How to Start Family Hiking: you can do it!

Have you ever thought about family hiking but wondered: how do you get our kids outside and on a trail? How old, how far? How can you enjoy the outdoors as a family? Let’s talk it out!

Jenn Bakos Photography

Get the right mind set for family hiking:

If you’ve read my post on exploring nature with your children then you know YOU are the key to your whole family enjoying the hiking experience. Check out my post here for some great background! It’s a long one but it will help get you in the right mindset and give you the language so you can connect and get the most out of family hiking and nature exploring.

The ideal mindset for family hiking: Be Calm, Curious and ready to BRING THE JOY.

Mother with daughter using rope swing while on a family hike
Jenn Bakos Photography

Decide your goal for family hiking

Decide from the start what your goal is.

You might think: my goal is to hike the whole trail! Sounds great right? NO! Thats a trap! I HIGHLY recommend that your goal be to enjoy nature time with your family. Take the pressure off of them and yourself.  Release your own need to complete the hike and make the goal be connecting with your children in nature. That way no matter what happens you can pat yourself on the back and say good job I did it!

When you do actually have to finish:

Now, this is easy if you are doing an out and pack trail. You just turn around anytime you want. However, if you get halfway through a loop trail you do eventually need to finish. But, by making the goal hiking with your family and not finishing. You can take all the time in world. Stop for lunch 4 times, listen to the bird songs, climb some rocks and trees. Take your time! No rushing kids along saying we have to finish. Plop yourself right on the ground and rest your own legs with them and don’t forget to eat a snack yourself. Wave at anybody else walking by and keep doing you.

You pick the location, they pick the pace/ activity

Again, take the pressure off! If they don’t want to leave the trailhead then don’t. We’ve been on many a hike that we didn’t leave the picnic area. We had our snacks, jumped off the picnic tables, climbed the nearby rocks and they loved it. That was what they wanted to do that day, so that is what we enjoyed. When you push, kids push back and it’s not enjoyable for anybody. The goal is to continue to want to go out. So let go of the need to finish (or even start) the trail. If you get there and your kid wants to run back and forth over a bridge or throw rocks into a stream then do it. If they enjoy the time then they will want to go again. Maybe next time you’ll do the trail.

For my adults and kids that are worried about family hiking:

It takes a special parent to parent a worrying child…it is a lot! Lots of time, emotional energy, if you have one, then you KNOW! Now, you could also be a parent that worries, and if you are, then hats off to you because you are BRAVE! Brave for being here, brave for trying, brave for waking up every day to the unknown wildness of kids.

First check out my last post on nature time, this has some tips too (post here).

So now to the point.

Step 1: talk it out

You or your child are worried about starting a hike. So how do you start? The biggest thing for kids that worry is preparing them ahead of time. Let them know that you are trying something new, and what to expect: In two days we are going to do something new together, we are going to go on a hike. Its like a walk, but it will be in the woods. We will see trees, and leaves and there might be a bridge. Let them ask questions and talk it out. Taylor your description for the hike you’ve picked.

Step 2: Investigate

Now if actually doing the hike day one feels super overwhelming for either of you, then don’t hike. Just investigating the area. Drive there and look around, sit in your car, open your windows, get out and walk around the parking lot and the trail head if you feel comfortable. See what it looks like, sounds like, smells like. Talk about those things. Do that as many times as you want. You can investigate different areas too if you want. Then, when you feel ready, engage your kids with “I wonder” prompts. “I wonder what the trail looks like after that bend?”.

Step 3: Start the hike

Ok, you’ve investigated, you’ve talked it out and together decided the time is now. Scared or not, you’re ready (maybe, hopefully…). Kidding, you got this! Your goal is to enjoy the time with your kids so if you just investigate for one more day but enjoyed the time, then you succeeded …good job! So, now ask your wonder questions and start walking. You know the parking lot, you know where the trail head is (thank you to investigating). Take some steps and see how it feels. See it, smell it, hear it, feel it. Use all those senses, and encourage your kids to as well. You don’t have to hike far, just start it and experience it. Go farther as you feel ready.

graphic with the steps to hike with anxious kids, various pictures of family hiking
photos by Jenn Bakos Photography

Ok Lets answer some family hiking questions!

Hiking with Baby Answers

At what age can you hike with a baby?

