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Hiking is something you can do at most any age and stage of life. Grandparents who take an active role in introducing their grandkids to the great outdoors are heroes in my book. 

In  fact grandparents are very much a part of my new book, Hike with Kids: The Essential How-to Guide for Parents, Grandparents and Youth Leaders.

Grandparents can play a crucial role in getting kids on the trail, particularly in an era when parents are too busy to go hiking or disconnected from nature altogether. Older generations tend to be more comfortable in nature than younger ones and have more outdoor skills that they can teach kids.

(Parents: Tell YOUR parents to “take a hike”—with their grandkids of course!)

Grandparents have the opportunity for real quality time with their grandchildren. Away from phones, computers and video games, the two generations are likely to have some great walks and talks. Kids will bring things up on the trail in conversation with their grandparents that they won’t discuss back home with their parents.

Get started with a child-carrier-pack on your back. Faster than you think, the grandkids will be walking and excited about their hikes with grandpa and grandma.

By all means, if you have the means, sign up for one of those grandparent-grandkid hiking holidays. But grandparents need not spend big or travel far to take a hike. Find a state park or forest reserve nearby, inquire about the best trails for the grandkids in your charge, and off you go.

Make no mistake, taking a four-year old on a hike is challenge enough for college-aged camp counselors and 20-something and 30-something parents, much less 60-something and 70-something grandparents. But with the right planning—and especially with the right positive attitude—it can be done, and done in a way that adds up to a joyful and memorable experience for grandkids and grandparents alike.

Apart from the physical challenges that come from, well, getting older, the wisdom that comes from age gives grandparents certain advantages in taking kids on a hike.

Tips for Grandparents

• It’s the journey not the destination. Really, you don’t have to get to the top of the mountain. It’s about what you experience along the way.
• Slow and easy. Don’t push kids too long and too far and make sure to take sufficient rest stops and snack breaks.
• Yes-yes-yes not no-no-no. Be positive and avoid the don’t-do-this-don’t-do-that routine. Listen to them and be a little flexible about your time on the trail.
• Teachable moments. When opportunities arise to impart some wisdom about hiking or the natural world, take advantage of the opportunity. Just remember you’re a grandparent not their science teacher.
• Some challenge, please. A walk along a flat nature trail might be easy for you and the grandkids but not a very exciting adventure. Kids like climbing boulders, running up and down hills, splashing in creeks.

Hike on.

John McKinney

P.S. For more tips on enjoing the trail with your grandkids, check out Hike with Kids