1. Make sure you pack plenty of snacks for the trail.
I can't tell you how important this first tip is. Kids get hungry. Heck, adults get hungry too. If you don't have multiple snacks with you, you may find that your hike is much shorter than you wanted it to be. There are so many great, quick snack ideas for the trail. I'll get a better list together in a future post, but for some quick ideas think trail mix (make your own and be creative!), dried fruit, fresh fruit, dried cereal, granola bars, cereal bars, cheese sticks,etc.)
2. Plan to make multiple stops.
Kids go at their own pace and they need more time to complete a hike then we do as adults. Recognize that and plan it into your hiking time. When my husband and I are researching which hike to take, we'll look at the description to see if we can envision good places to stop and take a break. Ponds, waterfalls, views... these are all good places to stop and let the kids take a break for a minute.
3. Find activities or create games to make hiking fun.
Creating some activities or games to hold the interest of your child on the hike can not only buy you extra time to hike a little more of the trail, but it can also make the experience more fun for everyone. There are so many ways to have fun with your kids while hiking. Try finding the alphabet within your surroundings or sing songs while you hike. Assign a color to each child and see how many times they can spot their color along the trail. Have a trail scavenger hunt where you create a list of items to find along the trail - certain flowers, birds, features, etc and see who can complete their list. Find and decorate your own walking stick before heading out on the trail. Most of all, just have fun!
4. Bring a carrier for backup.
We have a five year old a four year old and a one year old. It's a given that the one year old will ride in a back pack. Up through this past summer, we also brought a carrier for our then 3.5 year old as well. We would always let him start walking and make several stops, but if he got too tired, the carrier was there for him to take a break. I realize that a 3.5 year old is heavy, so either way, a hike will more than likely be a bit shorter than it would be if your children were babies or of the older crowd, but having a carrier at that age, can definitely get you farther on the trail and can be a lifesaver if you get halfway out on the trail only to have your child proclaim that he is done hiking and can't walk another step (been there done that.).
5. Be prepared to not go as far as you planned.
Don't be disappointed if you don't get to hike as long as you were hoping. This was such a tough one for me the first few times we went out hiking with our children. I'd get all excited about a hike and darn if I wasn't going to finish it. But as parents we have to remember that hiking is a skill and kids need to learn how to hike for longer stints. Don't get frustrated if you don't get as far as you'd like the first time. Keep it fun, keep trying, and your kids will keep wanting to go out and hike more. You'll be instilling a love of the outdoors in your children and before you know it, you'll be working to keep up with them!
6. Enjoy the Journey!
Prepare yourself for the fact that your hike will most likely not be as long, nor will it be as fast. Small children are just that, small. Instead of looking at this as a detriment, look at it as an opportunity to explore your outdoor surroundings. Sometimes as adults we focus more getting to the finish line than on the journey we take to get there. One of the best parts of having children is their ability to help us slow down and smell the roses. While I do miss my longer hikes, I've learned to find the beauty in seeing the outdoors through my children's eyes and I know they are better for it!
Hiking with our three year old in the pack