How to Plan for a Summer of Hiking with Kids
Don't let summer get away from you. Here are some tips to ensure you and your favorite kids get some time out on trail.
Summer is coming.
For parents, summer is a mixed bag. Part joy over the time to be with your kids and enjoy time in the sun. Part terror as you figure out how to manage child care and keep your kids from driving you bananas as hours of unstructured time stretch on. And on.
While sometimes it feels like summer last forever, it also is over in a flash. If you want to make sure it doesn’t pass without plenty of hiking, now’s the time to start planning.
Most schools in Washington wrap up in June. Prime hiking time. Here are some ideas to help ensure you get in some miles on trail before you blink and it’s back-to-school time.
Put it on your calendar
Right now, go find a few dates on your calendar that aren’t full yet and declare them as hiking days. (No really, go do it now. I’ll wait. OK, back? Great.) Defend these dates as assertively as you’d defend any other obligation. Hiking time is good for you and good for your family. If you want a solo or adult-only hike, don’t forget to book time for those, too.
At this point, it's not really vital to know where you're going, just that you have time set aside. But it does help to have ideas in your pocket so that, when the time comes, you won't get paralyzed by options. Anytime you come across a hike you think would work well for the summer, save it in your My Backpack account. You can even saves notes, such as "good for a rainy day," "only a 20 minute drive from home" or "try this hike in August for ripe berries." (Don't have a My Backpack account? Here's how it works and why it's so useful.) Need some help looking for likely trails. Read on ...
Find a hike
With so many great trails in Washington, it can be overwhelming to decide where to hike. Our Hiking Guide or Hike Finder Map are a great place to start. On either option, you can filter for kid-friendly hikes. Of course, you’ll have to decide for yourself what your kiddo is up for. Keep in mind both distance and elevation gain. If you’re unsure of how far your kiddo is up for hiking, considering a destination that has a few good stopping spots along the way. River hikes can be good for this, because you can enjoy the river even if you don’t make it to the “end” of the trip.
Before you head out, check recent trip reports to get an idea of conditions. You can even filter recent trip reports to see where other folks with kids have been out recently.
Pro tip: You can also filter the hiking guide or trip reports for kid-friendly hikes or other features. You can even filter trip reports to find locations where other trip reporters have found wildflowers or ripe berries —nearly sure-fire way to entertain a kid on trail. (Note: Edible berries are OK to pick. Flowers should be left for others to enjoy — and it’s easier to have this discussion before you’re on the trail, not as your kiddo is already picking flowers. Ask me how I know.)
Still not sure where to go? We have plenty of suggestions.
Take the hike
Hiking with a kiddo won’t be the same as hiking with adults. The goal with kids is much more about the journey than the destination. Here are four basic ideas to keep in mind:
- Modify your goals: You may not reach the end of the trail. You may not even hike a mile! Adjust your hike to the enjoyment and comfort level of children.
- Pack patience and flexibility: If you see a frog dart across the trail, be prepared to stop and wait to watch for that frog to dart across the trail again. Use teachable moments to explore the natural world.
- Know what features are ahead: For starter day hikes, choose short trails that do not have much elevation gain, but do have features like lakes, ponds, or waterfalls along the way. Children are fascinated with water.
- Dress for success: Check weather conditions and be prepared. Bring dry clothes, even if rain isn’t in the forecast, your kiddo is likely to find a way to get wet. (Probably in a creative way you wouldn’t expect.)
- General tips for hiking with kids.
- 6 tips from the “Best Hikes With Kids” author
- 7 tips for motivating your kids on the trail
Share your experience and help others
When you’re done, come home and write a trip report! It serves two great purposes. First, it helps fellow parents who are looking for a good hike. Second, it’s a fun way to keep a record of where you’ve been with your children.
Note: When you write your trip report, be sure to check the “hiked with kids” box. It’ll help other people who want to hike with kids find your trip reports later.