Hiking with Kids: A Parent’s Guidebook

hiking with kids

Now that spring is here, many families are looking for ways to get outside and make the most of the warmer weather. With so many great trails, parks, and paths in and around Richmond, hiking is one of the best ways to get your family moving while enjoying all that the season has to offer.

Granted, even the most experienced hikers can tell you that hiking with kids can present its own set of unique challenges. With the goal of making hiking an enjoyable activity for the whole family, we’ve put together some simple tips and suggestions for hiking with kids.

1. Pick a kid-friendly hike.

Sure, it’s nice to tackle a challenging hike now and then, but when it comes to hiking with kids, keeping their age and ability in mind will make the experience better for everyone. So, unless you want to end up carrying a tired, unhappy five-year old who simply can’t take it anymore, be sure to choose terrain and distances that are suited to your kids’ age and physical abilities.

2. Let your kids set the pace.

Keep in mind that hiking with kids is not just about the destination, but about the journey. Forget schedules or hitting your PR and go at your kids’ pace. Everyone will be happier – guaranteed. And if they want to climb on a rock or fallen tree, let them. If you come across a stream, stop and let everyone get their toes wet. Let them touch and explore plants and rocks along the way and use each experience as a chance to talk about nature, including teaching them about what’s safe to touch and what’s not.

3. Bring plenty of snacks and water.

Nothing will reduce a toddler (and their parents) to tears faster than hunger. Keep everyone’s energy up by bringing along plenty of healthy snacks and treats. Also, make sure everyone stays hydrated with frequent water breaks – which will also give everyone a chance to rest.

4. Keep your kids’ minds busy along the way.

Hiking isn’t just about an active body, but an active mind, as well. Plus, by keeping your kids’ curiosity and creativity at maximum levels, they’ll have less time to think about being tired and you’ll all have more fun. Try playing some fun games like “I Spy” or create your own scavenger hunt. Talk about the things you see along the way and discuss the roles these things play in nature (i.e., acorns are food for squirrels, flowers are pollinated by bees, etc.) Take turns making up silly stories about wildlife you encounter. Or simply stop to listen and see how many sounds each of you can identify. Whatever you choose, just remember to let imagination and creativity guide the way.

5. Choose a hike with an interesting element or destination.

Keep your kids focused on the hike by choosing a trail that leads to something interesting such as a waterfall, a cool overlook, or unusual formations. If they start to get bored or tired, use your destination as a goal and remind them how exciting it will be to arrive. When you do get there, take plenty of time to enjoy it. Let your kids explore the area and pose for fun family pictures. Bring along a picnic and enjoy having lunch in an exciting natural setting. Just be sure to stop and rest, making sure everyone has plenty of energy for the hike back.

6. Last but not least, simply enjoy the experience.

The best part about being in nature is the chance to step away from the distractions of daily life. Put away your cell phone unless you’re using it to take pictures and give your family your full attention. Let your kids guide the conversations. Most of all, stop and smell the flowers – literally or figuratively. By allowing yourself to fully relax and be immersed in the moment, you’ll be teaching your kids a valuable lesson about finding joy in the little things and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they follow your example.

You may already have a list of favorite family hiking spots, but if you need some ideas or want to discover a new kid-friendly trail, be sure to check out our list of Best Hiking Trails In and Around Richmond for suggestions!