Updated: May 8, 2020
Our family loves to hike. Most of the time.
You know the drill. You're up early. You've packed all of the things. You've talked up the hike like it's going to be the best thing that ever was. And no one is having it. If your family is like ours, you're only as strong as the weakest link. That weakest link varies, but we can usually count on at least one of our three kids lacking excitement for family hike day.
Sometimes the apathy for a family adventure has made us question whether the outing was going to be worth the trouble. For us, the answer is alway yes. It took awhile to establish our boundaries, but our kids have come to know what we aren't changing our plans due to a little complaining. And, no matter how vocal they may be in the beginning, we are alway so glad we pushed through the discontentment. We're alway better than before, and have terrific family memories to share about the day.
Here are four tricks that have worked well for us as we've gotten better at hiking as a family:
Know the Goal
We always plan the hike by checking out the trail map together and setting a destination. (Pro tip - keep this destination realisic. Set yourselves up for success!) Not only does this keep kids engaged, it helps them to be invested in the hike. Our destination always has a mileage associated with it, and I track it as we hike. I use an Apple Watch, but have also used a Garmin Watch and the Runkeeper App on my phone. Anything is better than nothing!
The kids will regularly ask how far we've gone, and we make sure to celebrate and praise each mile. We try our best to have great attitudes. I can't emphasize this enough - forced family fun is a complete drag if there's negativity about mileage, pace, etc. I also know about how long it takes us to cover a mile, and can break that down into understandable time quantities. I'll say things like, we have one mile left, which will take us as long as one music class. Or, perhaps even more relatable, one Daniel Tiger show.
Our family best this past summer was a 4-miler. We were so proud of each of them, but especially our four year old for hiking the entire way without a piggyback ride!
We invested in CamelBak hydration packs for each kid. Each has a different color of the Mini Mule, and we love them. There is nothing worse than losing momentum every 20 feet because someone needs to stop for a drink. The kids now drink from their hydration packs when thirsty, and the Mini Mule has a little zipper pocket that is perfect for special treasures they find along the hike.
I wish I would have embraced the power of special snacks sooner. We've always packed traditional hiking snacks like dried fruit and granola bars, but I've recently added special snacks to the rotation. Special snacks are saved for special occasions (hiking counts!), and rotates between gummies, fruit by the foot, hot tamales, and the occasional M&Ms.
One of these special treats are always hidden in my pack, and are saved for desperate times. We always have a little fun with these - a favorite game of the kids is baby bird. Once everyone is starting to get tired, I'll tell them mama bird is bringing food back to the nest and will hand them each a treat. I'll do this every quarter of a mile or so. Add a few tweet, tweets and arm flapping and they think it's hilarious, plus it gives them something to focus on instead of their tired legs.
This is by far the most important, and probably the most difficult for us as parents. Many of our hikes have been modified due to a lizard spotting, a creek to play in, or rocks to climb. I have to fight back the urge to hurry them along, and let them observe and play in the natural world around them. We may not hike as far as we grown-ups had hoped, but this is where the real joy and learning is. These unanticipated surprises are always the most remember and treasured.
I hope these four tips are helpful to you on your next family adventure. The memories are always worth the effort!