How to Plan for a Successful Family Hike

Are you looking for a way to connect with your family in the great outdoors?

Could you use a great way to exercise and “get the wiggles out?”

A family hike is the perfect answer.

In this article, I will show you how to plan a hike that is a fun family adventure in the great outdoors, even if you’ve never been on a hike before.

Plan a successful family hike in the great outdoors, a perfect way to exercise, commune with nature and connect with your family.

Why Hike?

“Every child needs nature. Not just the ones with parents who appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or gender or sexual identity or set of abilities. Every child,” said Richard Louv, author of eight books about the connections among family, nature and community.

Louv says, “Research suggests that exposure to the natural world—including nearby nature in cities—helps improve human health, well-being, and intellectual capacity in ways that science is only recently beginning to understand.”

As parents, we have such little downtime to really enjoy our loved ones; we’re usually driving a car, making dinner or helping with homework.

kid climbing a tree

Tree-climbing is becoming a lost art.

And then there’s this: According to a national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, American youth (8-18 years old) devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day. That’s more than 53 hours a week!

Here’s an alternative.

Carving out time for a family hike is a smart decision on many levels and there’s no better time than now to take a walk in the woods.

You Will Need

  • Water
  • Sunscreen and a hat
  • Comfortable shoes, socks, clothing
  • Healthy snacks
  • A backpack for each hiker
  • First-aid kit

Preparation Time

Give yourself an hour to choose a location, check the weather, pack your gear, apply sunscreen and load everyone into the car

Activity Time

  • Around half a day (2½ hours plus travel to and from hike location)
  • Adjust the duration and difficulty according to hikers’ ages and skill levels

Location

The great outdoors

Here’s how to get started:

#1: Hike Location and Time of Day

There’s a reason children coined the phrase, “Are we there yet?” In general, kids love doing, not waiting. Keep this in mind when you plan where your family hike will occur.

Travel distance shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes away. Schedule your hike for morning when the weather is cooler and the family is fresher. You want your little ones to be alert and happy when they take their first step on the trail.

people hiking

Hike in the morning when the weather is cooler and everyone is fresh.

#2: Route Length

Depending on the age and fitness level of your children, the length of the route will vary. Plan on about one hour out and one hour return, with a 15-minute break in the middle for a good first hike.

If your children are under age 8, you’ll want to shorten the hike time and select a trail without much elevation.

#3: Trail Snacks

All hikes should include a snack break. Breaks are not just about nutritional refreshment; they provide mental and physical refreshment too.

Bring healthy snacks of cut fruit, almonds with raisins, and carrots and celery. Place snacks in individual plastic bags so each person can carry food in his or her own backpack.

After the break, everyone should place their trash in a plastic bag and carry their trash back to the parking area where it can be disposed of. A favorite hiking expression to teach your children, “Leave only footprints, take only photos.”

ziplock bags of fruit and nuts

Every hike should include a break time. Bring healthy snacks without much packaging. All the trash from the snacks in this photo can be bundled into one of the plastic bags.

Every hiker needs to carry a water bottle, preferably in a reusable container. Rehydrate frequently.

boy in tree drinking from water bottle

Hydrate—each hiker should carry his or her own reusable water bottle.

#4: Hiking Clothes

You don’t need to invest a lot of money in special clothes. A T-shirt, a comfortable pair of shorts or jeans and a hat will do just fine. The most important article of clothing is shoes—wear comfortable shoes! Think well-worn and rubber soles. Warning: never wear a new pair of shoes or boots on a hike, unless you want blisters.

For an hour-long hike, cotton socks are OK. However, if your family decides to try a day-hike, you might consider purchasing a pair of high-tech socks. Dry, comfortable and blister-free feet can mean the difference between a happy hiker and a miserable hiker.

three pair of legs and feet in athletic shoes

Footgear should be well-worn and comfortable.

#5: Hike Pace

Set an easy pace. The pace of the hike should be only as fast as the slowest hiker. Although some children may want to make it a race, encourage the kids to take in the scenery, watch where their feet fall and smell the outdoors.

Remember that your children may tire quickly. According to Sierra Club Trails, for each step you take, your child may be taking four.

#6: It’s About the Journey, Not the Destination

Teach your children to be good observers of nature by being a good observer yourself. They will love it when you point out a bird’s nest, or a frog or an animal track.

Take time to pause, look at your discoveries and ask your son or daughter questions about what you’ve found.

blue sky with wispy cloud

Before you leave on your hike, teach your children to pay attention to the weather conditions. Bring appropriate gear based on weather reports.

#7: Weather Forecast

An important life-long lesson for your children is to respect Mother Nature. When you awaken on the day of your family hike, invite your children to look out the window. Ask them to notice if there are clouds in the sky or if the wind is blowing the leaves on the trees.

If you’ve received a morning newspaper, show your child the weather page and note the daily forecast at your hike location. The tech-savvy family will look up the forecast on their smartphone or laptop. Remember, the weather conditions where you’ll be hiking may be different from the conditions at your home.

I strongly suggest that you reschedule your family hike if rain is predicted. You want to keep your hike experience dry and pleasant.

Some Final Thoughts…

Recently, I asked my 25-year-old son, Dillon, to tell me of his childhood memories of hiking. “Leadership,” he said as he crossed his arms and leaned against the kitchen counter. “I liked leading the hike.”

I smiled at his unique perspective and asked him to tell me more. “When you’re a kid you don’t get to lead very much. There’s always a teacher or a soccer coach or a parent… some adult telling you what to do and how to do it.” Dillon continued, “But when we went hiking, I got to lead the way.” He grinned and said, “I liked that.”

You never know what memory your child will take away from a family hike. But they will remember. Plan your family’s hike today.

What do you think? Do you have any additional hiking tips? Please share your comments and pictures below. We all can learn from each other.

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About the Author, Shelley Miller

Shelley Miller, home exchange consultant helps people travel the world and stay for free. She writes about family travel and home exchange vacations for the Huffington Post and her website. Other posts by »


  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Love hiking! Thanks for this post Shelley.

  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, Shelley! Great tips for being prepared. This makes me want to go spend some time surrounded by big trees, NOW!

  • EmilyQuestions

    “Leave only footprints, take only photos.” <3 this mantra! What great tips all organized and easy to execute. I'm gonna get out there this weekend w/ @MrBoy!

  • http://ideagirlmedia.com/ Keri at Idea Girl Media

    Great to see you here, Shelley!

    Thanks for the great tips. it’s definitely about the journey!! :)

    ~Keri

  • Shelley C. Miller

    You’re welcome, Mike! I enjoyed writing it. It got me back to our beautiful San Diego canyons.

  • Shelley C. Miller

    Agreed, Jennifer! We need to make hiking a priority in our busy lives. Greeting Mother Nature is good for the soul. :)

  • Shelley C. Miller

    I heart that mantra too Emily! So glad to hear that my article inspired you to “take a hike!”

  • Shelley C. Miller

    Hi Keri, Great to see you here as well! It can sometimes be difficult for hard-chargers to enjoy the journey. It’s a constant effort for me.

  • Kim

    You can find local hikes online at places like http://www.alltrails.com

  • Steve Ferris

    Great advice. I moved from Indiana USA to Sweden last year. There are forests everywhere, and there is a law that says you are free to roam, forage, and camp anywhere! I will use these tips in our exporations.

  • carol

    My kids and I love hiking. Once we started hiking, we were always looking out for new places to check out whenever we drove anywhere. It’s often surprising how many little coves of nature are nearby and when you take the time to stop and explore, how adventurous even those little places become. I would just add one important thing to prep plans– BUG SPRAY!

  • http://www.familyblogtips.com/ Julie Corbett

    Fantastic article! Hiking in the woods was one of my favorite childhood activities, and now my son loves it as much as I did back then! You alluded to it in #3, but I love to pack a small camera in my backpack when we go hiking. We look for interesting plants, insects, birds, etc. to photograph. If your child is old enough, you could even give him the camera to capture some shots. After the hike, you could put those photos into a post on your family blog or print a few favorites to remember the day.

  • Robin Bermel

    Great ideas. The snacks seem so obvious and practical–but just yesterday I took the kids for a bike ride & forgot snacks. Fortunately my friend had some things packed. Your ideas are great, and I love that each carries their own. Good way to give a small responsibility. Nice article. Thanks.

  • Justin Williams

    Thanks for the post. Really makes me want to go hiking and spend more quality time with my kids in the outdoors!

  • Shelley C. Miller

    Ahhhh, Sweden. What a glorious country to explore!

  • Shelley C. Miller

    Thank you for the reminder Carol! We have so few bugs in California I forget about bug spray. I prefer to use organic bug repellent, especially on the children.

  • Shelley C. Miller

    I love the idea of giving children their own camera or sketch pad, Julie! Great for preserving the memory.

  • Shelley C. Miller

    Thank you, Robin! There’s something special about eating al fresco. And yes, tiny responsibilities are important for our children who will someday have big responsibilities. :)

  • Shelley C. Miller

    Great to hear, Justin. Let me know how the hike goes!

  • Shelley C. Miller

    Fabulous website, Kim! Thank you for sharing. :)

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