5 Ideas to Make Hiking Fun for Toddlers and Preschoolers

July 15th, 2013 by Dionna | 1 Comment
Posted in Adults, Children, Compassionate Advocacy, Eclectic Learning, Ecological Responsibility and Love of Nature, Environmentalism, Healthy Living, Infants, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Strive for Balance, Teens, Toddlers

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Five Ideas to Make Hiking Fun for Toddlers and Preschoolers

I used to love to hike. When my husband and I lived in New Mexico, we hiked all over the scrubby mountains near our home. I loved the exercise and the feeling of achievement when we finished a hike, but even more important to me was the chance to see wildlife and scenery far removed from my desk job, to feel a connection to the Earth, and to spend some quiet time with my best friend. Hiking is one of the things I have missed the most since we moved away from New Mexico.

I want to pass on a love of hiking and the outdoors to our children. But in order to do that, I need to make sure our hiking adventures are fun for them. The interests and motivations of little ones are different from mine: whereas I wanted escape from a desk, my toddler might be more interested in the freedom to play in the dirt.

Following are five things I’ve tried to keep in mind when hiking with my kids, so that they will look forward to our hikes as much as I do.

1. Slow Down, You Move Too Fast.

Your little ones will be more apt to enjoy hiking if they are allowed to set the speed. Let them walk at a comfortable pace – they aren’t trying to burn calories. Encourage them to stop and examine the flora and fauna; the scenery should be at least half of the fun of getting outdoors together.

Let kids have a turn leading, and where possible, let them choose the path. Take time to point out animal tracks, spider webs, wild mushrooms. Talk about the new sounds and smells, touch the bark on the trees and the dirt under your feet. Make all of their senses come alive.

2. Make it a Learning Experience, in a Fun Way.

Read up a little bit about local wildlife and/or vegetation. Pick a common bird several days before your hike – listen to its call with your child, look at pictures, talk about where you might see it. Then keep an eye and an ear out for it while you’re hiking. Or find pictures of some common local vegetation. See if you can learn (with your child) what poison ivy or plantain looks like, and then look for it on your hike. If your little one finds something familiar on your hike, she is sure to get excited about her discovery.

Other ideas to encourage discovery: bring a magnifying glass, stop to examine things along the way. Bring a plastic container, encourage your child to put rocks, flowers, and other tidbits in to put on a nature table.

Five Ideas to Make Hiking Fun for Toddlers and Preschoolers

3. Combine Hiking with Another Favorite Activity.

If you’re worried that your bookworm won’t like the trails, bring the books along! You know what your child likes to do, find a way to incorporate it into the first few hiking adventures.

For book lovers, check out some new books on the great outdoors and read them at different points along the trail. For crafty kids, bring along some paper and crayons and have them do crayon rubbings. For sports enthusiasts, bring along a frisbee or ball and stop to play catch after lunch.

Other ideas to combine different activities with hiking: Let your child bring a camera to take pictures. Put a favorite doll in your child’s backpack or carrier for company. Bring musical instruments and have a sing along. Stop to draw pictures of your favorite flowers or trees. Digitally record bird calls to play back and identify later.

4. It’s About the Journey, Not the Destination.

And every journey needs snacks! Little ones’ bodies are wired for grazing – their energy levels (and their moods) will be better with frequent small snacks. Plus, snacking will give everyone a reason to stop and admire the scenery. Some of our favorite hiking snacks are apples and peanut butter, trail mix (of course), sandwiches, granola bars, and melon. And of course remember to bring lots of water, at least one big water bottle for each person. (Read 50 Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids plus Fun Serving Suggestions.)

For even more fun, grab a local guide to foraging for wild edibles, and snack on goodies along your trail! (Just be sure to keep an eye on little ones who are apt to put every leaf and berry in their mouths, like mine is.)

5. Keep it Simple and Be Safe.

No child will have fun if the hike is too long or dangerous. Follow basic safety rules for your area. Don’t plan long hikes, and do plan on bringing a carrier to help your little one if he gets tired. (Read Babywearing in Hot Weather.)

Bring a first aid kit and wear sunblock and appropriate clothing and footwear. (Read Pack a car safety kit: 25 must-have items for emergencies.) Watch the weather and hike early in the day to avoid excessive heat. Please, look at your local parks guide for more detailed safety rules and to find out if there are local hazards you should be aware of, this list is in no way an exhaustive list of safety measures for hikers.

Have you hiked with your little ones? What makes hiking fun for your kids?


This has been edited from an article previously published on Breastfeeding Moms Unite.

Photo Credit: Adapted from a photo by Sean Dreilinger

One Response to:
"5 Ideas to Make Hiking Fun for Toddlers and Preschoolers"

  1. We went to a local wood every month for a year to see how it changed in each season. We took bird, tree and wild flower books to see what we could spot. We stopped for many snacks and a picnic. We took a Kelly kettle which you can make a hot drink with using foraged wood for cooler days. This would only work if you live in an area that has seasons of course!

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