Hiking with kids can be a lot of fun, I promise! Before my husband and I had kids, we were avid hikers. In fact, we met while participating in a volunteer corp in Alaska where we regularly went on hikes to explore the gorgeous local landscape, get some free exercise and also get outside and clear our minds. Later, as we moved around the country, we made a point to find new trails and hikes everywhere we went.
Once we had kids, we wanted to share our love of getting outside and hike with them too. When our first child was a baby, we would simply stick her in a baby carrier and be on our way – but as she grew older (& gained siblings), family hikes became a little a lot harder! Encouraging little ones to walk for hours without complaining proved quite tricky. But, it is also important to us to teach our kids the importance of our local and national parks, how to take care of the outdoors and that hiking and walking is fun, challenging, a great tool for exploring outside, for connecting as a family, and for exercise!
These days, we’ve grown to love hiking with our girls, we’ve just learned to approach the process a little differently. And the more we venture out on the trails with our kids, the better, more comfortable and more confident they get.
Here are our 5 best tips for hiking with kids that will help keep this beloved lifetime activity fun & memorable!
Do your research – Find out the length and elevation of the hikes in your area. Choose hiking trails that are best suited to the level of your children’s age and fitness. Sometimes we’ll even decide to do an hour hike or walk around a local park and then we’ll set a timer or phone for 30 minutes so we know once we hit that time, we need to turn around to walk back. We also try to ensure that it’s a hike that is interesting for them – creeks, waterfalls, rocks, wildlife, stairs, and lakes are good things to look for with kids.
Bring snacks and water – Pack plenty of water and fun snacks for you and your kids – we love to bring trail mix (you can even have them help you make it ahead to get them excited), granola bars and lollipops on hikes. Also, take lots of breaks to look around and enjoy a snack, if your kids need it. Find mini destinations such as a giant tree, a mossy rock or a creek bed for a snack break and some extra exploration.
Focus on fun – Kids bore quickly, so be creative to keep things fun: Teach them to spot blazes and trail markers on trees, count squirrels or other common wildlife, sing songs and make up verses, hold twig races in creeks or make a point to look for critters under the rocks. We frequently incorporate a scavenger hunt into our hike (find an animal track, spot a water strider in the creek, find a y-shaped stick, etc.)
Bring a friend – Having non-sibling friends along keeps the energy up and – in a magical way – cuts down on the complaining. Sometimes, we’ll even invite other families to come along. Plus, it provides double the fun!
Teach kids nature rules and map reading – Talk about “Leave No Trace” rules with your kids and then make a game out of following the rules or bring a bag to pick up any trash others may have left behind. This teaches them to appreciate the outdoors and respect the parks. You can also teach them the native trees and flowers in the area and see if they can identify any. Or, give kids a little ownership on the hike by teaching them map reading and orienteering early on – start with something simple like a nature-trail map. Then, when they’re older get them their own topo maps and let them choose and lead your family hikes!
In the end, I believe getting your kids outside – through hiking, exploring and simply playing teaches a love of nature and outdoors, keeps them curious and creates sweet family memories. With kids, you may need to change your expectations a bit – focus more on the experience and exploration and less on the mileage covered – and simply enjoy the family time together.
There are tons of hiking and exploring opportunities right here in Nashville and the surrounding areas. Check online for family friendly nature hikes, night hikes and other outdoor activities for you and your kids.
Some of our favorite kid-friendly hikes in the Nashville area:
Warner Parks Warner Woods Trail – a 2.5 mile loop with some elevation
Edwin Warner Harpeth Woods Trail – a 2.5 mile trail full of Beech, Oak & Cedar Trees
Radnor Lake State Park Lake Trail – 1.35 miles around the lake where we always spot turtles, ducks & deer
Sarah is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant in Nashville. Sarah, her husband Brad and their three girls love to adventure both Nashville and around the world. Sarah writes about kid-friendly Nashville and expanding your family’s worldview through travel, food, books and engaging in our local and international communities at TheWanderingRumpus.com. She is the Director of Travel Communications at TheFamilyBackpack.com, a lifestyle company designed to make family travel easier.