Picture this: it’s a beautiful July weekend morning. The mountains are calling, and you must go. There’s only one problem. One of your precious kids is sitting on the trail (or in the parking lot), refusing to go a step further.
We love to hike as a family. But when we moved from the Midwest three years ago, our hikes weren’t so wonderful. My husband and I were often anxious to hit the trails on the weekend, but our kids (especially one sweet little girl, Miss A) were generally less enthusiastic about our adventure. This often turned an enjoyable hike into one wrought with complaining, frustration, and a premature end.
With our own reluctant hiker, while hiking still may not be her favorite activity, she’s come a LONG way, and we’ve learned a few things in the process.
1. Set them up for success. Being prepared is huge. Make sure you have water, comfortable shoes, hats or sunscreen, and rain gear if needed. Taking a bathroom break BEFORE the hike begins is always helpful, too. Also, prepare your young hikers mentally: start with low expectations, a shorter hike, a familiar trail, and easier terrain. These simple steps pay huge dividends towards helping your reluctant hiker want to hike again.
2. Snacks. Food is key. We like to plan snack time for halfway, and sometimes again towards the end of the hike. Often, it’s “let’s get to the top of this hill so we can sit and have a snack.”
3. Give them a responsibility. Miss A was gifted an old point-and-shoot camera from her grandma. It turns out that making her the official photographer of the hike made the journey that much more enjoyable for her. The official carrier of the Camelbak or snacks works too. Even keeping them on the lookout for wildlife or wild flowers does the trick.
4. Tell a story. This has been the most successful tip we’ve stumbled upon. Miss A loves to tell and listen to stories, and thankfully my husband is a fabulous storyteller. If Miss A is telling or listening to a story, she often forgets that we’re doing her least favorite activity. We’ve also turned storytelling into a game, taking turns adding to the story until we’ve created a usually very humorous and confusing tale. Oddly, it seems like the story often starts with a girl who doesn’t like to hike. 🙂
5. Games. There are several games you can play while you walk. Try taking turns finding things you see that start with a different letter of the alphabet, working your way through all the letters. With a little advanced preparation, you can also do a scavenger hunt. Sing a song (or make one up!). Our new favorite: assign points to different things and keep track to see who has the most by the end of the hike. (For instance: birds are worth 1 point, a cactus is worth 2, and a mountain goat is worth 10).
Our first hike after relocating to Colorado was quite memorable, for all the wrong reasons (it was barely a walk from the parking lot, let alone a hike). I was convinced we might never be able to hike as a family. Fortunately, three years later, we’ve worked our way up, added to our hiking toolbox, and have conquered many hikes as a family. There is so much beauty to be found on the trails and a lot of fun to be had — fun that hopefully even a reluctant hiker can learn to enjoy.