Before kids, hiking was one of our favorite things to do as a couple. When we had kids, we wanted to share our passion for hiking with our kids. Over the years, we’ve made a few mistakes while hiking with our kids (we all do), but our efforts seem to have paid off.
We love hiking with our kids and we hope to share our best tips for hiking with kids with you.
Hiking with Kids
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26 Tips for Hiking with Kids
1. Start hiking with kids early
When our kids were 6 and 4 years old, they hiked up to the Lost City in Colombia all on their own without being carried.
The other Lost City hikers and trail guides at the camps were always in shock to see our two kids show up at camp each day. People were so impressed they always ran over to congratulate our two incredible hikers.
So how did we manage this kind of hiking with kids so young? How was it possible that we got our 6 and 4 year old to hike 28 miles (46 km) in the Colombian jungle over the course of 6 days?
Simple – we have been hiking with our kids since they were babies. Our daughter was taken on her first hike in Banff at 8 weeks old and our son would have been at a similar age (but who’s to know because he was the second child and his baby book still isn’t updated – haha!).
When our son was 2 months old we took him on his first international trip hiking in Sedona. Our daughter was just over 2 years old and was already a happy little hiker.
Sure, we carried them while we were hiking with a baby or toddler. But they were outside on the trails and they learned early that family hiking was just something we did.
2. Hike with kids on family vacations
We live in the Canadian Rockies, so it is easy for us to find new spots to hike around Banff with kids. While we hike a lot at home, we’ve actually done even more hiking with kids on our family trips around the globe.
Some of our most memorable family hiking vacations include: 5 family friendly hikes in Kyoto Japan, hiking in Cinque Terre Italy with toddlers, or hiking Arnastapi to Hellnar in Iceland. And these are just a few examples of hiking with kids we’ve done around the world.
Others that top our list of family hiking vacations are: hiking in Geirangerfjord with kids, hiking in Bohemian Switzerland in the Czech Republic or even this incredible hike on Korcula in Croatia.
For even more ideas visit this post for some of the best hikes around the world with kids and I’ve listed more of our favorite hikes with kids at the end of this post.
3. Get a good hiking carrier for toddlers and babies
If you are just starting out hiking with a baby or toddler, get a good hiking carrier that’s comfortable for long stretches of time.
We loved our Deuter Kid Comfort hiking backpack to carry our kids as babies and toddlers. In fact, we liked the Deuter so much we bought one for each kid. This quality hiking carrier is adjustable to either parent and has plenty of space for a hydration bladder, hiking snacks, diapers, etc.
4. Bring plenty of healthy snacks while hiking for the kids
We never go hiking with kids without a daybag full of hiking snacks. Kids expend a lot of energy while hiking and some good snacks will help keep their energy levels up and whining levels down.
5. Take plenty of breaks hiking with kids
Plan on taking a lot of breaks while hiking with kids. Curious by nature, hiking kids will always want to stop and explore.
Without fail, kids who are hiking will want to climb on the rocks and watch the ants cross the trail. Let them have some fun on every hiking adventure, because that’s what will get them to want to come hiking again.
6. Don’t expect your kids to hike at an adult’s pace.
Hiking with kids takes 2-3 times as long as it does without them. Between having smaller legs, and an insatiable desire to explore and climb, kids are just slower hikers than adults. And that’s ok – just plan to take longer when you are hiking with your kids.
7. Hike with other families.
This is one of our favorite tips for hiking with kids! You’ll be shocked how much faster your kids hike with other kids.
Our kids practically ran the entire Northgate Peaks Trail in Zion National Park, just to keep up with two older kids. Without those older kids, that hike would have been so much slower.
8. Bring a toddler carrier in your hiking backpack
Don’t let your toddler know you have it, or they’ll stop hiking and start asking to be carried. But it’s still a good idea to bring a toddler carrier, just in case.
The summer our kids turned 4 and 6 years old, when took them on a road trip around Scotland followed by a cycle trip in Ireland, was the first time we planned a lot of hiking with our kids and didn’t pack our carriers.
9. Build up to longer hikes with kids.
If you are just starting out hiking with kids, it’s ok to start with short distances. Take the time to get your kids used to walking. Have them walk to a nearby playground and do it several times a week.
Gradually build up the distance they walk. Then take your kids on a really short hike. Then build from there. The important thing is do have them doing it consistently.
10. Celebrate the wins, even the small wins.
Keep encouraging your kids on hikes and tell them how great they are doing.
A trick which worked well for us is to track the number of steps or miles they’ve hiked so they can be proud of themselves. We once created a Mileage Chart and when the kids had reached their distance goal (over several hikes) we gave them a prize.
11. If your kids are young and still want to be carried, take them on long hikes.
When our kids were too young to go on long hikes, we carried them on our family hikes. In fact, while our kids were young, we got to enjoy the same level of hiking as we did before kids.
