When our kids were 6 and 4 years old, they hiked up to the Lost City in Colombia. Our kids hiked to the Lost City all on their own without being carried (aside from the odd moments where we carried them over rocks or down a steep section). The other hikers at the camps were always in shock to see our two little hikers show up at the end of the day. And the other guides on the trail 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 jungle over the course of 6 days?
It’s important that you know that they have been hiking with our kids since they were babies. Our daughter was taken on her first hike 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). 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 happily walked as much as she could.
Sure, they were carried when we were on the trails hiking with a baby or toddler. But they were outside on the trails and this was just something our family did.
We also live in the Canadian Rockies, so it is easy for us to find new spots to hike with kids. While we hike a lot at home, we’ve actually done even more hiking with kids around the globe.
Some of our most memorable trips have involved hiking. Some favorites 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 hikes with kids we’ve done around the world.
Others that top our list 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.
All of this is to say that we’ve spent years working on getting our kids to be where they are as hikers. It hasn’t always been easy. Some days they are up for it and we have an incredible family hike. Other days, it’s a complete disaster. Just like parenting… but we have learned a few things along the way.
Hiking with Kids
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Tips for Hiking with Kids
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 kids; we liked the Deuter so much we bought one for each kid. It’s adjustable to either parent and has plenty of space for a hydration bladder, snacks, diapers, etc.
Keep energy levels up with plenty of hiking snacks for kids.
Bring plenty of snacks and water. Bring more than you think you’ll need.
Plan to take plenty of breaks on hikes with kids.
A lot of breaks. Kids will want to stop and explore. They’ll want to climb on the rocks and watch the ants cross the trail. Let them have some fun on this adventure, because that’s what will get them to want to come back out.
Don’t expect your kids to hike at an adult’s pace.
Hiking with our kids takes 2-3 times as long as it does without them. It’s slow. Be prepared for this.
Hike with other families.
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.
Bring a toddler carrier in your hiking backpack.
If you are hiking with a toddler or small child, but want them to do more walking, bring a toddler carrier that you can hide in your backpack. They don’t need to know you have it, or they’ll start asking to be carried. But it’s still a good idea to bring it, 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 and didn’t pack our carriers.
Build up to longer distances.
If you are just starting out with hiking, 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 them on a really short hike. Then build from there. The important thing is do have them doing it consistently.
Celebrate the wins, even the small wins.
Keep encouraging your kids and telling them how great they are doing. Track the number of steps or miles they’ve walked so they can be proud of themselves. We once created a Kilometer Chart and when the kids had reached 25KM (over several hikes) we gave them a prize.
If your kids are young and still want to be carried, take them on long hikes.
They will get tired of being carried and want to walk. Give them a chance to walk. You can make up the time when you are carrying them again.
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 how it would go, 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!
Treats. All the treats!
Don’t be afraid to bring along some treats for your kids. It’s a great way to entice them up the mountain.
Keep things fun with games to play on a hike.
Try to have some games ready to play, 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 game too.
Help them be proud of their accomplishments.
Let them stop to talk to other hikers, who I guarantee will be impressed by them and won’t hesitate to tell them. We 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.
Take pictures or better yet, let them take pictures.
This is a great activity to help teach kids to appreciate nature while not destroying it by picking flowers, etc. While we let the kids take pictures, we also limit the time they get with the 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.
Learn hiking songs for kids.
Sing songs on the hike with your kids. Especially if someone isn’t in a great mood or needs a pick me up. One of these great hiking songs for kids is bound to put a smile on their face.
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 hiking boots, we love the waterproof hiking boots for kids by Keen. They do make a difference on slippery trails.
Be prepared with extra gear.
You may not have to carry your kids on a hike, but you’ll still be carrying all their stuff. Still it’s worth it to bring extra gear to keep everyone comfortable. This could be rain gear, hats, mitts or an extra sweater.
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.
Buy a book to learn about the flora and fauna.
Kids are curious and now is the perfect time to learn more about the plants, animals and insects you’ll encounter along the way. A book like this one will also help keep kids interested.
Let your kids choose the hike.
If they have a part in making the plan, they’ll be much more invested in the days outing and in finishing the hike.
Don’t be afraid to do your most loved hikes over and over.
While it’s fun to try new hikes, 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 they are always up for this one and hesitant about other ones. My guess is that it’s because they know exactly what to expect. They know how long it 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.
It’s ok to turn back or do a shorter version of a kid friendly trail.
I always struggle with this one, but it’s ok to not finish the hike. If everyone isn’t feeling up for it, don’t force it. Celebrate what you did accomplish and make note to try it again on another day. We’ve turned back so many times.
Sometimes it was because we misjudged how long it was going to take or because it didn’t feel comfortable with the kids. Don’t forget to adjust the hike 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 up on the ridge in the strong winds. Instead we just did it as an out and back.
There’s a beautiful hike near our home that goes to a lake, but we know it’s a bit far for the kids, so we hike to an incredible viewpoint along the trail instead. From there the kids love the run back down.
The most important tip for getting 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 do it often and do it consistently.
Believe in your kids.
They are capable of far more than you think. If you give your kids a chance, I have no doubt you’ll be impressed!
Tips for Winter hikes with kids
Hiking doesn’t need to stop in the winter. If you want to continue hiking, mild winter days are perfect for getting out for a hike.
Here are a few extra tips for winter hiking with kids.
- 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. Dress your kids in layers and slightly warmer than you think they will need. You can always remove layers.
- Dress warmer than your kids. This is not a joke. As kids are slowly moving or playing, 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!
- Use wool socks and under layers. 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 you 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 games.
- Spikes or snowshoes for slippery trails. As the days become milder, the trails can get icy. Especially if they are high traffic trails. Microspikes are perfect for winter hiking. If you can’t get them small enough for kids, then 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 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 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 with 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 frequently, make note of the hikes you’ve done and include not only the distance by 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
We mentioned a few of our favorite items in the tips for hiking with kids above, but we have a full list of all our recommended hiking gear for kids (coming soon) here.
Incredible Hikes with Kids Around the World
Looking for some inspiration for good hikes for kids 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
Colombia: Hiking in Minca with kids & Hiking in Tayrona National Park with kids
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