Here are my favorite Ten Trail-Tested Tips for Hiking with Children. For a more detailed discussion on the subject, take a look at my “Hike with Kids: The Essential Guide for Parent, Grandparents and Youth Leaders.”
1. Keep your children in sight at all times. That may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how fast kids can get off the trail.
2. Repeat and repeat again all instructions ranging from snack breaks to porta-potty locations.
3. Choose a hike with fairly modest elevation gains. Children prefer intimate settings, such as a little creek or a clump of boulders to those vast scenic panoramas favored by adults.
4. Feed the Troops. Begin with a nourishing breakfast. Carry plenty of quick-energy snack foods and offer them frequently. (By the time kids tell you’re they’re hungry, they’re often already cranky and out of energy and enthusiasm.)
5. Supplement The Ten Essentials with extra snack foods, whistles (in case you and your child become separated), a book or toy for the drive to and from the trailhead.
6. Check your child’s temperature. While you’d think that kids would tell you if they’re too cold or too hot, they usually don’t. Dress them in layers and be sure to add or subtract clothing in response to changing weather conditions.
7. Teach respect for nature. Enjoy but don’t disturb flowers, plants and animals. Environmental education is easy and fun on the trail, so be sure to pack a good trail guide or nature guidebook and visit park interpretive centers.
8. When children travel in groups, the kids motivate each other to go farther and faster. And there’s lots less whining.
9. If young spirits sag, try playing games to regain good humor and maintain that all-important forward progress up the trail. With younger children, “play dog;” that is to say, throw an imaginary stick to the next tree en route and have them fetch it. “One-two-three-jump” is another popular game. With a parent holding each hand the child hikes along one-two-three steps, then jumps as parents raise arms and swing the hopefully-no-longer reluctant little hiker into the air. I Spy is another favorite trail game: “I spy with my little eye something that is….(fill in the blank).
10. It’s much better for everyone to stop frequently and travel slowly than to try to make the kids go faster and then have to carry them. If parents know what kids can and can’t do, everyone has a great time on the trail.