Are you looking to spend more time outdoors hiking with kids? Bonding with family hikes on a local trails or traveling to a big National Park? Our family really enjoys some unplugged time together exploring different nature and hiking trails. Throughout our adventures, we have found some essential hiking tips & tricks to make the day easier for everyone. Plus some great hiking gear and essentials that will have you prepared for everything out on the trail. Check out these tips for hiking with kids, hiking gear, trail games and a bonus hiking checklist before your next family hiking adventure.
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Ultimate Guide to Hiking with Kids |Tips, Trail Games, & Hiking Gear
I will be honest with you, hiking with kids can be an amazing experience or filled with whiny kids you wish you left at home. That’s my mom truth for the day 🙂 The key to having an enjoyable day is being prepared. I have come up with these tips based on years of us hiking starting when the kids were really little to now having elementary school kids. Hopefully these hiking tips will help you have a memorable family day out.
- Bring snacks and drinks. This will help prevent hangry kids and give them a boost of energy.
- If there is a map available, get one for each kid. It will save a lot of fighting.
- Wear layers. Often it’s hot in the sun but cooler when walking in the woods.
- Find a hike that has things to keep their interest. For instance, a nature trail with signs about what they are looking at. Maybe attend a ranger-led nature talk and then look for those plants & bugs on your family hike.
- Make a Nature Scavenger Hunt. Another great way to keep the kids engaged is to bring a nature scavenger hunt. It will give the kids something to focus on besides how far they are walking. Here are some printable Nature Scavenger Hunts from Pinterest.
- Make sure to keep in mind how long it will take to get back when you decide how far to hike. Don’t hike until the kids are tired and then turn around or you will have very crabby kids or be carrying them back.
- Make up a whistle to call each other if anyone gets lost on the trail. Cell phones may not be working.
- Take a few stops along the way to let everyone rest and have a minute to look at the beautiful surroundings.
- Have patience and be flexible on your hike. I know this one can be hard but it will make all the difference in how enjoyable your day goes.
- Start out hiking on small local trails to get the kids use to hiking before moving up to a big National Park hike.
Related Article – Best National Parks in the USA with Kids
Hiking Gear and Essentials for Hiking with Kids
Now that you have all your hiking tips you need to figure out what to bring with you on a hike. There are a few hiking essentials we try to take with us on every hike, whether it’s a big hike or small hike. I’ve listed out below all the hiking gear we like to bring with to give you an idea of what you will need for your family hike.
Grab your Free Printable Hiking Checklist. Everything you need to remember for your family hike.
You can hike in regular sneakers but what we like about hiking shoes is they tend to be a little more sturdy on the bottom. This keeps you from feeling all the rocks and sticks you might walk over on the trail. A brand we are partial to is Merrell because of how durable they are for the kids. It’s crazy how tough kids can be on shoes. I would avoid wearing sandals or Keen type shoes because kids get rocks and wood chips stuck in them.
Depending on the trail you hike, your family could be out in the sun for long periods of time. Sunglasses and a sun hat are a must pack item for your hike. Plus don’t forget to apply sun block before you start out on your hike.
Related Article – 8 Top Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains National Park
You might encounter some mosquitoes and ticks on your hike. I would recommend putting on bug spray before you go on your hike. After the hike, make sure to check your head and child’s head and body for any ticks.
We tend to use bug spray with deet when we go on hikes and then just shower it off afterward because my son is a magnet for mosquitoes. Here are two options with the first one claiming to prevent ticks and contains deet. This is the one we usually use for hiking. The second one is a plant based repellent for mosquitoes and is deet free. Choose whichever is best for your family preference.
Kids Hiking Backpack & Parents Backpack
Before you start your hike, you need to figure out how you’re going to carry everything you need. If you are going on a longer hike, I like to give the kids a little backpack they can carry on their own filled with snacks and a water bottle. This will let you fill your backpack with everything else you need. Here’s a a cute one we like for the kids.
If you plan to hike somewhere warm, try a children’s hydration pack. It will hold water for them to drink out of a straw and still have room for a few snacks.