Of course, your kids will get tired of being carried and want to walk. Give them a chance to walk – every step they take now makes them a better hiker later. You can make up the time when you are carrying them again.
12. While you are building up to longer hikes, don’t be afraid to push them a little.
We were amazed when our kids hiked the entire Frying Pan to Cassidy Arch hike in Capitol Reef National Park. We were unsure if our kids could hike the entire distance, but they did it.
We made sure they knew how proud of them we were. That was a real eye opener to what they are really capable of… especially when they ended the long hike with a game of tag!
13. Treats. All the treats!
In addition to the healthy, high-energy snacks, don’t be afraid to bring along some treats for your kids. It’s a great way to entice your kids while hiking to reach the end of the hiking trail.
14. Keep things fun with games to play on a hike.
Try to have some hiking games ready to play with your kids, like these fun scavenger hunt cards. We usually find playing tag or hide and seek are good hiking games for kids. We also play games like I Spy and guessing animals or colors (or anything else we can think of).
I speak from experience when I say, it will be much more effective if you are in on the hiking games with your kids too.
15. Help them be proud of their accomplishments.
While on a hike with your kids, let them stop to talk to other hikers, who I guarantee will be impressed by them and won’t hesitate to tell them.
Our kids get stopped on the trail all the time by other hikers. They always want to talk to the kids and tell them how impressed they are that they are out there hiking.
16. Take pictures or better yet, let them take pictures.
Taking pictures on hikes is a great activity to help teach kids to appreciate nature while not destroying it by picking flowers, etc.
While one hikes, we let the kids take pictures, but we limit the time they get with their camera just to keep them moving forward. We might even use their cameras as their reward to get to certain points on the hike or distances.
17. Learn hiking songs for kids.
18. Get them proper hiking gear for kids.
Not only is having the right hiking gear for kids important, it will help get your kids excited about hiking. Buy your kids real hiking boots like yours and they will get excited to go hiking with you.
We love the waterproof hiking boots for kids by Keen. They really do make a difference for your kids when hiking on slippery trails.
19. Be prepared with extra gear.
You may not have to carry your kids on a hike, but you’ll still need a good hiking pack to carry all their stuff.
20. Research different family friendly hikes to keep it interesting.
Try different kid friendly hikes in different locations. Hike to a waterfall one week then to a viewpoint another week.
Vary the lengths and difficult of your hikes with kids too. On low energy days find an easy hike for kids with a good payoff.
Don’t be afraid to choose hikes for kids that are just fun for them! Running around Goblin Valley State Park with kids is the perfect example of that.
21. Teach them about the flora and fauna.
Kids are very curious. Hiking with kids is the perfect time to teach them about the plants, animals and insects you’ll encounter along the way. A nature book like this one will also help keep kids interested on your family hikes.
22. Let your kids choose the hike.
If your kids have a part in making the plan, they’ll be much more invested in the family outing. We’ve found that hiking with kids is much easier when they are excited about the hiking trail they picked themselves.
23. Repeat your most loved hikes over and over.
While it’s fun to try new hikes with kids, sometimes the old standards are good too. We have a short hike near our home that our kids are always up for.
I can’t explain why our likes love this hike, yet are hesitant about other kid-friendly hikes. My guess is that it’s because they know exactly what to expect. They know how long the hike takes, they know there’s a stop at a picnic table for a snack and they know the end portion is a fun run down a hill.
24. It’s ok to turn back or do a shorter version of a kid friendly hike.
I always struggle with this one, but it’s ok to not finish a hike with your kids. If everyone isn’t feeling up for it, don’t force it. Celebrate what you did accomplish and make note to try the hike again on another day.
It’s against our nature, but we’ve turned back so many times while hiking with our kids. Sometimes it was because we misjudged how long the hike was going to take, or because we had some safety concerns with the kids.
We encourage you to adjust your hikes to suit your family too.
When we hiked the Quiraing on the Isle of Skye, we didn’t do the full loop because we didn’t feel it was safe to have the kids hiking up on the ridge in the strong winds.
Instead we just did Quiraing with our kids as an out and back and we are happy we did. Taking unnecessary risks while hiking with kids is never a good idea.
There’s a beautiful hike near our home that goes to a lake, but we know it’s a bit far for the kids. As a compromise, we with with our kids to an incredible viewpoint along the trail instead. From there the kids love the run back down.
We know our kids will hike to the lake one day – in the meantime, we keep hiking fun and positive.
25. The most important tip for hiking with kids to hike is to just get out and do it.
I mentioned this above, but it’s worth saying again. The best way to get your kids to hike is to hike with your kids consistently. Getting out on family hikes often will not only help build strength, but your kids will learn this is an important part of being in your family.
26. Believe in your kids.
Hiking with our kids always teaches me never to underestimate them. Your kids are capable of far more than you think. If you give your kids a chance, I have no doubt you’ll be impressed!
