Our vacations all growing up involved packing our suburban with meals for a week (not to mention 7 kids), sleeping at a small motel, and spending most of our days hiking all over the beautiful national parks UT has to offer. While I'm sure those trips included a great deal of complaining, I don't remember that. I remember talking and talking. I remember singing songs and making up stories. I remember hiding pennies in special rock crevasses to revisit years later, saying prayers as a family overlooking gorgeous views, and eating trail mix until we were sick.
Most of my siblings have children now and hiking is still a major part of our family vacations. We all take one together every July and it's something else to witness 18 little kids join in without hesitation. Yes, there's still a healthy dose of complaining and some lally-gagging; but these kids are carrying on a tradition of bonding through nature.
My own little family has made the goal to go on 30 HIKES this year. Most will be very short, local hikes on weekend mornings. So, I've got hiking on the brain!
Here are some tips for fellow parents who'd like to take little ones hiking:
1) Start Local. Google is your friend. Search for, "local hikes for children" and see what comes up. TripAdvisor is another great resource! Even if you start at a local walking path, you're "hiking!" Don't make the mistake of putting your small kids in the car for hours then making them hike half a day and drive all the way home. Keep it simple! Also related...
2) Make it about time, not distance. Especially if your family is new to hiking, decide on a set time that you'd like to turn-around by, instead of distance. I'd recommend doing an out-and-back hike too, so you can just turn around wherever you are in a half hour's time (or whatever time you decide) and head back the exact way you came.
3) Let the Kids Lead. By this, I don't mean literally, ha! I mean, let the kids stop to look at a flower that caught their eye. Allow for some slow feet and a little exploring. They need a little independent fun to make hiking more appealing in the future!
4) Make it Fun. Point out what's interesting to you! Help the kids see beautiful views, weird-looking trees, and fascinating bugs. Challenge them to races and red-light green-light games, sing songs, and act silly. Basically, be a kid! And constantly praise them for being "such a strong hiker!"
5) Reward Them. Food and water breaks are essential. Find a good "perch" for them to rest their little bums (maybe that can be your shoulders), take in the view, and swig a drink. Special snacks are a fun way to break things up, as is a treat to look forward to once they reach a certain milestone (even if that's the end of the hike!).
(My middle child, R, would like to add Give Your Kid a Stick. I'm not exaggerating what a difference that makes for him. Also, let your kid hit various rocks, trees, etc. with said stick, especially if they're stuck in the backpack.)
I hope this inspires you to get your shoes dirty! If you do, please share your successes (or attempts!). I'd love to hear!