Hiking with your children; what are the challenges and benefits? Can it build their confidence, foster independence and encourage curiosity? You bet. It gives them the opportunity to explore, learn about local plants and animals, and accomplish something they can be proud of.
There is no ideal age to start hiking with children. The perfect age is now. You can start the hike for children at any time, from babies to teenagers.
Babies are relatively easy to hike. For short hikes, all you have to do is pack them in a backpack, put on your shoes and go. Most babies like to be outside and around a parent.
Hiking with toddlers can be the most difficult age to hike with. Toddlers can walk on their own (less to carry), but they usually can’t go very far and tire quickly. They wear out quickly and aren’t easy to coax when you’re ready to move. Trail cave-ins will happen, but if you anticipate what might happen, hiking with toddlers can be successful. After the age of 4, hiking with children becomes much easier.
When you start hiking with children, be sure to choose the right hike, one that won’t be too long, difficult or dangerous, and don’t overestimate what they can do. Although they seem to have endless energy, the hike will take them away.
As your children grow and become more experienced, you can take on longer, more challenging hikes, such as those with rocks to climb, creeks to play in, and rougher terrain.
Pick a hike that has a destination or goal to reach (a stream, waterfall, lake, swimming hole, or picnic area). Children are motivated by the final reward. Give them something to look forward to and look for.
Children walk much slower than adults and need plenty of stops and time to explore, so allow plenty of time for that. They will enjoy the experience and want to do it again.
Other points to consider: snacks, first aid, extra clothing, rain gear, bringing a friend of your child, taking advantage of educational opportunities such as Leave-no-Trace and respect for the environment, fauna and flora .
The whole experience will be fun for your children and for you.