How to Choose a Family Friendly Hike

If you’re new to our site, welcome! About a week ago I shared my favorite hiking app, All Trails. This app allows you to easily search and view nearby trails. One thing I love about All Trails is that you can view comments and photos from others who have recently hiked the trail, which is terrific for those who want to know what to expect before they go. All Trails is a great starting point for selecting and locating a hike for your family, but I’d like to press into this a little bit further so that you all feel confident about getting outside.

If you’re a little nervous about setting out on your first adventure, I’d like to congratulate you on being human 😉 Welcome to the club. Whether you’re nervous about how your child will cope outdoors, or you’re nervous about trail navigation, with a little prep and flexibility, you’re going to be just fine. As I like to tell mamas (and papas), it’s ok to be a little nervous or unsure about what’s ahead.

There’s a healthy dose of nervousness that does a body good. It keeps us humble, discerning, and cautious; however, if you’re feeling paralyzed about all of the “what ifs,”  I’d like to encourage you to breathe. Fear is a liar. It does not serve us, it does not help us grow, it does not help us step into the fullness that we’re called to. Fear is NOT wisdom, so we need to be careful not to conflate the two. If you struggle with overcoming fear, I want to encourage you to re-claim whatever it is that fear is currently robbing you of–joy, adventure, love, relationship, etc.. When I struggle with anxiety or fear, personally, I give myself permission to quiet my brain, and let my heart lead my body into what is good and beneficial, like summiting a mountain I thought was too high, or going deeper on a dive that made me apprehensive. If you’re struggling with fear, I challenge you to lay it down and press onwards into the courage and wonder-filled life that is beckoning you.

Replacing fear with strategy is key to stepping into a new hobby, like outdoor adventuring. By being thoughtful in our actions and plans, we can be confident that we’re prepared for whatever lies before us. To help you make a game plan for your next family hike, I’ve put together some quick-hitters below to help you feel empowered to step over fear and into adventure. Here’s what I do when choosing a family friendly hike–

  • Choose a hike that’s an appropriate distance for your family: This applies to both the travel distance it takes to get to the trail head, and the total length of the hike. If you’ve got wee little ones that won’t be keen on a two hour car ride, don’t select a hike that will likely result in a meltdown before your feet ever hit the dirt. Similarly, if your tiny humans have tiny legs, look for a route (not necessarily a trail*) that’s relatively short. I personally don’t have hard and fast rules on how far your child can hike at what age. I’ve seen a four year old hike almost five miles, and I’ve seen a four year old hike one mile. Both are equally worthy of praise, but know your child. If your little one will tire out quickly, pick a route that is a comfortable distance.
  • Pick a route, not necessarily a trail: There are many trails ranked as moderate/difficult that can easily be modified to fit the needs of a young family. Instead of bee-lining it to an “easy” trail that may or may not lackluster, pick a route that suits your needs. If the scenery is terrific on a moderate difficulty hike, but parts of the trail are technical and not kid-friendly, hike what you can until you reach those points, then turn around. Sometimes we get stuck in the mentality that we have to summit, or have to finish the hike, however, this is false. There’s more to a trail than the summit, so if you shift your focus, you expand your opportunities. An added bonus: by not completing a hike, you can make it a challenge to go further and further along the trail the next time you go–what a great way for your kids to celebrate their own progress.
  • For new hikers, pick a trail that has nearby amenities: I’m just going to be honest….if your kids have never peed in the woods, your first hike may be an overwhelming time to teach them. Instead, pick a trail that’s somewhat nearby civilization, so you can make any necessary potty/food stops before/after the hike.
  • Pick an area familiar to you: Although you may not be familiar with the trail itself, being familiar with the general area you’re in really helps build confidence. If you know you’re in a safe area, with nearby emergency services, etc. it will do wonders to help set your mind at ease–just please do remember the differences between fear and strategy that I mentioned above.
  • Pick a trail that’s well maintained: There are some awesome hikes that are way off the beaten path, but when adventuring with kids, it helps to pick trails that are well maintained, clearly marked, and easy to follow. This helps you, as a parent, navigate the trail, but also allows your kiddos a bit more independence when they’re able to safely explore be a few steps ahead without being glued to your hip.

Thinking of heading out on your first hike? Comment below, and let us know what you’re up to!

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