Here are some tips on hiking with kids based on our experience over the past 12 years teaching our kids how to hike in the Swiss alps. It may be difficult at first, but it’s so worth the effort. Happy hiking!
Start them young. I started when my kids were babies and now they think hiking is a totally normal weekend activity.
Let your child walk part of the way even if they are little and let them walk more every time you go. If you always carry them, they’ll always expect that.
Let your child help plan the trip. My kids love looking at the maps and helping to pick our trail. They feel more invested in the trip if they helped choose our destination.
Plan for naps. My kids always slept well in the stroller and baby backpack. So if we were doing a longer hike, it helped if it was during naptime so they nodded off in the middle and didn’t complain about when we were going to be done. When the kids were slightly older, it was better if we got out of the house early and were done by early afternoon before they got cranky and tired. Then they would sleep on the way home.
Make it fun
Most hikes are great. But on occasion, my kids breakdown mid-trail and I’ve had to be very creative to get a child to stop throwing a tantrum and start walking again. We also have an extremely slow walker in our family, who is constantly smelling the roses and moving at a snail’s pace.
Here are some of my tricks.
Bring friends. My kids walk or run twice as fast with friends that they do without them. I sometimes have to run to catch up.
Power up. We pretend that each trail marker is a power source, so the kids get points for each trail marker they touch, more if they are the first one to get there. Then we award imaginary super powers depending on how many points they earn, like X-ray vision or super speed. This has saved many a hike.
Tell a story. Distraction is the name of the game. I tell old stories or make up new ones to keep my kids focused on anything but the task of moving one foot in front of the other. Once my kids cheer up, they usually take over and start adding their own details to the story and forget all about that mystery itch in their sock.
I Spy – make a game of looking for things along the trail: mushrooms, pine cones, animal tracks. But be careful, they may want to take those things home as well and their backpack might starting dragging them down.
Sing. Learn some camp songs to distract your little one when the going gets tough. We love The Ants Go Marching.
Walking sticks provide both support and entertainment. My kids love looking for new ones on the trail.
Have a destination
Kids need motivation to keep walking, so it really helps to have a goal in mind. Yes, they might still ask “Are we there yet?” but hopefully they will keep walking to get there.
Food: find a restaurant on the trail map and choose a trail that leads to that restaurant or circles back to it. Most have an adjacent playground. You don’t always have to hike – you can just go up to enjoy the view.
Fire: Many trails have picnic areas with grill pits (aka Feuerstelle) with stacks of chopped wood.
Theme: Many resorts have trails with stories, educational info, or play equipment along the way, which helps keep the child motivated and distracted. See my list of theme trails. We love the Toggenberg Tone Trail or Brunni Ticket Trail.
Sport: Choose a resort that has a summer tobbagon slide, ropes coures, or Trötti (scooter) course, so your kids have an activity to look forward to at the end of the trail.
It seems for us that whatever we bring, we don’t need and whatever we don’t bring, we need. Sigh. Here are a few ideas to make you better prepared on hiking trips.
Bring extra clothes, my kids are always “falling” in the mud or water and end up hiking in wet socks or with no pants as demonstrated here.
Check the website and weather before every trip. Even if the weather is glorious in June, some gondolas don’t open until July. Some gondolas close during lunch time. Some gondolas are only open on weekends. Always check schedules online beforehand to avoid problems.
Use a sturdy off-road stroller so you can handle lumpy trails and little kids can nap along the way
Bring lots of snacks and save the best for last. I always have lollipops for complainers so their mouths are busy and they can’t whine so much.
Make the journey to the hike fun. Our kids have limited screen time at home, but get unlimited movies, games and audio books in the long car ride. We consider it a reward for good hiking.
Check beforehand if the mountain transport is a chair lift. It’s not safe if your child isn’t old enough to sit still and follow directions. We took babies on chair lifts as long as we could keep them in a front facing baby carrier. Then we took a break until about 3 years old, when I feel more confident that they wouldn’t freak out and wiggle off the chair. Use your best judgment.
Last, but not least…
Expect the unexpected and be flexible. Don’t get discouraged if the trail suddenly gets tough or the cable car isn’t running or it starts raining. You’re still together with your family, making memories.