How to hike with little kids and actually get them to walk
We love to hike. But hiking with little kids is hard. My older son ( age 6 ) can walk for about 4-5 hours and conquer some serious elevation gain. He "gets" hiking and is totally motivated by the idea of getting to the top of a mountain for the views and the sense of accomplishment that follows.
My younger two kids ( ages 2 + 4) are not so keen on walking for hours. For them, going a prescribed distance seems to be rather purposeless and they'd rather walk a few feet up a trail and play for 4 hours. So we try to be extra discerning on which trails we pick.
Find some sweet trails
We usually go for hikes that have a lot of cool features and are no more then 3 miles. We do several bigger hikes ( 5-7 miles) several times a year but our average " every day hikes" are usually under 5K. We love creeks that have ponds, lakes, creeks, or some other interesting feature that the kids can play at to break up the "monotony" of walking.
We walk from feature-to-feature along the trail and let the kids play at interesting spots for around 20 minutes a pop. Some of our favorite hikes end in amazing waterfalls, beaches, or rivers that we can then spend several hours playing at before heading home.
Because we hike or walk in the woods around 5-6 times per week, the two older boys can easily walk 3 miles. Our two year old can walk about 1.5 miles in total. She usually starts out walking for about 3/4 of a mile before wanting to be picked up or carried in the pack ( we use this one by the way) . We'll carry her for a bit and then she'll usually get down and walk sporadically the rest of the way with little breaks in our arms or in our pack.
Some of my favorite resources to find cool hikes are:
2. Trail Guides ( I request a bazillion of them from the library)
3. PNW Kids ( if you live in the Pacific Northwest)
The keys to our hiking success
At the end of the day, we've been able to get our kids to hike because we've consistently taken them into the wilderness to hike, play and run free. Our family culture is built around being outside, enjoying nature and it's something we've done since each of the kids was a tiny newborn. They don't know any different. For them, hiking and being outside is normal, something they do every single day, rain or shine. Every single day, I pack up the kids and we go out for walk in the woods. Every single weekend, we make sure to find a trail, whether it be far or near, and go a little further. It's not hard for us because it's who we are at our core, nature folks.
When the going get's tough
That being said, an exciting trail, well timed snacks, an exciting hiking activity, or a well told story, help when the kid's motivation is lacking to conquer the last section of trail! Some of things I have used in the past include:
1. Letting the kids take pictures of things that interest them with my phone
2. Telling them an awesome folk tale. I love to research native american stories and re-tell them to the kids when on long walks.
3. Scavenger hunts
4. Little games, like "I Spy"
5. Pretending we are pioneers or Native Americans and we are discovering new lands never walked upon before!
I hope you have a great day and don't forget to connect with us on Instagram here.