How to plan a day hike that’s filled with fun, safety + happy kids.
The fresh air, rush of endorphins, screen-free time with family and vistas so beautiful they make you believe in something greater weave together to infuse hiking with a rare kind of magic. However, this magic can quickly fizzle when primal needs aren’t met, kids start to riot, or the trail you’re on ends up being blah. But with the right preparation you can help ensure your hiking endeavor is more “life enhancing adventure” than “soul sucking trudge.”
1. Find a peril-free trail.
Nothing sucks the joy out of a hike quicker than worrying about your child slipping off a ledge. So research trails that won’t take you by drop-offs, or other dangerous patches, so you can enjoy your walk without having a death grip on the kids’ wrists. In addition, ensure that the pitch is a match for your broods' abilities.
Safety Tip: If you're hiking in an area with bears, mountain lions or other potentially dangerous creatures, have one adult lead the group and another be the caboose so kids don't wander too far ahead, or fall behind.
2. Be realistic with speed estimates when selecting how far you’ll go.
While one to five miles is doable for most families in a day, you want to factor in when you’ll be able to start the hike, and how far you think your people can walk every hour. This information will allow you to select a hike that won’t be over almost as soon as it began, while also not being so extreme you’re carrying over-it children the last couple miles.
3. Select a trail with fun pit stops.
Water holes, scenic look-outs, a small canyon covered in ladybugs (a real thing!), and other intriguing destinations along a trail, break up a hike by creating clear locations to rest and play for awhile. Online trail maps and reviews will often reveal appealing locales along popular paths.
4. Have a special treat for each resting spot.
If it’s hard to get your littles to walk more than 10 steps at a time, entice them to move with the promise of a tasty treat at each milestone on the trail.
5. Start early.
If you've determined that you could totally conqueror a five mile hike... as long as you start early, make sure to start early. It’s all too easy to allow a 7am departure time, for example, to turn into a 8am or 9am or “oh my gosh, how did it get to be 10am” departure time. Don’t let your hike be derailed by the slipperiness of time by prepping your packs, filling water bottles, laying out clothes, setting alarms, and informing the family about the departure time the night before.
6. Make sure everyone has the right footwear.
Blistering feet are one of the surest ways to guarantee your hike will be cut short, or include children on your shoulders using your hair as reins for the majority of the trek. Avoid this misfortune by having all family members wear hiking socks with hiking, or supportive tennis, shoes they’ve already worn in. If they don’t have such shoes, buy some a week or two before your hike and have said family member wear them as often as possible before the big day.
7. Protect yourself from the elements.
The overheating, burns and potential chill that can result from hours outside can be prevented by covering up with the right stuff. First off, find sweat-wicking, UPF clothing that will help keep you and yours cool and unburned. In addition, bring zinc oxide and hats to protect skin that isn’t covered by your UPF duds. Finally, pack layers to account for temperature drops.
8. Pack a first-aid kit.
Scrapes, bites, allergic reactions, sprains, headaches and more happen, especially when you're communing with the unpredictability of Mother Nature. Be prepared for unforeseen ouchies and oopses by packing a first-aid kit that contains the following:
Small first aid manual
Assortment of bandages
Various sizes of bandaids
Epi-pen for those with serious known allergies
Any specialized meds a family member heavily relies on
Small pair of scissors
9. Bring more water than you think you need.
As a long day hike usually equals a good deal of sweating, and dehydration creates a slew of discomforts, pack at least two-liters of water for each person. Because this amount of water can get heavy, and little kids won't be able to carry more than about 400 mL, minimize weight by storing water in bladder bags. In addition, if you know you'll be hiking by water sources, bring a water filtration pump to refill empty bottles.
10. Have kids wear backpacks.
If your littles are too big to be carried in a backpack, have them wear a backpack with their own water bottle and snacks. This will help spread out the weight so the adults don’t end up carrying around an exhausting heap of water, food and other supplies.
11. Pack interest-enhancing supplies.
Binoculars, a magnifying glass, shock-proof cameras, a notebook and pencil and other such items help kids become engaged in the flora and fauna of a trail. If you don't already have the items you think your kids would enjoy, amp up their excitement for the hike by taking them on an online, or brick-and-mortar, shopping adventure for the supplies.
12. Create a nature-supplied scavenger hunt.
“I’m bored.... When will we be there? My feet hurt!” Kids can easily get sluggish, antsy and irritable during a hike. But coming equipped with creative distractions (like the supplies in tip #11) can erase disgruntled attitudes.
One of our favorite distraction methods is a nature-supplied scavenger hunt list - meaning, we make a list of the various plants, animals and other nature, or man made, features we’re likely to see on the trail and challenge Hudson to spot everything on the list in exchange for a treat after the hike.
If you’re unsure what to put on the list, do some online sleuthing about the plants and animals frequently found on your chosen trail. In addition, items like trail signs, a bathroom, and hiking shoes are sure-bet features to add to the list.
13. Come equipped with songs and games.
In addition to the boredom-fighting-tools above, bringing lyrics to fun, easy songs like "The Ants Go Marching One by One," "Home on the Range," "Camp Granada" and "Baby Shark" (duh!), and supply-free games can distract kids from the fact that their feet keep moving forward.