12 Tips for Hiking with Kids in Winter
Hiking with your kids doesn’t need to stop in the winter. If you want to continue hiking with your kids, mild winter days are perfect for getting out for a hike.
Here are a few extra tips for hiking with kids in winter:
- Make sure your kids have waterproof snow pants and boots. There’s nothing worse than being far from the car in clothes that are wet.
- Layers are important. Dress your kids in layers and slightly warmer than you think they will need. You can always remove layers if your kids are too hot, but you may have to end your hike early if your kids are too cold.
- Dress warmer than your kids. This is not a joke. Hiking with kids in the winter is just as slow as in the summer. Your kid will be warm while making their 34th snow angel of the hike, but you’ll be standing and watching. If you aren’t building up heat by walking you’ll get colder faster.
- Pack extra mitts for everyone. Cold hands make adults and kids miserable! If your kids get their mitts wet, it’s never a bad idea to have an extra pair of mitts in your bag.
- Use wool socks and under layers. Did you know wool stays warm even when wet? On top of your wool should be a warm mid-layer like fleece pants. Then your waterproof layer on top. Avoid cotton since it will only make your kids colder when wet.
- Snacks and water – as always. If it’s an especially chilly day, pack hiking snacks for kids that can be eaten with mitts on. Cheese sticks or a wrap are good hiking food for kids that can be eaten with mittens on.
- Prepare hiking games to keep everyone moving. Especially in the winter, you’ll want to keep everyone moving, so choose some favorite hiking games.
- Spikes or snowshoes for slippery trails. As the days become milder, the hiking trails can get icy. Especially if they are high traffic trails. Microspikes are perfect for winter hiking. If you can’t find small microspikes for kids, then kids snowshoes are a great alternative.
- Speaking of snowshoes, try it out as a fun new sport. It’s a great family outing.
- Know your terrain and make sure you aren’t in avalanche terrain.
- Hand and foot warmers. Being prepared while winter hiking with kids is key and having ways to help your kids keep warm is important. However, I find my kids are rarely cold and can play outside in the snow for hours. But it’s best to be prepared and carrying hand warmers or toe warmers is an easy thing to do.
- Waterproof blanket to sit on for lunch. Depending on the hike, you may want to make a stop for lunch. Bring a compact winter picnic blanket for everyone to sit on to keep bums from getting wet in the snow.
How to Find the Best Hikes for Kids
There are many great resources for finding hikes in an area. Even blogs like our own are great for getting info from other parents who have done the hike with kids.
We typically start by using AllTrails to narrow down the options in the area. We also will do internet research to see if anyone has written a blog post about it.
We have a general idea of how far our kids are capable of hiking and what type of elevation gain they have done in the past. We use this to make a judgement call on all our family hikes.
How do you know what your kids are capable of when it comes to choosing the best hiking trails for kids? You can only find this out by trial and error.
Start with kid-friendly trails with shorter distances and build from there. Don’t be afraid of a little elevation gain too. We’ve found that our kids often do very well climbing hills or on stairs.
If you aren’t hiking with your kids frequently, make note of the hikes you’ve done and include not only the distance but the elevation gain too. You can track these on your phone so you can refer back to them at any time.
Hiking Gear for Kids
Incredible Hikes with Kids Around the World
Looking for some inspiration for family hiking vacations around the world? Here are a few more that we’ve done with our kids. Some were hikes with toddlers when they were little, so we either carried them in a hiking backpack for portions or all of the hike.
Also note, that not all these posts are strictly hiking but they also contain at least one great hike in the area.
Hiking with Kids in USA & National Parks
- Hiking around Palm Springs with kids
- Best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park with kids
- Utah National Parks: Ultimate guide to Bryce Canyon with kids, Zion National Park kid friendly hikes, 5 easy walks in Arches National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park with kids
- Hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway with kids
- Hiking around Asheville with kids
- Hiking around Gatlinburg with kids
- Kid friendly hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Hiking with Kids in Europe
- Scotland: Isle of Skye with kids, Hermitage Woodland Walk with kids, Hiking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park with kids
- Ireland: Killarney National Park with kids & Dingle Peninsula with kids
- Czech Republic: Hiking in Bohemian Paradise with kids, Hiking Karlovy Vary to Loket with kids
- Croatia: Hiking on Hvar with kids, Tips for hiking in Plitvice Lakes National Park with kids
- Norway: Alesund with kids, Bergen with kids and Oslo with kids
- Italy: Visiting the Island of Elba with kids & hiking in Cinque Terre with kids
- Iceland: Exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula with kids, Best things to do around Reykjavik with kids & Visiting the Golden Circle with kids
Hiking with Kids in Asia
Hiking with Kids in North America & South America
Mexico: Valle de Bravo with kids
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