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Hoping to get outdoors more with your family this year, and looking for tips for hiking with kids? Ann rounded up some advice for us. Thank you, Ann! — Kat
As you might have guessed from some of my past posts (like how to get your kids started with skiing), I love winter! My New Year’s resolution is to get outside and hike with my family (our kids are 4 and 9) — and if you’re interested in joining me, winter is a great time to introduce your family to hiking! Popular trails are less crowded, and it’s easier to spot wildlife, which kids love.
I truly believe hiking is for everyone. I’ll be up-front that I don’t consider myself “outdoorsy” (I built a campfire for the first time this past fall, but more on that later), but I do like the outdoors and the feelings that come with being outside. But like a lot of people, inertia and work keep me inside more than I’d like.
Once I had kids, a lot of the (mostly indoor) activities I used to enjoy were tougher with a baby in tow, so like many parents, I started doing a lot of stroller walking. Once I exhausted my neighborhood, I began taking my oldest to local parks.
Living outside D.C., we have a lot of stroller-friendly and accessible walking and hiking paths to explore. Eventually, I started taking her around in a baby carrier like this one from Baby Björn, which opened up even more terrain.
Our First Family Hiking Trip
When my oldest became a toddler, we took a trip to the Tetons and Yellowstone. To cover more distance, we invested in a hiking carrier similar to this one from Osprey. We practiced by walking around the neighborhood with her in it — and carrying a 20+ pound wiggly toddler definitely feels heavier than carrying a 20+ pound pack that doesn’t kick or talk back. I also bookmarked Hike it Baby (now OutGrown), which has tons of resources for hiking and getting outside with babies and kids.
The Tetons and Yellowstone trip was a smashing success, which emboldened us to make regular trips to Shenandoah National Park, which is just under two hours from our home. Shenandoah has a list of hikes for kids, and we even did one with a scavenger hunt we got from the visitor center.
How to Keep Kids Happy and Safe on Hikes
Here are my tips for fun, safe hikes with kids:
As I mentioned in my ski post, not enough can be said about having the right clothes. While you don’t have to run out and get everyone hiking-specific clothes and shoes, I make sure my kids have comfortable sneakers and layers they can take off or put on. So, for a winter hike, I dress my kids like they’re going skiing — a base layer, midlayer, and coat. I’ll also add mittens, wool socks, and a hat/hood.
Another thing that keeps kids (and grown-ups) happy is food and water. If we’re taking a longer hike, we usually try to have a lunch break about halfway through, and snacks on request. Some ideas for easy packable foods are trail mix, cut fruit, and PB&J.
To make sure we’re prepared, I scope out potential trails ahead of time. For kids, I make sure they are mostly flat, are on the shorter side, and have parking and bathrooms nearby. AllTrails is a great resource and app that lets you search and filter hikes, and most local, state, and national parks have websites with maps and loads of information.
I also check the weather — yes, with the right gear you can hike in anything, but nothing derails a day out than whiny, uncomfortable kids.
Our Getaway with Getaway
During our last long weekend in Shenandoah, I succumbed to social media and rented a tiny cabin from Getaway that was about 20 minutes from the park. It’s perfect for those who want to be immersed in nature but aren’t interested in pitching a tent, and like having support a text away. Still, as suburban kids, my son and daughter had never seen the stars shine so brightly.
The cabins are tiny as advertised — if my kids still needed a pack and play, I’m not sure where it would go. But there were lots of clever storage nooks, hooks, and shelves so we weren’t climbing over our luggage or constantly bumping into each other. There was also a decently equipped kitchen (we made all our meals) and a shower with limited hot water.
The property had its own clearly marked trails that the kids hiked multiple times. Their favorite part was making s’mores over a real campfire — for a small extra fee, there was fire starter, logs, and very detailed directions on how to build a fire.
During our trip, we spent one day doing a day hike or two in Shenandoah and our last day visiting a winery that had kid-friendly features like ruins and a garden with a walking path.
My youngest to this day says it was his favorite trip and asks constantly when we are going back. I’m going to surprise him with two days over spring break!
Now Get Out There!
Hiking is a great way to get outside, spend time together as a family, and instill a love of and respect for nature. When I ask my kids what their favorite thing about hiking is, my oldest said “the crunching of the leaves” under her feet; my youngest, seeing “reindeer.”
Hope to see you on the trail!