Are you looking to spend more time outdoors hiking with kids? Family hikes can be so much fun but also stressful if you’re not prepared. Don’t worry I’ve got you covered with the ultimate tips for hiking with kids and the best hiking gear to bring along.
An outdoor adventure whether it be on a short trail or a longer trail is a great way to spend a day with your kids. Get them off electronics and focused on quality time together as a family.
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 and I’d love to share them with you.
Plus some great hiking gear 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 free printable hiking checklist before your next family hiking adventure.
This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If you choose to buy something using my link, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. For more information, see my disclaimer here.
Tips for Hiking with Kids & The Best Hiking Gear
Table of Contents
Tips for Hiking with Kids
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’s truth for the day 🙂
The key to having an enjoyable day is being prepared. All these tips are 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.
If this is your first family hike start out on an easy hike with the kids at a local forest preserve or State Park. See how long they last and then you can decide if you are ready for a longer hike. Google family-friendly hikes in your area to find a good place to start.
The first time might be a challenge but trust me it gets easier and more fun so don’t worry.
Snacks & Drinks
Make sure to pack lots of snacks and water. This will help prevent hangry kids and give them a boost of energy while you walk.
Trail mix and granola bars are easy to throw in your bag for a break along the trail. Plan to bring your own snacks as there is often nowhere to buy food near a trailhead.
It’s also a great excuse to take a break when your kid’s little legs get tired.
The temperatures can vary a lot on your hike from being in the sun in an open field to being covered by trees in a cool wooded area. The best thing to do is dress in layers.
So, make sure to grab a sweatshirt to wear and rain gear just in case. You could even leave a change of clothes in the car just in case you get wet on the hike.
Grab a Trail Map
Make sure to pick up a trail map at the ranger station or print one out before you go. Don’t rely on your phone in case you don’t have cell phone coverage on the trail. Getting lost with the kids would not be fun.
Often times there is a large trail map posted in the parking area too if you are unable to find a map.
Tip: Make sure to grab a map for each child so there is no fighting.
Make it Interesting
Find a hike that has things to keep your kids interested. For instance, a nature trail with signs about what they are looking at, small rock formations to climb, or changing terrain for more to view as you walk.
I usually check with the site AllTrails for tips and advice on local trails around the country.
Visitor Center or Nature Center
Try attending a ranger-led nature talk and then look for those plants & bugs on your family hike. Many of the parks have child-focused ranger talks that help keep kids attention.
The Visitor Center is a great place to learn more about the trails, local animals, and plants. Try attending a ranger-led nature talk and then look for those plants & bugs on your family hike. They can even show you local animal tracks the kids can search for on your hike.
At the visitor center, you will usually find restroom facilities, a parking lot, maps, picnic areas, and a small shop with food. Often the visitor center will be located at the beginning or end of the hike which makes it a great place to park your car.
Tip: Many of the parks have child-focused ranger talks that help keep kids attention.
Bring 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.
Grab our free printable Nature Scavenger Hunt.
Distance of the Hike
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.
Slow Your Pace
Do not expect kids to hike at the same pace as adults. Expect that it will take a lot longer to hike with your kids when you are looking at the length of a trail.
Use A Baby Backpack Hiking Carrier
If you have a baby or toddler going with you use a baby backpack carrier. It will allow your child to look around and enjoy the hike while riding on your back. This way you can go on a further hike without having to worry about your childing walking on the trail.
You can always take your toddler in and out so they get a chance to both walk and ride when they get tired. Make sure to find one that is lightweight and has a padded belt around your waist & shoulders.
We like the ClevrPlus backpack.
Start Out Early
Don’t start out on your family hike at the end of the day. That is when your kids will be tired and crabby. Set out early when they are still fresh and excited for the day.
Make up a whistle to call each other if anyone gets lost on the trail. Cell phones may not be working. Also, let your kids know what a ranger looks like to ask for help. Make sure to tell them to stay on a trail so they can be found easier.
Take in Your Surroundings
Take a few stops along the way to let everyone rest and have a minute to look at the beautiful surroundings. This is a great time to have a snack, take pictures and enjoy the amazing views.
This is the hardest and most important tip. Have patience and be flexible on your hike with the kids. I know this one can be challenging but it will make all the difference in how enjoyable your day goes. Just let things go and have a great hike.
Hike With Another Family
Have even more fun on your hike going with another family. You’ll be amazed how much further your kids will hike when they have a friend to distract them. Plus it’s fun for the adults to have a friend too (:
Start out hiking on small local trails to get the kids used to hiking before moving up to a big National Park hike. Visit your local state parks or forest preserves and get your kids excited about hiking. Then try one of our many amazing US National Parks.
Check out our TOP National Parks to See Before Your Kids Turn 18 and get inspired.
Now that you have all your tips for hiking with kids you’ll 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 a small hike.
Grab your Free Printable Hiking Checklist. Everything you need to remember for your family hike.
If you plan to camp read our KOA review with tips on using their facilities and what to expect.
