My favorite activity when we go camping is to go hiking. I used to face a lot of resistance from the whole family at the suggestion of a hike (including my spouse). Through perseverance - and candy - I am proud to say we all now enjoy taking a walk in the woods. Below are some tips for a fun, safe hike with the kids:
1. Pick a good trail
This means one that aligns with the skill and ability of the lowest common denominator in your party. This may include a young child or a person with physical limitations. You should then further consider what includes the most things of interest to your hiking party. I love hills that can be sparse in northern Texas. If I can find a hill, great. If I can find a cave, waterfall, or cemetery...all the better. Have your child help with deciding which trail to take. AllTrails is a great resource to find the right hike for you and your family.
2. Have the right gear
Always dress for the current and planned weather. Definitely layer. If it’s chilly out, you will see me in long underwear, a long shirt, pants, a thin down shell, and a vest or raincoat over the coat.
3. Pack a backpack
A good hike includes a backpack with binoculars, one or more field guides, a trail map (paper and/or electronic), yummy snacks, a leak-proof water bottle, Ziploc bags, a compass, a camera, paper, and pencils or pens for writing and drawing. It should also include a first aid kit with bandages, tweezers, antiseptic, gauze, and tape. A little ibuprofen never hurt either. While we are on the topic, know how to handle the most likely scenarios for where you are - in Texas, we may run into cacti needles, get bit by a snake, or need to pull off a tick.
4. Pack plenty of water
Make sure you pack plenty because dehydration is no joke. REI suggests half a liter per hour for moderate activity and one liter for higher levels of activity.
5. Go early or at dusk
The light is better for pictures and animals are more active. You are far more likely to have an amazing experience. Plus, the sun isn’t beating down on you
6. Fun and surprising treats
Trail mix is an obvious favorite but don’t forget to stray from the expected and venture out to fancy picnics (think salami, olives, stinky cheeses, and crackers with wine) to good old yumminess like Cheetos. My sister-in-law used to entice her children to hike by talking about the woodland fairies who would leave gummy bears along the trail. I love this idea but be forewarned that if you are going to do it, you need to be prepared to do this on all future hikes:)
7. Plan a scavenger hunt or photo journal
Scavenger hunts can easily be found on Pinterest which I would recommend if you have a young child that cannot read and you need a pictograph. For older kids, you can easily write one on a piece of paper and customize it for where you are. For a photo journal, come up with a list of “shots” to get and then attempt to do just that. If something that is not on the list grabs your eye, take the shot. You may be the next Ansel Adams
8. Find and decorate a walking stick
Many kids find the search for the perfect stick enough of an activity. You can also take it back to the campsite and adorn it with paint, chalk, or other elements. My daughter made one in Adventure Guides and it goes with us when we go on a hike.
9. Collect nature for your own creations
Pick up leaves, nuts, berries, bark, and other items for outdoor art and/or fairy houses when you return to camp. Not into fairy houses? Leprechauns need a place to live too! You can also do leaf rubbings or make any picture that you can imagine using paper, glue and whatever you find.
10. Look up something in a field guide
It’s one thing to have one and bring it. It’s quite another to actually use it as a reference. Take it out, browse it, read and learn. You can also use a fun app like Google Lens or Seek. Just make sure that it's used sparingly so you or your kids aren't focused on the device itself. I have learned so much about the trees and other flora from using Seek.
11. Go Geocaching
Download the app Geocaching and use it to find geocaches around you. Not familiar with geocaching? It's a fun nature activity where people get little boxes and store trinkets in them. They then post GPS coordinates. If you find the box, you can take a trinket, but you should also leave a trinket. Many also want you to add your name and the date. It's kind of addicting even for adults!
If your kids don't want to hike, make them go anyway but find a short trail. Most of the time, my kids say they don't want to go and by the end we hear things like, "this was the best hike EVER!" With that said, if you get started and everyone is miserable, there's no shame in turning back around and trying again another time.