Hiking is one of the easiest ways you and your kids can get out and enjoy the great outdoors. You’ll see trees and flowers, meadows and streams, and maybe even wild animals and birds. Your child will get an early grounding in the fun of walking down a woodland trail, observing the natural world. If your child can walk for twenty minutes, you’re ready to go hiking!
Just pick a trail, throw on your tennis shoes, and go for a short little walk. That’s your first hike, and it’s the way you should hike (in very small doses) until you’re both ready for more. Hikes should be fun, not exhausting, so be sure to take a watch with you and keep an eye on your time, making sure you turn around while you both still have plenty of energy. A fifteen-minute hike is a great way to start (or even shorter, if your child is small).
Be sure to have plenty of time for your hike and be ready to stop often. Kids love to explore the world around them, and this might mean crouching down to check out bugs and leaves or looking for pretty rocks at the beach. If you can, plan hikes in a variety of places—near rivers, prairies, woods, boulder fields, beaches, and lakes. This will give your child a wide variety of experiences. You might bring a camera and take lots of pictures. And be sure to teach your child about leaving the wilderness just the way you found it, only taking away photographs and memories.
Working Your Way Up
Once you’re ready, work your way up to longer walks. When your child is ready for a “serious” hike, get them a pair of sturdy shoes. Wearing two pairs of socks—a thin nylon liner close to the foot and a thicker, heavier pair on the outside—does wonders for preventing blisters. You’ll also want to carry a first aid kit on a serious hike, plus plenty of water, sunscreen, a wind breaker, hat, sunglasses, and snacks or lunch. And if there’s any chance you could wander off the trail, pack a good map in your backpack.
Be sure to follow good hiking ethics when you’re out. Always stay on the trail, and don’t take anything away with you—no flowers, rocks, or sticks. Don’t let your child run on the trail or shout, since this would disturb other hikers and wildlife. And most important of all, no littering. Pack out all of your trash, and your child will learn from your good example.
Fun Hiking Activities
Hikes are a lot of fun, but your child could grow bored if there isn’t anything going on during a long straight stretch. This is a perfect time to sing songs, play games like I Spy and twenty questions, or work on a riddle. See how many plants you can identify, or make up a scavenger hunt.
You might also plan a hike with a specific purpose, like wildflower viewing or bird watching. It’s fun to have your child bring along a sketch pad, so they can draw the flowers they find, or a cheap pair of binoculars for looking at far-away birds. When you see birds, see if you can figure out what the bird is doing (singing, eating, looking for something to eat, resting, etc). Look for bugs or plants that bird might eat. It’s also fun to bring a bug box or other magnifying glass that will help you look at leaves, bugs, and interesting rocks up close.
Looking for more information and other great articles about camping with kids? KidsCamping.com has a wide variety of articles, activities, games and learning tools to inspire kids of all ages to love camping and the outdoors