Tips for hiking with kids

Jun 17, 2021
For those of you with kids, this week heralds the arrival of summer. Like many Central Oregon parents, one of my favorite outdoor activities is taking some summer hikes with my kids. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years to plan a successful hiking trip with your kids—especially the small ones.

by Sarah Mowry

School’s out for the summer (I hope you sang that in your best Alice Cooper rock voice)! For those of you with kids, this week heralds the arrival of summer—that precious window of time chock full of summer camps, playing outside, and swimming in our lakes and rivers. Like many Central Oregon parents, one of my favorite outdoor activities is taking some summer hikes with my kids. Though we hike together year round, we all cherish those summertime hikes with more time to linger, swim, and enjoy warm days.

Hit the trail with your kids this summer! Photo: Land Trust.
Hit the trail with your kids this summer! Photo: Land Trust.
I’ve been hiking with my kids since they were babies. First in carriers, then holding the hands of toddlers, shorter hikes with kindergartners, and now backpacking with my almost (gasp) teenagers. While my kids love being outside, I wouldn’t say they both LOVE hiking. In true sibling fashion, one loves it and will hike all day, the other likens it to torture. Yes, I know, I should have probably given up long ago, but last summer we had an epiphany which made me think the last 11 years of foot dragging have been worth it! After hiking our way up to the viewpoint on Tam MacArthur Rim, my 10 year old turned to me in awe of the view and said, “is this why you go hiking mom?” Indeed, there is so much more to hiking than the first (and sometimes only!) ½ mile of trail!

So, if you are in the throes of toddler land or have young kiddos, hang in there fellow parents! You too can get there with your kids—even the reluctant ones. Though I’m by no means an expert on hiking with kids—believe me we’ve had plenty of melt downs and forgotten shoes—here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years to plan a successful hiking trip with your kids—especially the small ones:

  • Choose your route wisely. One of the keys to a successful hike with younger kids is finding a hike that is easy for them. Think low mileage, little uphill, with lots of pint-size rewards. Luckily, here in Central Oregon, we have a hordes of trails to choose from and entire books/resources dedicated to hiking with kids. Adjust your expectations and embrace all those 1-2 mile hikes, and one last bit of advice: exercise first. Ok this may seem obvious, but I definitely tried to have my early hikes with my kids do double duty. Who has time to go hiking and work out? Not this mom. However, it rarely worked! It meant I was intent on longer and farther, and the kids not so much!

  • Chocolate…err…supplies. Prep for your hike with lots of extras. Extra water, extra snacks, first aid (band aids….lots of those!), extra layers, and of course, chocolate. That way you are ready when someone runs out of steam, spills their water, gets cold, or just needs a pick me up. I fully embrace bribery and had a standing “M&M fuel station” policy for our hikes for many years. This is probably on some “what not to do” parent list, but hey, it got us a little farther down the trail.

  • Just add water. It’s summer! Adding water fun to your hike will help everyone enjoy the hike even more. Hikes along creeks or rivers offer lots of opportunities for toe dipping, waterfalls offer cooling mist, and lakes offer the ultimate space for cannon ball practice. Don’t forget those smaller creeks in the region that are perfect for wading or floating tiny, fairy-sized rafts down!

  • Meander. As adults, I think we often forget that the journey is just as important as the destination for your hike. When hiking with kids, taking the time to explore is key to your success. Let your kids lead and be the ones to spot and check out something interesting. Kids are great explorers and see so much more than we adults do! Take the time to smell the lovely vanilla/butterscotch scent of the ponderosa pine, watch the ants march in and out of their mound, try to get a butterfly to land on your nose (they like the salt!), these are the experiences that make memories.

  • Make it fun! Finally, fun should be a key element in your hike plan. If we really want our kids to love hiking, love the outdoors (and hopefully help care for it one day), we want them to have an enjoyable time. Incorporate games as you go, take the time to explore (see above), skip rocks, sing songs, and whistle with grass. Bring butterfly nets, bug jars and hand lenses! Our favorite trail games: scavenger hunts and Pooh sticks!

Now that school is out, take some time this summer to hike with your kids. Hiking (or meandering!) with kids can be a fun way for the whole family to connect with the natural world. The more we connect our kids with nature, the more likely they are to grow into awesome teens and adults who want to help care for the planet into the future. We need more of those!


This story first appeared in the Source Weekly.


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