The author's daughter hiking with kids during one of their family hikes

Hiking with Kids (27 Practical Tips from an Outdoors Mom)

I’m a mom of four and a Girl Scout leader that loves hiking with kids. It’s a great, cheap way to get children to experience the natural world! 

I live in Colorado, which practically demands that you get outside, hike, and admire its beauty. But regardless of where you live, these tips for hiking with children apply. 

This guide shares advice for every age and experience level, and comes from decades of my personal experiences. I’ll share what to pack, what to do on the trails, and how to set the tone for kids to enjoy hiking! 

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27 Tips for Hiking with Kids

#1: They’re Not Too Young

The author and her kid on her back during their hike
Hike when they’re little, even if they need a ride sometimes!

Honestly, I started hiking with kids when mine were babies because I needed to get out of the house. As soon as you can get your baby in a front carrier (assuming you have no health restrictions), you can hike! I think the sooner you establish that hiking is one of your family activities, the better. 

#2: Get A Quality Baby Backpack

When kids have outgrown the front carrier, you’re going to want a good-quality backpack to carry them in. You’ll want it to have room for your child, plus an extra pouch for snacks, water bottles, sunscreen, and essentials.

You’ll also want to make sure that not only is it comfortable for your child, but it’s also comfortable for you! Make sure the weight of the pack rests on your hips, not your back. Also, opt for a sunshade that snaps over your child.

👉 Bonus Tip: The Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier is a great option, or try this more budget-friendly pick!

#3: Go Early

A little kid smiling for a photo during a morning hike
Everyone’s happy in the mornings!

Kids tend to be better rested and able to tackle things earlier in the day. You may also avoid crowds and heat by heading out early. As a bonus, if you go hiking with kids in the morning, everyone can nap in the afternoon!

#4: Take Family Hikes on Vacation

The author's family during their hike in Hawaii
Hiking in Hawaii

Hitting the best hiking trails on trips is a great, inexpensive way to experience new places! It also helps your kids to see that this is something your whole family does for fun. 

For more travel advice, see my full list of 50+ tips for family travel!

#5: Start Small

Start with a short hike or walk, on a flat trail if possible. You can work your way up to longer hikes as kids get used to being outdoors and build their stamina. 

#6: Adapt To Their Hiking Style

The author's daughter with the overlooking view from Loveland Pass
On this hike at Loveland Pass, we varied between slow and fast

Most kids don’t hike like adults! Adults take the trail at pretty much the same pace, steady to the end. Kids run in short bursts and then demand a break to rest. 

If your kid operates like that, work with them. Set a point a short distance down the trail like a rock or tree, let them run, and have them wait for you at that spot. 

#7: Have Fun!

A drawing of the author's kid telling what they saw during their hike
A journal and drawings of “stuf we saw” on our hike!

Pass the time with kids hiking by singing hiking songs or telling stories. If there’s a visitor center, see if there are activities they can do on the trail. Buy or make a nature journal to bring along and record what they see. Play hiking games like “I Spy” or follow a scavenger hunt.

We also like to take rocks and sticks along the trail and leave them in the shapes of faces on the ground for other hikers to find. We find it amusing.

#8: Take Lots of Breaks

Kids laying down on the ground to take a break during a hike
Laying down in the middle of the trail is a subtle indication that kids may need a break!

Kids will need breaks for several reasons. Of course, sometimes they’re tired! They may need a drink of water. But they may also be exploring. 

Let them stop and watch a bug crawl across the trail or investigate a flower near the trail. If it’s allowed, let them climb rocks or trees near the trail. 

#9: Bring Plenty of Snacks

The author's kid smiling for a photo during their break at the Mt. Falcon Park trail
Stopping for a snack break and puppy snuggles on a trail at Mt. Falcon Park in Colorado

Bring plenty of protein-packed snacks to fuel kids hiking! You may also want to pack a few treats to hand out along the way. 

👉 Bonus Tip: If you’re hiking in Colorado, we rounded up some kid-friendly hikes near Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs!

#10: Also Bring Plenty of Water

You can have kids carry kid-sized Camelbacks full of water, or get everyone their own water bottle. But make sure there’s plenty of water for everyone! 

#11: Know Your Environment

A little kid smiling for a photo during a hike with his family
When my kids were little, I had them stick close by!

My kids loved running ahead of me on the trails, but we live in mountain lion territory! We also have rattlesnakes and bears. When we hiked in the Colorado mountains, I needed the kids to stick near me to avoid predators and snakebites. Other environments have different dangers or none at all, so just know your local risks when hiking.  

#12: Get Kids Their Own Packs

As soon as kids can carry a small pack, let them! It lightens the load for you, and young kids love the responsibility of carrying their own snacks and water. 

#13: Don’t Worry About Finishing a Hiking Trail

The author with her daughter smiling for a photo with the view from the Loveland Pass
We went from not finishing short, kid-friendly trails to longer hikes and eventually, hiking a 13,000-foot mountain!

When kids are really young, it’s more about getting out of the house and introducing them to the great outdoors than about finishing a great hike. We’ve had days where we didn’t make it past the bathrooms near the parking lot. That’s not a wasted trip! It’s all training for the next hike…and the next…

#14: Get Kids The Right Hiking Gear

The author's family during their hike at the Hanging Lake
Hiking to Hanging Lake would have been miserable with bad footwear

Good-quality hiking boots or sneakers are going to make a huge difference in how happy a kid is while hiking! You can look for gently-used hiking boots online and at resale shops if you’re trying to keep costs down. 

#15: Dress Them In Layers

The author's daughter holding their dog leash during a winter hike
Layers are important on winter and spring hikes in the snow

This is especially important if you’re hiking in cold weather! Have plenty of layers for kids to put on and take off as they get hot while exercising or cold while resting. 

