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Explore the Forest – Tips for Hiking with Kids

We are a big hiking family – love to explore the forest on foot. 

And we’ve been treated to some great encounters during our family hikes — moose in Colorado, wildlife in South Dakota and even some out-of-the-ordinary highlights close to home (such as the wild turkey that crossed our path a few weeks ago!).

So we’re excited that our weekly linky will Discover & Explore Forest Fun today!

We love heading out for a day to just enjoy the wonderful sights and smells of the outdoors.  And you never know what cool wildlife you’ll see when you venture into the forest.  

But I will tell you that our kids aren’t always natural hikers – sometimes walking is ‘boring’ for them. 

We’ve learned that when you hike with kids you MUST be prepared! 




7 Great Tips for Hiking with Kids

Especially when you’re going ‘off the grid’ — you may be a mile away from food and restrooms so it’s important to have some supplies and a plan.  So I thought I would share some of our tips for great family hikes along with items that kids will LOVE to use for forest exploration.  I’ve included some affiliate links for items that we really enjoy for your information and convenience.


1.  Get a good night’s sleep


Cranky kids aren’t any fun on a hike and neither are tired parents.  Make sure everyone gets to bed early for a good start. 

Oh, and make sure everyone hits the bathroom before you head out!


2.  Pack enough water and food (and then pack extra)

Our daughter hardly ever drinks enough water – we are always bugging her to drink more at meal time.  BUT, on a hike, she will drink a ton!  We always make sure to pack enough water for everyone, which usually means bringing twice as much as you would normally drink. 

Water is heavy so it’s a good idea to split it up among everyone.  Trying getting the kids a water bottle carrier that they can strap over their shoulder.  Our son has his own Camelbak Backpack (which is a really cool backpack that holds a water bladder inside).

Same goes for snacks – fruits, protein bars, hiking mixes – bring things that are healthy and will help keep you full during your hike.  And have a good meal before you head out so the kids won’t keep saying “Mom, I’m starving!” along the way.


 Tips for Hiking with Kids

3.  Make sure everyone has good walking shoes

If you’ll be hiking for a while or on uneven terrain, make sure that everyone has comfortable shoes with good traction on the soles. Most of the time, the sneakers your kids wear for every day use don’t have great traction or are worn down so check the out.

Also, cushioned socks are great for the feet.  We make sure to pack extra pairs of socks for everyone in case we get wet feet along the way (you never know when there will be a creek the kids want to wade across).

I also bring along Blister Cushions in our pack just in case anyone feels like their shoes are rubbing them the wrong way. 


4.  Bring a first aid kit & other needed items

I know, this seems like a no brainer but it’s one of those things you should double check.  In fact, we forgot to check it on one of our outings and (of course) had a need for a band-aid and antiseptic cream which we had used on a previous hike.  This Adventure First Aid Kit will give you an idea of what should be in your kit.

Make sure you also have the following in your backpack:

  • any needed medications,
  • a flashlight,
  • a lighter or matches (just in case)
  • rain ponchos for unforeseen bad weather,
  • sunscreen,
  • bug spray,
  • hats for everyone and
  • any other items that you’ll need for safety depending on where you are hiking. 

We also pack a tablecloth so we have a place to sit and eat along the way. 

Remember, many cell phones won’t work to well in the forest so don’t rely on your phone.  If you want to be aware of weather conditions, I would suggest a battery operated or hand crank weater radio if you plan to be gone for a while.


Tips for Hiking with Kids

5.  Carry a Backpack (or two)

Keep everything you need in your backpacks.  We usually bring two or three with us – one for each adult and teen in the group – in order to distribute the weight of the items (especially water which can be heavy when you first start out). 

Younger kids would enjoy carrying Waist Packs so they have a place to keep their ‘treasure’ finds and a snack.


6. Don’t be over-zealous

Chances are your three-year old won’t be able to do a 5-mile hike their first trip out. 

Plan your route based on the experience and age of those with you.  Kids younger than 5 will most likely enjoy a 45 minute hike before they begin to get tired. 

Most parks will have the length of the trails along with their difficulty printed on hiking maps that you can pick up at the visitor’s center.  I would suggest planning a few shorter hikes to see how the kids do before heading out on a “3-hour tour”.


Tips for Hiking with Kids

7. Plan some fun activities

As adults, we enjoy the quiet of the forest along with it’s natural beauty.  Kids enjoy that for about 5 minutes and then want to know what’s next.  Give them a few ‘quests’ along the way — for example, who can make it to the next pine tree first or let’s walk and count 50 more steps. 

Here are a few more ideas for ways to keep the hike fun:

• Find something interesting to see – hike to a waterfall, gorge or cool natural landmark

• Print off and bring one of the great forest activities from Discover the Forest

• Kids will enjoy a fun game of “I Spy” as you walk

• Challenge kids to a color hike and try to find an item for each color in the rainbow

• Do some rock-hounding along your hike (finding beautiful, small rocks for a collection)

• Look for animal tracks as you walk


 Create an Outdoor Exploration Kit


Create a Forest Exploration Kit

As with most things, having ‘gear’ always makes the activity more interesting. 

Kids will love adventuring into the forest with this exploration kit. 

You can include items that will allow them some hands-on experience during their hike.  I recommend packing these items into a kid-sized backpack they can carry:

• Outdoor Field Scope for viewing bugs up close

• Butterfly Bottle Buddy or Robot Bottle Buddies to hold their water bottle

• Kid-sized Binoculars to use for viewing wildlife as a distance (great for birds too)

• Kids Nature Log or Journal and a pencil or crayon so they can record what they see

• You might also try to teach the kids to use a Safari Expedition Field Compass as you hike

• Fun With Nature: Take Along Guide (this will help you identify plants, trees and animal tracks)

• Paper & Crayons for leaf and tree rubbings

• A camera (because it’s always fun to see what kids find interesting!)


 nature collections for kids


How to Start & Organize a Nature Collection

Create Your Own Nature Notebook


More Fun Ways to Explore the Forest

Discover & Explore linky