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Tips to Make Family Hiking Fun for Everyone

Spring is here! Are you planning on heading outside for some fun family adventures? Day hiking with your kids can be so much fun but can also be overwhelming especially if you have never done it before.

As a parent of 5 & 8-year-old girls, I believe that your kid’s first few experiences when doing something like hiking can really make a difference in their attitude and how they like it moving forward.

You know your family and it will make all the difference to think about what works for your kids and your family before you go. Here are a few tips to make your family hike fun and fulfilling for everyone!


Plan Ahead

You want to make hiking with your family a fun experience and a little planning ahead can really make a difference, especially with little kids.

Weather - Before you go check the forecast. Keep in mind that the weather can change quickly, especially in the mountains, and often storms can come in the afternoons. Don’t hesitate to go on a different day if the forecast doesn’t look great.

Time of Day – Think about the time of day that might work best for your family. If you have a baby and a toddler, perhaps go in the morning while your toddler has a lot of energy and your baby can take their morning nap in the carrier. Then everyone can nap on the way home. Do your kids have more energy after their afternoon naps? Check the weather and do a late afternoon or evening hike. This may also be a less crowded time and you could even bring a dinner picnic to make it extra fun and different.

Where to Go – It will make your experience so much better if you think about the trail and what works for your family. Make sure you consider the distance and the slope. A nice meandering, mostly flat trail is much better for the little ones when they are starting. If the trail is too steep, then they will get tired too quickly and it won’t be fun. Do your kids love to play in a stream or creek? Consider looking for a trail that follows a stream or creek. Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be the most popular trail to be fun. A less popular, non-crowded trail is always a better option in my opinion.

Bring the Right Things

It can be very overwhelming to know exactly what to bring but being prepared makes the difference between a great time and a disaster. 

Gear – You don’t need a ton of gear for a day hike, but you want to be prepared with layers for changing weather, plenty of water, and snacks. If you have a baby or toddler who is unlikely to walk the whole way you will need a good child carrier. Look for one that fits you well and has enough room to carry your water, snacks, and extra layers. Soft carriers are great for babies because they keep them cozy and they are often familiar with being in them. A framed child carrier is great for toddlers because they can look around and experience the hike from your back. Also, if they fall asleep you can (usually) take the pack off and let them sleep in it while you take a break.

Extras – Depending on where you go and the age of your kids you may want to bring some fun activities that they can do along the way. For kiddos that walk some of the time, you can bring some small shovels and buckets so that they can play in the dirt or a creek if you find one. Other fun things to bring are a small magnifying glass, a flower chart to identify flowers, and a scavenger or treasure hunt list. Think about what your kids might like or what games might be fun – sometimes we bring things to search for “bigfoot” or pick a favorite song that we sing along the way.

 Toddler playing in dirt with bucket on hiking trail

Bring the Right Attitude

This is the most important one, your attitude and your outlook will make a difference with how your kids learn to love hiking. If it is your first time, my best advice is to pick a nice day and pick an easy trail (not too long and not too steep) that has something fun like a creek or a pond.

Have fun - The most important thing, especially when your kids are little is to make it fun, so they want to do it again! It doesn’t matter how far you hike or where you end up. You will make memories on the shortest hike that no one has ever heard of before! I remember when my daughter was about 18 months and just learning how to walk. We found a little flat trail – she didn’t want to get in the pack, so we let her walk and I think we made it only 200 meters from the car, but she loved “hiking” and picking up rocks and sticks and smelling flowers and splashing in a little creek. It wasn’t a “must-do” trail, it wasn’t a long hike, it wasn’t epic or Instagram-worthy, but it was a special little moment of family time and ever since then she has loved to hike.

Set realistic expectations – Keep in mind that high altitude affects everyone differently (this is especially important to remember if you have guests visiting from lower altitudes or you live at a lower altitude and are hiking at higher altitudes). Your crew may not be able to hike as far or as fast as you do at lower altitudes. Remember that it is okay to turn around before you reach the end of the trail if you realize your crew is done. It’s better to quit while everyone is still having fun than make everyone miserable trying to reach your destination.

Two small kids sitting on log wearing hats and sunglasses