Hiking with kids provides an opportunity to explore the outdoors. It is most enjoyable and enriching if you leave lots of time for kids to go at their own pace and to stop and explore as they would like. Kid carrying backpacks or your favourite baby wearing device make hiking doable with kids of all ages. We find that the four and under crowd generally end up needing to be carried at some point during longer hikes while kids five and up can go great distances, even packing some of their own supplies, as long as their motivation holds up.
Whether you are heading out on a challenging trek or just a quick walk in the woods, hiking is a great opportunity to commune with nature. The magic that happens on the trail is all about being present to your surroundings and connecting with a place on a variety of levels.
Look, listen, smell, touch and even taste - Look for opportunities to engage all your senses on the trail. When it is safe to do so, hike quietly and listen to the sounds of nature. Keep on the lookout for edibles that you can identify positively and know are safe to eat. On a recent short hike in Asessipi, Manitoba, Canada we sampled wild raspberries, hazelnuts, and rosehips.
Take the time to stop and explore - Rolling over a rotten log, waiting quietly by the edge of a pond, it is in the moments that we stop to observe that we have the best chance of encountering wildlife.
Try an interpretive trail - Many sites, especially large parks, have some trails that include interpretive signs with information about the natural habitat and history of the area. These can be informative and provide a richer sense of your environment. They are also natural stopping points and can motivate small kids to keep going to reach the next sign. Interpretive trails typically tend to be on the shorter side, making them a great choice for little hikers.
Keep your hike tech free (OK except maybe cameras)- So as not to break your connection with nature, it is a good idea to avoid referencing technological aids while hiking. Bring along nature guide books, snap photos of interesting plants and animals to research later, or fill out a nature journal with notes and sketches of your finds when your hike wraps up.
Being together in nature often naturally creates a sense of connection. Going at your kids' pace rather than pushing them to move faster to reach a destination also can enhance that natural connection. Take the opportunity to point out and talk about interesting things you see on the trail and encourage your kids to do the same if they want. However, if you're a family of introverts or want to enjoy nature quietly, just walking along together can foster engagement. So just hit the trail and enjoy.