#16: Pick Hikes with Interesting Sights

View of two kids sitting in front of an old resort in Interlaken
The trail to Interlaken Resort near Leadville, Colorado has historic buildings to explore

Choose fun hikes with waterfalls to see, bridges to cross, or rocks to climb. Hikes that begin or end at a nature center are fun, and kids can learn more about what they’re seeing outdoors. I find kids are a lot more motivated if there’s something interesting to look at while we’re hiking.

#17: Do The Same Hike in Different Seasons

The author holding a dog leash with her daughter during a hike
It’s amazing how much a trail can change with the seasons!

Have your children take or draw pictures while on a hike, then come back to it later in the year. Talk about what looks different. Are there new animals out, or are some asleep that were out earlier? Do the trees look the same? 

#18: Pick Well-Defined Trails

The author's kids during their hike in Zion National Park
Hiking at Zion National Park

As the kids get older, you may all become skilled in orienteering. But when you’re on a family hike with young children, it’s much more manageable to stick to an established hiking trail with trail markers. You’re less likely to get lost. Also, hikers with short little legs will have an easier time on a smoother trail. 

#19: Put The Slowest Hiker First

This is especially useful when you’re hiking with a group of kids! Usually, the more experienced hikers want to lead the way, and slower hikers end up at the back. If you put the slower hikers first, no one gets left behind. I’ve also noticed that some slower walkers pick up the pace when they get to be in charge!

#20: Say Yes When You Can

A little boy soaked in water during their hike
That kid’s about to be soaked!

We’ve been on several hikes where we encounter streams that are perfect for wading. This always leads to everyone getting soaking wet. 

My first instinct is always to veto the water because it’s much easier for me. But some of our happiest memories of kids hiking come when we make time for the unexpected. Let them get wet. Stop for ice cream on the way home. It’s okay to loosen the rules a bit sometimes. 

#21: Pack The 10 Essentials for Hiking

You may not always need every one of the 10 essentials on every hike. However, we have them all rounded up and in one spot so we can grab them easily when we need them. 

You’ll definitely want a water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, rain gear, a safety whistle, and a small first aid kit!

For more on what to pack, see my full list of essentials for hiking.

#22: Don’t Plan Anything Big After a Hike

Little kids sitting at the back of the car after their hike
Don’t plan anything more strenuous than some food and a nap!

A good hike is probably going to leave the kids — and you! — exhausted afterward. You might all want a nap. Don’t plan anything that requires a lot of energy or focus afterward…let everyone have some downtime. 

#23: Be Ready To Try Hiking Another Time

Some days, things just aren’t clicking. Someone is fussy or gets a small scrape, or has shoes that are uncomfortable. It’s okay to recognize that this is not your day for a hike. 

Enjoy the drive there, maybe sit at a picnic table for a bit, and enjoy the drive back home again. You can always try on another day.  

🥾 Read Next: Best Hiking Backpacks (Reviewed & Tested)

#24: Have Kids Pick The Hike

Kids climbing a boulder under the clear blue sky
Kids like having a say in where they’re going

Let your children be in charge of where you go! They’ll love the authority, and they might be more invested in the outing if they get to pick. If you have more than one child, have them take turns picking where to go. And honestly, sometimes, kids pick the best hikes!

👉 Pro Tip: If you’re not sure how to go about finding local hikes, check out AllTrails. It allows you to filter trail length, elevation gain, attractions like waterfalls and caves, and more! 

#25: Keep a Towel in The Car

I have used the towel in my car for so many things while hiking with kids! It serves as a picnic blanket. It’s a spot for muddy shoes after a spring hike. It goes on the seat after the kids get soaking wet playing in a river. It’s even been used as a blanket by cold children. 

Just have a car towel. You won’t regret it.

#26: Get in the Pictures

A family picture of the author during their hike
The parents made it in the shot!

This goes for any outing with kids, really! We parents are great at taking pictures of our adorable children. We’re considerably less good at making sure we’re in those pictures! 

Take a selfie with the whole family or ask a fellow hiker to take a picture. If you want to get a little more elaborate, I recently got this tripod and iPhone adapter and I love them. Who knows? You may capture next year’s holiday card photo!

#27: Hike With Other Parents

Family hikes are even better when there are more families! Kids love hiking with friends, and you’ll have some other adults to talk to. You’ll also have more adults to keep an eye on things. 

You can have older kids hike ahead with one person, while younger children walk with another. Plan a group picnic or stop for a treat afterward for everyone on the way home.

👉 Read Next: How to Survive a Road Trip with Kids

FAQs on Hiking with Children

Two little kids taking a break on a tree
Make sure to take plenty of breaks for younger kids to explore

What age is appropriate for hiking?

Nearly any age is appropriate for hiking! As soon as you’re comfortable taking your baby out of the house, you can hit the trails. Very small babies can be carried in a front carrier and larger babies and children can ride in a backpack. 

As soon as kids can walk, they can begin hiking on their own. You’ll want to bring a backpack along to carry them because they will likely tire. They may even move back and forth between wanting a ride and wanting to walk. 

Hiking with kids can be slow when they’re younger, but the more often you do it, the more stamina they will build and the farther you’ll go.

How can I make hiking more fun for kids?

You can make hiking more fun for kids by playing games, telling stories, or singing songs as you walk. Games like “I Spy” or nature scavenger hunts can keep kids entertained. 

If you’re hiking at a park with a visitor center or gift shop, see if they have a Junior Ranger program or a booklet for kids to fill out as they hike. If not, you can bring a notebook and colored pencils. Stop along the way and have kids draw interesting things they find. 


Hopefully, this article has given you the tips and confidence to go hiking with kids. Happy trails! 

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