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Category: Character
Category: Education
Category: Health
Category: Leisure

Teach Your Child to Hike

Teaching your child to hike can mean fun and great exercise for the whole family. Children (and big people too) need to be outdoors, where the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feel of nature can be experienced first hand.

Before hiking with your child, here are some important tips:

  • Start with known terrain and short distances. Scout out good trails and safe stopping points.
  • Prepare for frequent stops. Every 15 minutes for very young children.
  • Bring enough water and snack items.
  • Make sure you have first aid basics- at the least antiseptic, band aids, some cotton gauze, tissues or toilet paper in a zip lock bag, insect repellent and sunscreen.
  • Wear proper footgear and high socks or long pants.
  • Wear bight colored clothing.
  • Issue whistles to all hikers. Instruct them on how and in what instances to use a whistle.
  • Use a baby sling or carrier for non-walkers.
  • Prepare your child in advance so they know you won’t be collecting or picking anything on your hike.
  • Carry out everything you bring in. Take a plastic bag for garbage.
  • Stay clear of steep overhangs and cliffs. Don’t take chances near water.
  • Stay on a marked trail and always let someone know where you will be, such as a park ranger or guide.

These hiking tips will help you have a safe and enjoyable time.


Parents can enjoy hiking with their baby or very young child. Starting off with a specific goal in terms of time and distance will help you best plan for the hike. Unless you are an experienced hiker, you may want to hike the area first or go to a park or hiking area that would be considered a beginner course.

Babies enjoy being held and walked in a baby carrier. Many will snooze through the whole hike! Bring a small blanket to sit on if you need to nurse or feed the baby. Small snacks like Cheerios or teething biscuits can be carried in a plastic zip lock bag.

Sunscreen and a hat or visor will protect your youngster from the sun. Bring enough water, but travel relatively light. As you begin to extend the distance of your hikes, you may want to buy a good hiking pack with several compartments.

Adults should always hike with another adult. Both should carry whistles, matches, a red bandana and a hiking knife with several kinds of blades, such as a Swiss Army knife.

Remembering to be safe and leisurely when your child is still little will make hiking a lot more fun.

Main points to address:

  • Always carry basic first aid supplies, insect repellent and sunscreen.
  • Use a baby sling or carrier to free arms.
  • Start out “short and sweet” in known terrain. Build up speed and distance gradually.

Grades K-3rd

Younger school age children love the idea of hiking. Their curiosity with the natural world will become very evident during outings. Plan your hike around frequent stops to examine and appreciate what you come across.

Children this age need to be instructed on safety and conservation rules. They must never leave the trail or run off away from you. They are too young to anticipate being hurt or getting lost. Always keep them under your direct supervision. Allow no running on the trail.

Your child may want to carry something into the woods. A good choice is something that leaves hands free. Binoculars, a water canteen, or a compass on a strap are good choices. Heavy or awkward items will engender complaining and you will end up carrying them!

Travel light. Take no unnecessary items, such as toys. Dress in layers to account for changes in temperature. Keep distances for 5 and 6 year olds at 1 to 2 miles, or less than 2 hours at first. As they get older, you can extend time and distance. You may want to put the slowest hiker first and set your pace to their speed.

Teach your child to respect the creatures and plants they encounter by having a “no keep” policy. Let them know that your hike should not disturb or alter the environment.

Main points to address:

  • Instruct your child on hiking safety and conservation rules.
  • Keep children under your direct supervision. Do not leave the trail.
  • Gradually extend the time and distance of your hikes.

Grades 4-6th

Older children, whether they are veteran hikers or not, are a joy in the woods. They do not tire as easily and are naturally a little more aware of their surroundings, both the wonders and the potential dangers.

This age child can carry and operate a camera. They may even like to bring a sketchbook to record some of their findings during breaks. They are also more able to carry a knapsack, fanny pack or lightweight hiking pack.

Nine to twelve year olds are able to use a compass if instructed. They also should be taught how to orient themselves using the sun as a reference.

Longer hikes are possible and enjoyable at this age. Kids like to bring along a friend to share the experience with. Camping overnight with this age child can be fun.

There are a number of pocket size field guides of birds, trees and wildflowers that your child might enjoy. Some children become quite able to identify what they see in the woods.

Keep snacks healthy. If you are hiking for 3 or more hours, plan on hydrating often and eating something substantial, as you’ll burn lots of calories.

Most of all, have fun. Be flexible and enjoy a leisurely pace. The times you spend hiking together as a family may be among your child’s most treasured memories!

Main points to address:

  • Older children can go longer distances without tiring.
  • A compass, camera, field guide and a friend are great to take along.
  • Camping is a natural extension of hiking.

Resources that can help you in your venture include:

Posted in Leisure.

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