Top Three Tips for Hiking with Kids

Avid hiker and parent of three Kathy Schrenk, author of the new guide "Best Hikes with Kids: St. Louis and Beyond," joins us to share her top tips for hitting the trails with a reluctant little one—without pushing anyone into meltdown territory.
Kathy Schrenk Kathy Schrenk
Mountaineers Books Author
May 30, 2018
Top Three Tips for Hiking with Kids

Some kids love hiking; others would rather stay home and read a book (I have one of each). Once my unenthusiastic hiker is actually on the trail, his attitude usually improves, thanks to some of the tricks I’ve learned over the years:

Top Tips for Hiking With Kids

The Buildup

Bolster kids’ enthusiasm for the hike before you go with information about the trail—from the guidebook or from your own memories: “Last time we hiked there we saw a turtle!” If your child is not excited about hiking, frame the outing a different way. If they like to go for picnic, or a rock scramble, just change the name. The most crucial part of getting your kid to hike is actually getting them outdoors to hike. If you make it clear from an early age that hiking is a thing your family does on a regular basis, the more success and happiness you’ll all experience on the trail.


Food is important for every hike, but it can help to mix it up with special treats. We have a stash of “special” candy in the hiking backpack to use for rewards. Toddlers and preschoolers are especially easy to bribe: “You can have a lollipop if you walk to that tree!” or “You can have a chocolate candy if you take another 100 steps!”


My favorite way to keep kids happy on hikes is to invite their friends. It’s amazing how much complaining happens on a hike with only one family. But if you add another family with at least one kid in roughly the same age range, like magic the hike seems to get shorter and the climbs easier for everyone involved.

Why It Matters

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need much convincing that hiking is good for mind, body, and soul.  But if you’re trying to entice a reluctant partner, remind them of some of the benefits:


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children get at least an hour of physical activity a day. Most kids will respond better to the command to “get some exercise” when it involves exploring the woods.

Mental health

Research has shown that hiking improves mood. But most of us don’t need scientists to tell us hiking is good for you; few things are perfect for clearing your head like a favorite hiking trail, even if it’s not a lung-busting climb up a rocky peak.


“Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”

Taking kids hiking means raising the next generation of preservationists. Kids who grow up hiking will continue to value these spaces that benefit the earth and all the creatures on it, including humans.

BestHikesWithKids_SL2_WEB_SM.jpgReady to set out on a family adventure? Make sure to pick up a copy of Kathy's book Best Hikes with Kids: St. Louis and Beyond for all the best family-friendly outings in the St. Louis area.