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Growing up, I hiked a lot. I spent a lot of time in nature, exploring the woods near my grandfather’s cabin, on organized hikes with my Girl Scout Troop, and even longer day hikes with extended family members. When I had kids, I knew that instilling a love of nature and the quiet solitude of the woods in my boys needed to be an important priority in my parenting.
Why Should You Go Hiking With Kids?
I love hiking and I want my kids to love it too. That’s my main motivation for taking them hiking. It’s a hobby we can do together, no matter how old they get. Plus, since I’ve been hiking and camping my entire life it’s second nature to me. I knew if I wanted them to feel the same I’d have to start taking them hiking (and camping) from an early age.
Hiking exposes you to new environments and takes you outside of your comfort zone, even if it’s just a walk in the woods at a nearby park. Longer hikes test your endurance and persistence.
But those aren’t the only benefits. Hiking has many health benefits as well. This infographic from rollingfox.com shows 11 of them.
Plus, according to this article on www.goodhiker.com, kids get many of the same health benefits as adults do from hiking, including:
- Improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness
- Better bone health
- Less chance of becoming overweight
- Less chance of developing risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
- Possibly reduced risk of depression and feeling less stress, more ready to learn in school
- Sleeping better at night
When Can I Start Hiking With Kids?
Even babies can come along on your hiking adventures! If you enjoy hiking, I don’t think it’s ever too soon to start. You’ll just need a great baby carrier, or if you’re kids are walking- just start slow.
For our first hike without a carrier or stroller my kids were 3 & 1. We kept it a really short distance and allowed an unspecified amount of time to slow down and explore. My 1 year old even found a box turtle on the trail that my 3 year old walked right past.
Tips for Hiking With Kids
I remember our first hike with my youngest in a baby carrier and my oldest walking. I hesitated on taking the longer, 3 mile route, but a friend came along with her 3 older boys and assured me it would be fine. With my youngest in my backpack carrier we started off and even with taking breaks to stop and eat, my oldest was completely done by 2 miles. He couldn’t walk any more. His legs were literally giving out on him.
What’s a mom to do when you’re 2 miles into a 3 mile hike and your 2.5 year old physically can’t go any farther? You hoist that kid up on your shoulders and you put one foot in front of the other, at a snail’s pace, until you get back to your car.
Yes, I literally carried both my kids for a least a mile. I don’t know how.
Take it from me, when hiking with little kids, don’t plan on getting very far or going very fast. Let them climb on fallen trees and explore just off the trail. Let them take their time. Hiking with kids is about the journey, not the destination. At least at first.
More ideas to enjoy hiking with kids
- Make sure you pack lots of water and snacks.
- Take breaks often.
- Start off close to home.
- Keep it interesting by looking for geocaches, or for older kids have a destination in mind.
- Turn your hike into a scavenger hunt for colors, shapes, or natural objects.
- Be prepared to abandon the destination if necessary and stay in touch with your kids needs as you go at their pace. It’s ok if you’re not getting a good workout from the hike at first. It’s more about enjoying the time exploring together.
Need some inspiration for places to hike? Check out this list of 7 Maryland Hikes Perfect for Families with young kids.