Hiking with kids is intimidating. There are more needs to anticipate and plan for. You will carry more. There’s new gear to navigate. We get it. Keep reading to get the whole family outside and hiking.
How to Start Hiking
How to hike with kiddos depends greatly on their age and abilities. Infants can generally be carried, but they go through so many developmental changes during the first year that you’re constantly transitioning gear, attire, and your routine. Plus, there’s a lot of diapers to pack out of the backcountry.
With toddlers, the challenge is keeping them engaged. (Pro tip: snacks are always the right answer.) There are additional safety concerns, and you want terrain that is fun and encourages them to keep going.
Older kids still have to be engaged, but there’s more wiggle room with their growing stamina. For tips on how to prep for any age group, read How to Hike with Infants, Toddlers, & Kids.
Ready for the next steps? Try:
Where to Hike
Knowing your child’s ability level is the first step to choosing an appropriate trail. These kid-friendly trails are easy enough for even the smallest of hikers and have interesting features like a gnome home:
- Wiessner Woods, Stowe: 1.84 miles; 135′ elevation gain; and a gnome home.
- Short Trail, Waterbury Center: .7 miles roundtrip; 54′ elevation gain.
- Beane Trail, Huntington: 2.8 miles roundtrip; ~600′ elevation gain.
- Appalachian Trail to Kent Pond, Killington: 1.2 miles roundtrip; < 20′ elevation gain.
- Long Trail to Little Rock Pond, Mount Tabor: 4 miles roundtrip; 324′ elevation gain.
How to Keep Kids Engaged in the Outdoors
This is the real trick: engaging kiddos with the outdoors in a way that’s meaningful to them. That will help them learn about outdoor settings, appropriately challenge themselves, and keep coming back. Here are some activities to try:
- Junior Ranger programs from Vermont State Parks and the National Parks Service.
- Leave No Trace Activity Sheet introduces kids to responsible hiking.
- The Venture Vermont Outdoor Challenge is loaded with activities and a free state park pass when you’re done.
- Citizen science projects transform hikes into STEM learning opportunities.
- Try an activity book — like the Long Trail Activity Book, The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, or Backpack Explorer: On the Nature Trail — on trail.
- Use apps to learn about the world around you. PeakVisor identifies the surrounding mountains; SkyGuide identifies constellations; and Seek by iNaturalist identifies wildlife, plants, and fungi.
- Connect virtually with the agencies that manage the places you visit: tag @greenmountainclub, @vtstateparks, @marshbillingsnps, and more!
Family Hiking Inspiration
Like we said, hiking with kiddos can be intimidating. The best you can do is to get started and learn along the way. Follow these grown-ups and read their stories for encouragement:
- GMC staffer Matt Krebs gives advice for hiking with kids, and his three children (16, 14, and eight years old) give their perspectives on thru-hiking the Long Trail.
- Learn from this grandfather-grandson duo on how to engage little ones on longer hikes.
- Follow these all-star adventure moms on Instagram: Whitney Page Pearson; Chelsea Murphy; Melody Forsyth; Brighton Peachy; Moonbeam; Amanda Edmonds; and Grandma Joy. Hike it Baby is also a great online community.
- Rainy day? Get jazzed for your next adventure with these reads: 50 Hikes with Kids: New England, by Wendy Gorton; Hiking Day, by Anne Rockwell; Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail, by Jennifer Thermes; The Hike, by Alison Farrell; Let’s Go on a Hike, by Katrina Liu; Mrs. Peanuckle’s Hiking Alphabet, by Mrs. Peanuckle; and Hike, by Pete Oswald.