Hiking Backpack and Camel Pack
I like to find a backpack big enough to hold the things I need to bring but not too heavy that it hurts my back to carry. That is the key to a good hiking backpack. Try on a few at the store so you can feel the weight of the bag.
If you plan to take longer hikes or hikes in very warm weather, consider getting a Camelbak. A Camelbak has a straw and water container to allow you to drink and stay hydrated while you hike. We used this while hiking in Arizona and it made it so much easier to hike in the heat. A real game changer.
Another great way to beat the heat while you hike is a cooling towel. Our family uses these for hiking, baseball games, festivals and any outdoor events in the summer. It is amazing how quickly they can cool you down. Just wet them before you leave and they will be ready to go.
For shorter hikes, I love to use a fanny pack. It really saves my back from hurting on hikes. I am able to fit my phone, keys, and a few snacks. The cool one I found below even holds water bottles which frees your hands to help your kids on the hike.
First Aid Kit
It’s a good idea to bring a small first aid kit on the trail. I can’t even count the amount of times our kids have needed a band aid from tripping while hiking. Honestly, sometimes they don’t even need it but if I put one on, it’s amazing how quickly the crying stops and they can walk again. Here is a perfect small kit to throw in your backpack.
I like to throw a couple ponchos into my bag in case it rains. You don’t want to be stuck in a downpour when your a long walk from your car.
Baby Hiking Backpack
If you are hiking with a small child, I suggest you use a baby hiking backpack. Carrying a small child in your arms throughout a hike or trying to get them to walk will take away from your enjoyment of the hike. When the kids are in the backpack, they can look around and enjoy the hike with the rest of the family.
A big issue when heading out on a hiking trail is finding a bathroom. Most of the time when you are headed to a trail, there are only port-a-potties. This is why I always pack some anti-bacterial wipes. It’s also nice to have before the kids eat a snack on the trail.
Make sure to bring a water bottle for each member of the family on your hike. You will need it to keep hydrated. We love to use the Contigo brand of water bottles as they are durable and leak proof.
Here’s a children’s pack of water bottles.
Larger size water bottles for longer hikes.
Related Article – Shenandoah National Park – 7 Best Trails and Guide
Trail Games & Activities for Hiking with Kids
Keep the kids engaged while hiking with a hiking notebook. I like to find one that teaches them about things they will see in nature like plants, trees, birds, and animals plus a space to take notes or draw pictures. Here’s a cute one I found that the kids enjoyed. It’s best for ages 4-8 years old.
If you have older kids, this is a great notebook to use while they hike to write down everything they see. It comes with prompts on what to write and blank spaces.
Bring binoculars on the hike to see birds and other animals while you hike. This will let the kids take a look but not get too close. Plus it makes them really feel like a little explorer.
Let the kids get a closer look at different plants by bringing a Magnifying Glass. Kids will feel like a little explorer and get really engaged in your hike. The one I like below has a thick frame to help make it shatterproof when it inevitably gets dropped. I also like the easy to grip handle for younger kids.
Eye Spy Game
Have the kids use their magnifying glass and binoculars in a fun game of eye spy while you’re hiking. It will keep them occupied and having fun while you walk. This is also a great way to fill out your Nature Scavenger Hunt. Both games will make the hike a lot more enjoyable for the kids and for you.
Don’t forget to download your Free Printable Hiking Checklist to remember everything you need to bring.
National Park Hikes
Do you need some great places to hike with the kids? We love to take family vacations to National Parks and hike. Find out about some great hiking trails and awesome National Parks in my 9 Best National Parks in the USA with Kids. Some of our favorite parks to hike are the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah National Park, Acadia National Park and Cuyahoga Valley National Park. All these parks have easy and fun hikes that are perfect for the whole family. Plus amazing views!
Are you ready now to go hiking with kids? You have your hiking tips to have a smooth day and hiking gear to get you prepared for your day out with the kids. Plus all the entertainment from your trail games and activities. Do you have another great hiking tip? Please share with us all in the comments. I love to hear from my readers.
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