4 weeks for small walks or 4 months for trails. Babies are being carried so really this depends on your comfort level and ability to carry them. Make sure you have a carrier that is comfortable for both of you and that if they do not have neck control that the carrier will support their neck.

How long can you hike with a baby?

This depends on your comfort level with hiking and ability to carry a baby and their gear. Most young babies are content to be carried for long hikes as long as you are able to stop, feed and change them as needed. Once you hit about 9-12 months (depending on your baby), they will want to be a little more independent and may not be as content to be held the whole time. So you will need to plan in stops for them to stretch their legs and explore frequently.

How do you carry a baby while hiking?

The best baby carrier depends on age. For babies under 4 months old you will need one that has good neck support for them and they do best in a carrier that snuggles them close to you. For babies 4 months to 1.5 years a multiway carrier that can go front or backpack style is best and most versatile. We always liked the ergo baby carrier as a simply way to go and can work in everyday life too. You can also get a hiking backpack which has the huge benefit that you can take it off and the baby can sit in it while its on the ground. So it also acts like a baby seat. This is especially nice for longer hikes. Although these come with the con of weighing more.

mother hiking with two kids carrying daughter on shoulders pointing
Jenn Bakos Photography

Hiking with Toddlers Answers

Can you take a 2 year old hiking?

Yes! 2 years old is a great time to start hiking. At this age they can really start participating in the adventure. Make sure to keep it age appropriate and be ready to carry them for leg breaks. Don’t be afraid to pick them up when they need it. That takes some of the pressure off them and helps them feel more in control which is very important for toddlers. It also lets them enjoy the experience, which eventually leads to them being able to go longer distances because they aren’t dreading hiking. Forcing them to go the whole way leads to resistance and then nobody is having fun.

How far can a 2 year old hike?

1 mile is the ideal length for toddlers. Then increase the distance from there as they are ready. It will also depend on your ability to carry them. If you have one kid and you are able to carry them for a bit then you can safely go on a longer trail and plan to give them leg breaks. This is harder with two kids.

How to hike with multiple kids:

Hiking with multiple kids and one adult is a boss move! I recommend going on a shorter but interesting trail. The less distance means less kids will need a leg break, and the more interesting means everybody will stay entertained (hopefully). So interesting things for kids can include: streams/rivers, bridges, rocks to climb and jump off or animals/plants. Once you start hiking with your little group you will get a feel for what each can do. I have two so when we go on longer trails (more than 1 mile), I know they will both need a leg break and I’ll have to alternate which I carry. I also plan for frequent stops along the trail when something interests the kids. Pushing them and hurrying them along the trail makes for a miserable experience for all involved. mother on family hiking carrying two kids

Do kids need hiking shoes or gear?

No. Don’t let gear be your barrier to getting out on a trail. Nature time is the priority.
However, gear can make nature time last longer and be more enjoyable. Cheaper sneakers often don’t have quality treads and wear out quickly; this might lead to your child slipping more or not being able to climb steep rocks.
So if you want to be more adventurous I would recommend some gear (check out my article on all my gear recommendations here. We get our kids 3 quality shoes: adventure sandals, hiking shoes with strong treads and warm waterproof boots, and that’s it (for the year).
Now, if you have an atypical kid like mine, they could do a whole hike in bare feet. We recently hiked 3 miles in Bryce Canyon and my son did it barefoot to the surprise of the other hikers. We had his shoes, but he picked no shoes so we went with it.

Don’t forget the return trip

If you get halfway through a loop trail you do need to get back to your car! So be careful to not use up all their sense of adventure halfway through the trail. This is why I like the 1-2 mile trail for toddlers (I actually think babies are easier to hike longer with). We go at their pace and enjoy the experience. It can take us 2-3 hours to do a short trail. That is a trail done to its fullest!

mother holding child hiking through woods with son running ahead
Jenn Bakos Photography

You got this!

Just follow your child’s lead, and listen for their cues. Even babies can tell you when they are hungry or uncomfortable. Don’t ignore those cues. Never be afraid to head back early if you feel they are ready. This is a lesson my mom taught me, head home while you are still having fun. That way your little group will be excited for their next adventure!

Comment below on how it goes! Did your kids surprise you at all?

Post Disclaimer

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this article should be construed as medical advice.  Consult you health care provider for your individual nutritional and medical needs.  The opinions are strictly those of the author and are not necessarily those of any professional group or other individual

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