ok.

hike 1

A few ways we keep our kids hiking is as follows:

– Let them carry a hydration backpack (with just enough water for them and nothing else so the weight factor doesn’t get in the way of the “fun factor”).
– Sticks (walking, throwing, discovering) always seem to make the hikes more enjoyable.
– Sing songs as a family. Let the kids see you get silly and wild. It just adds to the energy of the group.
– Despite what your eating habits are at home, use chocolate (M&Ms preferably because they melt slower) to motivate. Bring special snacks that are available ONLY on hikes (and only when they meet certain goals, even if it is a tree 100 yards ahead.)
– Be realistic with your goals: A three-year-old shouldn’t be expected to hike 5 miles. If he does, GREAT (he’ll sleep well that night)! If not, be ready with a back-up plan (a kid-carrying device of some kind.) We are often carrying two kid carriers on our backs: one with the one-year-old in it and one that is our “3-year-old Back-up Plan.” It’s saved us a time or two from dragging a kid out kicking and screaming.

hike 2

– Be ok with your older child wanting to ride in the backpack. It’s a great workout for you (keep telling yourself this!) and it keeps them engaged in the adventure. Don’t worry if they aren’t running down the trail right now. That will come with time. Let the conversation flow and answer all their (five thousand) questions. They are learning to love the wilderness.
– Destination hike. Plan on making it one mile to a beautiful waterfall. Research enough to know there is a bridge perfect for throwing rocks in the water half a mile down the trail.
– If you have the luxury of setting up trails on your own property, plan out a scavenger hunt. Choose fun items to hide along the trail that are fun to find. You can choose as to whether you keep them natural or not (plastic red bear opposed to giant pine-cone.) Some natural ideas: wood-carved figurine, pine-cone wreath, rock tower, sticks placed in a shape on the trail, etc.
– Integrate hiking into a day of fun. Plan on (and talk about) a really cool swimming hole you are going to. Tell the kids about the adventure it takes to get there (and, depending on your kids, don’t even mention a H-I-K-E.) Keep the focus on the destination (and have a bunch of fun getting there!)

hike 3

Let’s be honest: Hiking with kids (especially young or extremely unmotivated ones) changes the game completely. Scaling a mountain as a family is just not going to be possible for a few years. The good news is that the more effort you put into fostering a LOVE for hiking, the outdoors and adventure in general, the better pay-off you will get down the road (like when your kids are beating you up the trail!)

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