After a busy day at the office, nothing feels better than to get outside on a beautiful day and take a hike with the kids. We’ve got hundreds of miles of hiking trails around our home that can take us into town, down to the beach, and even out to a few inland lakes that are only accessible by walking. The only problem we have is that many of the “good” locations to see are more than a mile away. That’s not hard for me, but for our 2 year old daughter? That could be a recipe for disaster!
With the right preparation, however, you can go the distance on a hike with your child and have a memorable experience. The last hike our family took was over 3 miles long and all of our kids, including our 2 year old, want the next hike to be even longer! Here’s how you can make that happen too.
9 Ways To Prepare Your Child For a Hike:
#1. Pack For Everything, Even On a Short Trek
Whether you’re going across town or just around the block, pack your trip for everything in case something happens. That means bandages, wipes, extra clothes, a water bottle for each of them, and other items that are unique to your family. That way you can instantly react to the scraped knee or the complaints of being thirsty right away instead of having to wait until you get back to the house or to a natural stopping point on your hike.
#2. Practice, Practice, Practice
We’ve got a pond outside of our home in the neighborhood that holds the extra rainwater for proper drainage. It’s the yearly home to tons of frogs, a few ducks, a loon every now and again, and lots of cattails. I walked out around the pond and discovered it was 1/10 a mile for a complete loop. Before beginning any long distance hikes, we hiked laps around the pond together. That way their legs could get used to the distance and we could stop for a break because we were never far from home. Once we could hit 10 laps, or 1 mile, without much complaint, we were ready for a longer walk away from the house.
#3. Pick a Trail You Can Handle
When you’re a parent out with your kids, you’ve got to remember that there may be times when you might have to carry your 2 year old, your 3 year old, and your pack of supplies. Do you want to carry an extra 110 pounds up a 9% grade? Don’t make that mistake because you’ll be craving an asthma inhaler when you do make it up the hill! Pick a flat route that is easy to hike so that if you do need to do some carrying, you won’t have to train like a professional athlete to come out ok.
#4. Look For Interesting Details
One of the kids’ favorite trails is close by the house, but it runs through the woods that surround our neighborhood. They can often see deer in the trees and along the grassy parts there are wild daisies that grow abundantly. We’ll go out, pick a few flowers for Mom, and come back feeling like something was accomplished. It’s also 1.5 miles to do this hike, so it’s a good little hike that takes us an hour to do and helps to build up their endurance for longer trails.
#5. Push Them a Little Here and There
In order to build endurance, you’ve got to go for a longer hike every now and then. The kids will have fun when you’re out there, but the last 10 minutes or so will be a struggle because they’re tired, you’re tired, and everyone wants to just be done. Be patient during this process, take frequent breaks for water, and you’ll make it back and they’ll be proud because they’ve done something they’ve never been before.
#6. Know Your Limits
There’s a trail that leads down to our local beach, but it’s not the easiest trail to take once you reach the end of it. There are several steps carved into the side of a 200 foot cliff and then the last 25% of the trail is literally a rope that you climb down to reach the water. Could I do that trail with ease? Absolutely. Would the kids be able to achieve the reward of finishing the trail? Definitely not. By knowing your limits, you won’t struggle as much with the journey back.
#7. There’s Always a Reward!
Sometimes we hike down to the local grocery store just so we can pick up a special treat. There’s the daisies that we sometimes pick to bring home. Sometimes the reward is a picture of pretending to be a ninja while out in the woods. Whatever trail you’re on, create a reward if there isn’t one at the end already to encourage more hiking in the future. If we walk a trail that has no reward, the kids will be disappointed with the outcome and that removes the desire to hike at all.
#8. Journey To Exotic Locations
Exotic locations don’t have to be anything special… they just have to be different! We’ve gone out to a local mountain to hike around a loop trail, play hide and seek, and to get an amazing view. Sometimes the exotic location is a local lake where the kids can watch fish jump out of the water. My 5 year old daughter loves the trail that goes behind some stables so she can pet the noses of the horses.
#9. Don’t Let People Judge You
If I had a nickel for every comment someone made about how I torture my children with hiking, I’d have enough to buy a new computer – and that’s every week! If the experience is fun, you’ve got enough supplies, and you take breaks when needed, your kids are going to have a good time. Prepare your mind for the negative comments and be grateful for the positive ones. “It’s so good to see a father out with his kids,” one driver told me this week. “You keep up the good work, Dad.”
With these 9 tips, you can build up to some great hikes that will be the foundation of some special family memories. Maybe we’ll see you out there!