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Less Whining, More Fun: 6 Tips for Hiking With Kids

See recent posts by Caroline Morse Teel

A family hike sounds so healthy and wholesome… until you hit the trail and the complaining starts. Make treks fun for the whole family by following these six simple tips for hiking with kids. 

Bribe Them With Snacks

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There are the healthy categories of snacks that you should pack for sustained energy (trail mix, peanut butter sandwiches, water, etc.), and then there are the treats you should hide in your bag and deploy as needed. Kids don’t want to climb the next steep hill? If there’s a candy bar waiting for them at the top, they might just sprint up. 

Let The Kids Help With Planning

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Kids like to feel a sense of ownership, and they’ll feel much more invested in a hike if they’ve done some (or all, depending on their age) of the planning. Let the kids pick the park or map out the trails you’ll take, and they’ll be much more excited about your hike. Younger kids can feel like part of the process if you give them three choices for hikes to vote on. 

Plan Something Fun For After

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Make a reservation at the family’s favorite restaurant for a celebratory post-hike dinner, decide to swing by an ice cream stand, or find a swimming hole to cool off in after the hike—and be sure to let everyone know of the plan. Having something to look forward to after finishing can make the hike fly by (and serve as motivation when the kids slow down—just remind them that they faster they get down, the faster they get to their reward). 

Have a Summit Tradition

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Hikes are a great time to put down the screens and focus on having some quality family time. So why not start a new family tradition by doing something special at the summit? Whether it’s packing a sweet treat that you’d never otherwise keep in the house to eat at the top, toasting with sodas, or posing for a funny family picture at the summit sign.

Bring Layers

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A dry and warm kid is a significantly happier and less whiny kid than one who’s cold or wet. Pack one more layer than you think you might need (like a windproof rain jacket on a sunny day). Especially if your hikes take you to a high elevation or above treeline, the top of the mountain can be significantly colder than the bottom. 

Play Games Along The Way

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Playing games can be a good distraction from tired legs and feet. Mental games (like ones you’d play on a long car ride) can easily be played while walking. I Spy, Twenty Questions, and Categories can make the time fly on tough stretches. Check out the Appalachian Mountain Club’s list of kid-friendly trail games for even more ideas. 

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