Family hikes are a highlight of my weekends. Not only is walking great exercise, but we get to make memories outdoors and explore nature near home. Of course, getting kids to try new things can be challenging. My spouse and I have faced many hurdles over the years, from pouting to tired legs to snack-time catastrophes. (Pro-tip: bring double the granola bars you think you’ll need!)
Through trial and error, we learned a handful of tricks that have made hiking with children a smoother, happier and very rewarding experience. Now, taking the kids out for a weekend hike is like a piece of cake – and my kids love cake!
Read onward for tips that’ll make hiking a bit breezier for the grown-ups involved, while also getting the young ones engaged and excited. With the right encouragement, appropriate trails, and, yes, appealing snacks, hiking with the whole family (infants and toddlers included!) can be something that everyone looks forward to.
Like with many things, it’s a good idea to test the waters before diving in. Start with small, short trails to get a read on your children’s receptiveness to the activity. Even a ten minute walk around your neighborhood can be hugely enlightening. Further down, you’ll find a list of trails that my kids have loved, with notes on their features and difficulty.
There are a few must-haves that will get you over the basic stumbling blocks of hiking with kids. These include:
Sometimes, the hardest part of taking children hiking is getting them to leave the house. With the comfort of TV, board games, couches and blankets, the great indoors can be a space that your kiddos might never choose to leave!
This was particularly the case with my second kid, who would prefer to play dress-up at the apartment instead of getting dirty on the trail. However, with a few simple additions to our hiking plans, she’s a fan of open-air experiences that can’t be found inside. Here are a few suggestions that will have your kids lacing up their sneakers with enthusiasm:
Any hike comes along with a few risks. For children especially, the main things to consider are getting dirty, getting injured or getting tired.
This popular spot is good for beginners, though plan for some patience parking in the small lot. The wide, safe trails make it difficult to get lost, while still taking you through scenic outdoor space. Bathrooms are accessible, plus a water filling station. My kiddos enjoy the small interpretive center, and seeing the pups on this dog-friendly trail!
One weekend, my kids and I saw over thirty newts on the Ancient Oaks Trail at this location! It’s a great place to play the “can you find any ____” game, though the trail admittedly has some narrower parts with incline. We’ve also used the very short, flat trail that takes you to great seating with a view of Mindego Hill. It’s accessible via the newer parking lot that doesn’t get as full as the older one right by Skyline Blvd. Perfect for a picnic with grandparents!
Near the parking area is a short easy-access, self-guided interpretive trail. With bathrooms and a flat, simple path around the Upper Lake, this could be an excellent location to test the waters with young hikers. They should look out for turtles, newts, and banana slugs. And there are an abundance of benches to stop at and have a snack!
There is so much to explore at this location. Horseshoe Lake is near a bridge and bench, and there’s also the David C. Daniels Nature Center by Alpine Pond. For the more experienced junior hikers, the Gene Sheehan Overlook on the Ipiwa Trail can be a great place to climb a rock and enjoy a picnic or snack! Keep an eye out for banana slugs and newts on the steep, shady Fir Knoll Trail, and wildflowers in the spring on Ipiwa Trail.
My kids love this park for its big meadow, the pond and Aubry Creek. Note that walking uphill on a steep, paved path is necessary to reach the creek. As such, this trail may be too difficult for very young children – unless they’re tiny enough for your favorite carrier or a ride on your shoulders! Another plus is the restrooms along shady Sanborn Trail (as you’ll walk by campsites to get to the creek). Oh and heads up, there’s a $6 parking fee at the entrance.
Though it’s a bit of extra work, hiking with the whole family is worth the effort. Watching children experience the outdoors at such a young age is so rewarding. Their excitement over the small wonders of the world is precious to behold, and what better place to experience that joy than on a hike.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more