Hiking with Kids

Taking kids hiking helps them develop a life-long relationship with nature and the great outdoors. Of course all prepared adults will make sure to carry the 10 Essentials, including water, snacks, sunscreen, and appropriate footwear and clothing. Once you have your backpack filled with trail mix, reusable water bottles, map, and first aid kit, it’s time to get creative to make the most of this special time together!

two adults and three kids hike down a mountain trail
Spending time outdoors with children is incredibly rewarding, especially in beautiful places like Yellowstone National Park.

NPS / Jim Peaco

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    a mom carries her child in a child carrier backpack
    Spending time in nature is good for your health!

    NPS photo

    Why Hike with Kids

    When you invite kids along for a hike, you’ll definitely have to spend a little extra time getting ready. You’ll be taking care of the needs of at least one other human, and that means extra jackets, dry socks, and hats to bring along. You may be tempted to wonder, “Is this hike worth all of the time it takes to prepare?” The answer, most definitely, is Yes!

    • Hiking with kids is fun. You’ll remember how cool tiny bugs are, how fun it is to get a little muddy, and how beautiful birds, rocks, and butterflies can be. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child brings an inspiring, valuable perspective to any adult.
    • Walking in nature is healthy for kids and adults. Many scholarly studies measure the health benefits of spending time in nature. Some of the research shows that just 5 minutes of walking in nature improves mood, self-esteem, and relaxation. Another benefit is improved cognitive function and memory.
    • Taking a hike with kids benefits our natural areas. Love for the great outdoors is not a genetic trait we inherit. Conservation is a learned behavior, one that need to be fostered and encouraged. Going for hikes with children is the first step in showing the next generation the wonders of the great outdoors and why clean water and clean air matter.

    What to Do on a Hike

    Sometimes just walking around outside isn’t quite enough to keep everyone happy and engaged. Depending of course on the age of the kids, here are some ideas to keep you on track in case young hikers get tired, hungry, or grumpy.

    • Listen. Natural areas host many wonderful sounds. You can try to identify bird calls or simply count different natural noises, from water flowing to leaves rustling to bees buzzing. Or if the kids are a little older, they can try to record cool sounds and make new ringtones for their phones.
    • Observe and record. This can be in many formats. Keep a list of animals or plants you see, or you can sketch plants or take photos. The kids can keep a journal where they record hikes they take and write down memories, descriptions, or stories. Just be creative and play to your strengths. If you work on it together, it could end up being a precious family keepsake.
    • Teach life skills. You don’t have to be part of an organized group to learn important life skills while you’re on the trail. You can show kids how to read a map, predict a storm, or use a compass. Use a scraped knee, bug bite, or blister as an opportunity to teach basic first aid.
    If you make the effort to include kids on your next hike, it'll pay off. You may have some challenges on the trail, but the long-term benefits outweigh them. Just be prepared with a patient attitude, an inquisitive spirit, and of course, a well packed backpack!

    More Resources

    • front cover of the Junior Ranger Park Explorer Book
      Plan a Trip Together!

      With the Junior Ranger Park Explorer program, kids get involved in planning your trip in a fun, engaging way!

    • a park ranger holds up three colorful junior ranger booklets
      Become a Junior Ranger

      Junior Ranger programs help children (and their families) connect with parks in a fun, place-based way. Learn more about programs offered.

    • three kids hold up every kid outdoors passes while standing next to a smiling ranger
      Every Kid Outdoors Pass

      Every Kid Outdoors allows U.S. fourth graders and family members free access to over 2,000 federal lands and waters!

    Last updated: June 27, 2024