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13 Tips for an Epic Day Hike with the Family

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

How to plan a day hike that’s filled with fun, safety + happy kids.

Pinterest image for 13 Tips for an Epic Day Hike with the Family.

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.”



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1. Find a peril-free trail.

Two people hiking on the trail at Hot Springs, near Mammoth Lakes, California.
Hot Creek, Mammoth Mountain

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.

Blonde boy in black clothes and white beanie smiling on hiking trail at Hot Springs, near Mammoth Mountain.

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.

View from the top of a trailhead of a sunrise over a lush expanse of mountains.

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.

Person with red and black hiking boots dangling their legs off a rock boulder.

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.

Woman with a wide-brimmed hat, jacket and blue packing hiking in the Pacific Northwest.

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.

Band-Aid tin sitting on the ground, and being used for a family hiking trip.

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: