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“Take a hike!” has taken on a new (and more literal) meaning.  Hiking is a fun and healthy family activity that gets kids connected with the great outdoors at a young age.  If you are apprehensive about hitting the trails with your little ones, here are some tips to make sure your kids stay safe and entertained:

  • Route length – As cliché as it sounds, it’s about the journey and not the destination.  Pick a route depending on your child’s age, fitness level, and stamina.  Find a trail that isn’t too long or strenuous so your little ones won’t get tuckered out too quickly.  It helps if it’s feature-friendly- a stream, lake, or waterfall acts as a perfect goal for kids to work towards.

  • Snack breaks – Hiking is a very physical activity.  Snack breaks are the perfect nutritional, physical, and mental refreshment after exerting a lot of energy.  Nuts and dried fruit are both snackable and full of protein.  Food/Fluid “checkpoints” will keep your kids happy and motivated.  Even before the trip, let them weigh in on what snacks they want to pack for the day.  What child wouldn’t want to create their own trail mix?

  • Be prepared – When you’re out exploring the elements, it’s important to be safe and ready in the event of an emergency.  Make sure you pack a first aid kit full of bandages, alcohol wipes, and antibiotic ointment to take care of any bumps or bruises along the way.  Whether or not you are an avid hiker, it’s important to have some sort of map or trail guide as well as a compass so you don’t get lost.  Depending on your route and what time of day you choose to go, pack necessary sunscreen and bug spray.

  • Dress for success – Shoes are the name of the game!  Invest in a pair of hiking boots or gym shoes with soles that provide good traction.  Wear layers, and always pack an extra layer for you and your children.  Chances are, the weather will change from the time you set out versus the time you finish up.  Be sure to bring necessary rain gear – ponchos, umbrellas, etc.  Layers offer the perfect solution so your little ones won’t overheat or get too chilled.  It’s never a bad idea to pack extra outfits in your car for you children to change into at the end of the day.

  • Make it fun! – Hiking can be a long endeavor, so come up with fun ways to keep your children entertained and motivated.  Think of games to play en route, like  “hiking bingo.”  Make a list of typical hiking sights (animal tracks, a stream, a bird hole in a tree), and make it a race to see who can find them all first!  Another fun thing to pack is a point-and-shoot camera (or mobile phone with a camera) to take quick photo breaks along the way.  Your kids will have fun capturing their memories of the day.  Maybe even bring a portable speaker to march along to your favorite family songs!

Thinking about taking your kids on a family hike?  Share your plans in the comment section below!