Hiking Gear for Kids
Now the question is what is the best hiking gear to bring with you on your family hike. Here are some of our favorites things to use when we go hiking as a family.
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.
If you plan to hike to water you might want to have the kids wear water shoes. In the rivers and lakes, there tend to be a lot of rocks so it will help protect their feet.
We really like these CIOR Sports Aqua Athletic Shoes. They drain water easily but don’t have large open areas to let rocks or sticks in while you hike on the trails. Plus they have a tougher sole with rubber pods to help kids from slipping.
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 must-pack items for your hike. Plus don’t forget to apply sunblock before you start out on your hike.
A bonus on the kid’s hat is a neck flap for extra protection to keep off the ticks as you walk. It’s detachable so you can remove the flap too if your kids don’t like it.
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:
The first one Sportsman Repel claims to prevent ticks and contains DEET. This is the one we usually use for hiking.
The second one is Greenerways Organic plant-based repellent for mosquitoes and is DEET free. Choose whichever is best for your family’s preference.
Kids Hiking 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 small pack 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 one we like for the kid’s backpack.
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.
We are partial to the Camelbak brand as we have always found them to work well and last for years. Plus it comes in all different colors your kids will like.
Adult Hiking Backpack
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.
If you have time try on a few at a store so you can feel the weight of the bag. Then you can find the best deal online.
Here’s a super lightweight backpack to save your back on hikes.
If you plan to take longer hikes or hikes in very warm weather, consider getting an adult-size 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. The Camelbak was a real game-changer.
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. This cool Waterfly Fanny Pack even holds water bottles. A great way to free up your hands to help your kids on the hike.
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’ll be ready to go.
First Aid Kit
It’s a good idea to bring a travel-size first aid kit on the trail. I can’t even count the number 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. So be prepared with a small first aid kit like the one below it’s the perfect small kit to throw in a backpack.
I like to throw a couple of rain ponchos into my bag in case it rains. You don’t want to be stuck in a downpour when you’re a long walk from your car. Plus their super lightweight and easily fit in your backpack.
Baby Hiking Backpack
If you are hiking with a small child, I suggest you use a baby hiking backpack. Carrying a toddler 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.
Contigo Larger size water bottles for longer hikes or adults.
If you want to make sure your water stays cold use an insulated water bottle. The only issue with these is they tend to be heavier to carry.
Another great option is a collapsible water bottle to save space and weight in your backpack. Once you are done drinking roll it up and hang it off your backpack with a carabiner.
Related Article – Shenandoah National Park – 7 Best Trails and Guide
Trail Games & Activities for Hiking with Kids
Nature Scavenger Hunt
Keep the kids excited about your hike with a Nature Scavenger Hunt. Let them search for acorns, spider webs, bluebird, crooked sticks, and more fun items while hiking.
Make sure to grab our Free Printable Scavenger Hunt.
Keep the kids engaged while hiking with a hiking notebook. I like to find books that teach 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 called On the Nature Trail. It’s best for ages 4-8 years old.
If you have older kids, this recycled hiking journal is great 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 nature explorers and get really engaged in your hike.
The magnifying glass 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.
Learn about awesome hiking trails and our favorite National Parks in10 Best National Parks in the USA with Kids.
Check out our Favorite parks to hike or visit our National Parks page for more ideas.
- The Great Smoky Mountains
- Shenandoah National Park
- Acadia National Park,
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Devil’s Lake State Park – Wisconsin Dells
- Mirror Lake State Park – Wisconsin Dells
All of these parks have easy and fun hikes that are perfect for the whole family. Plus unforgettable views!
Are you ready now to go hiking with kids? You have your tips for hiking with kids 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 it with us all in the comments. I love to hear from my readers.
Did you enjoy this article? Then sign up for the Happy Mom Hacks weekly newsletter and never miss a new article again.
You’ll become part of the Happy Mom Hacks community where we strive to find ways to make a mom’s life easier with fun family travel destinations, easy family meals, household hacks, kids activities, and more.
Bonus you get a free family travel packing list when you sign up.
Don’t forget to Pin this!
Family Travel Destinations
- Epic National Parks to Visit Before Your Kids Turn 18
- Shenandoah Valley Virginia – Best Things to Do with Kids
- Luray Cavern Virginia – An Amazing Cave You Have to See
- 10 Best Weekend Getaways in the Midwest for Families
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Top Things to Do with Kids
- Best Guide to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio
- 10 Fun Free Things to Do in Naples Florida with Kids
- Top 10 Things to Do in Door County Wisconsin for Families
- Ultimate Guide to Chicago Attractions with Kids
- 10 Awesome Things to Do in Wilmington NC
Family Travel Gadgets & Tips
- 15 Best Road Trip Games for Kids at the Dollar Store
- 20 Tips to Make Traveling with Kids Enjoyable
- 5 Best Road Trip Apps
- 11 Amazon Road Trip Games & Travel Accessories for Kids
- Easiest Money-Saving Tips for Family Vacation
- 20 Beach Hacks to Survive a Family Beach Day
- 40 Things to Do With Kids on Staycation