Travel Tips 

5 Ways to Keep Kids Motivated and Having Fun on a Hike

If you’re outdoorsy and you’re a parent, chances are that you hope your kids grow up loving the outdoors as much as you do. You dream of family camping weekends and spring break trips spent paddling a river with them as teenagers.
Prepared By:

Tobey Schmidt

Adventurer & Photographer

Exposing your kids to nature at a young age is a great place to start! The challenge? They’re still kids, and kids have a hard time staying motivated for long periods of time, i.e., a 3-mile hike—or even a 1-mile hike! We’ve compiled some ways to keep your kids engaged and motivated on a hike, so that they hopefully walk away with a positive experience.

hiking with a buddy

#1: Bring a Buddy

As we all know, kids love to have a “buddy” with them, especially as they enter their pre-teen years. Inviting a friend to come along will make the hike feel more like a play-date, and they’ll be happy doing just about anything. 

Pro tip: Invite the parents of the friend, so that you’re not stuck babysitting more kids than you want to!

#2: Give Them a Map and Have Them “Lead” the Way

Make your kids feel like they’re in charge by having them “lead” the way. Give them the trail map, and let them choose your destination and which trail to take. Give gentle guidance so that they stay on trail, but the more freedom, the better! 

Pro tip: If you have multiple kids, switch up who gets to be the leader. This way they’re excited for the next hike and it (hopefully) minimizes the arguing! 

hiking with a map
picnic kids hiking

#3: Have a Picnic Along the Trail

This one isn’t just fun for the kids, but for you, too! A designated picnic lunch is a fun way to break up the hike. Pack a lightweight blanket, some lunch items, and find a good flat spot to rest—preferably off trail, so you’re not blocking hikers’ way. 

Pro tip: If your hike is near a river, try to find a riverside “beach” spot. Otherwise, open fields or rocky areas are good for picnics!

#4: Play Games

“I-Spy”, 20 Questions, scavenger hunts—there are so many fun games to be played while hiking! There’s no question that kids love games, so incorporate your favorite one to keep them busy on the trail. 

Pro tip: Make it an educational game for an added challenge! “Spot the alphabet” is a good example, or even going through the Leave No Trace principles and finding relevant examples of each principle.

kids hiking
kids hanging out by a waterfall

#5: Give Them a “Job”

Assigning kids meaningful jobs is a clever way to motivate them. Roles such as medic (have them carry the first-aid kit), chef (have them carry the lunch and prepare it), entertainer (have them come up with songs to keep the group entertained), are all possible roles that they would be happy to take on.

Pro tip: They’ll be more inclined to do this again if they actually get to perform a task—have them place a band-aid on a bug bite of yours, or “order” lunch from them before they’ve prepared it. 

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