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Hiking as a Family

Family on a HikeHiking is an excellent activity for any family. It provides physical exercise in a non-threatening environment while allowing everyone to adjust the level of activity to match the family needs. When done in the great outdoors, it also provides a classroom in which to experience the wonders of creation together. These might also be referred to as day hikes. 

Finding Great Places to Hike as a Family

There are so many great places to hike that you should be able to find several options within a reasonable distance from your house. Within the boundaries of our small college town, there are seven different trail systems that range from 1 mile to several miles in length. All of these are in wooded areas that provide excellent nature experiences for our family.

To find trails in your area, you will need to be a bit adventurous. We discovered most of the trail systems in our area by simply exploring and driving around.

Here are other sources you can check. 

  • Ask your local Parks and Recreation government office for a list of local trails. 
  • Your local library may even have some maps that you could copy and use.
  • Check with local scouting organizations.
  • Internet searches work well for this - check out our backpacking section for 3 great trail sites. 
  • Look up any national or state parks that are within an hour or two drive. These typically have several day hikes that can be done with enough time for the drive back and forth. 
  • There are options other than just regular wooded trails. Consider hiking Historical Trails that are provided inside many major cities. Also, look into nature centers, regular parks and exercise trails. There is nothing wrong with creating your own hike just going into your local town or around your neighborhood. 


What to Bring & Wear When Hiking as a Family

Here is a basic list of items I leave in a day pack that hangs in my closet. I call this day pack my "go bag" as it is always ready for a quick or spontaneous trip.

  • Extra Bottled Water Containers
  • First Aid Kit
  • Bandana
  • Extra Hat
  • Small Notebook and Pencil 
  • Natural Bug Spray 
  • Sunscreen at 40 SPF
  • Emergency snack bars or energy bars 

Hiking attire is completely dependent on the season and weather. If it is not summer, then always dress everyone in several medium to light layers to provide easy ability to adjust each person's temperature. Everyone will be slightly colder when starting, but once each person has been moving their core temperature will rise and they will need to shed layers. Always check the weather right before leaving and, if there is any chance of rain, bring rain jackets or umbrellas. At least one person should wear a day pack for extra gear, water and snacks. Consider getting boots if you will be hiking on uneven ground, rocky trails or places with lots of roots sticking out. Wool socks are always recommended over cotton for their ability to manage moisture and protect your feet. 


Family on a HikeHow to Keep Safe When Hiking as a Family

Here are several tips that will help you keep your family safe when hiking

Use liberal amounts of bug spray on each person before starting on an outdoor trail. There are way too many diseases spread by ticks and mosquitoes to risk getting bit. 

If any skin is exposed, apply sunscreen to it before leaving the house. Reapply sunscreen as directed on the package. Realize that you can still get sunburn on cloudy days. 

Teach children about what they should do if they ever get separated or lost in the woods. They should basically stay put until someone finds them. They should also have an emergency whistle and know to blow it in these situations. In a city or mall, this is different and my wife recommends that children look for another mom who has small children to get help.

Know about the wildlife of the area you are visiting. Simple things like being able to identify poison ivy can save a lot discomfort later. Also, never put your feet down on a place that you cannot see to avoid startling snakes and other critters. 

Bring and drink lots of water while hiking. Dehydration can happen without realizing it, especially with children. 

When hiking for long periods, be aware of blisters on everyone's feet. Kids might not complain until it is too late. The best treatment for blisters is to wear proper footwear and socks. Otherwise catch any trouble spots early and apply moleskin to them. When left unattended, blisters can render a hiker immobile. 


Lessons Learned From Hiking as a Family

Here are some lessons that we have learned over the years of hiking as a family.

Keep it fun. Remember that you are not by yourself. Why should your family do this together if everyone does not think it is fun?

Be flexible. Do not take a drill sergeant's approach to the hike. Do not feel that you have to do an entire trail as planned. 

Be an encourager. Constantly remind yourself and your family that you can do this! Avoid any negative comments while hiking together. Kids respond much better to positive reinforcement than reprimand. 

Include children in the planning. Ask everyone what their favorite parts of hiking are and look for areas that accommodate these preferences. 

Bring a camera. There are so many wonderful moments to capture and you do not want to miss them. Always have a camera out and ready to shoot. 

Plan a picnic or meal in conjunction with hike. Pack a picnic in your day pack to eat along the trail or plan it around your drive. See the Breakfast on the Green activity for an excellent idea about this. 

Maintain a file folder of maps. Whenever you find a new place write it down or pick up a map then file it for future reference. 

Bring zip-top bags for kids to collect nature items. This will provide them with items to remember the trip. It will also provide for learning experiences. Be sure to follow all local rules and regulations in regards to the environment. See the Nature Scavenger Hunt for a cool activity to do with this.

Play games or sing while hiking. This will help kids take their mind off the physical difficulties you may experience while hiking. 20 Questions or I Spy are great games to play while hiking. 

Research local history and biology together. Before going on a trail, do a little research on the internet or at your library. Relevant facts help bring a trail to life for children. See the Historical Trail section for great details about this. 


Do you have anything you would like to share about your experiences with hiking? Please share it with us. 

Family on a Hike


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Timeless Wisdom

Your success as a family ... our success as a society depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens inside your house.


- Barbara Bush (former U.S. First Lady)