Hiking is one of the most amazing ways to see the world. I love hiking and I’m trying to pass on that appreciation to my children. One of the challenges however, is getting the kids through a climb with minimal complaints (can I get an amen?). Candy is the world’s best motivator, but there are other ways to get kids smiling up a mountain. Here are five ideas to get kids hiking without complaint and only one involves candy.
Geocaching — The Hiking Treasure Hunt
What’s better than a treasure hunt? Geocaching is something that was started over a decade ago when hand-held navigation systems became popular (read about it here). Now Geocaching apps are readily available on phones making it even easier. People all over the world have planted little containers with trinkets in hidden locations – these are called “Caches”. They log the coordinates and provide clues and upload the information into Geocaching databases so that people can find them. You can use free apps, or pay for a more in-depth Geocaching service to find the caches. If you’ve never done Geocaching with your kids you are in for a fun surprise. You will be shocked at the amount of caches hidden everywhere! We even found one hidden on our street!
Typically for hiking, we pick a trail we already plan to hike and log into the Geocaching app to see if there are caches along the trail. The apps use both a map, compass and clues to show how close you are finding the hidden container. Typically, the caches are buried under leaves, hidden in rocks or trees. There are varying difficultly levels. The containers typically contain a notebook with a pencil where you can sign your name. They also contain little trinkets like stickers, pins, baseball cards and more. The rule is that if you take something you have to leave something, so it’s always a good idea to bring some things to leave behind.
This image from Geocaching.com shows the hidden caches (the dots).
Candy (AKA “Power Pellets”)– the Great Motivator
We don’t readily hand out candy to our kids, so when we do, they will do just about anything for it, including hike. When my daughter was three I bought some jelly beans from Trader Joes (they have some good ones without artificial dyes). We went to Yosemite and all 25 pint-sized pounds of her hiked all the way up to Vernal Falls, a steep hard climb. We handed out jelly beans that we called “Power Pellets” along the way, and she marched happily up the mountain. People looked at her in amazement. But I knew what was motivating her – Jelly Beans! Our friend also swears by having one of the adults run ahead and plant gummy bears or other treats along the trail and the kids find them along the way.
Laminated Pocket Nature Foldout Guides
Places like Amazon, REI, Barnes and Noble and more have laminated foldout guides of plants, animals, birds and flowers of nearly every location. I picked up a few of these guides on the local plant and animal life in Southern California for less than $10 each. These are lightweight and easy to pack. The colorful pictures make it easy for non-readers to participate. Have your children look for things on the foldout as you hike.
I Spy Challenge
My kids love a good challenge to be the first to find things. Before the hike come up with a list of items, plants, animals etc. to find. Some examples include, a burned out tree, a squirrel, a lizard, a yellow wildflower, a stream, etc. You might want to include a prize for the person who finds the most items on the list. Additionally, you could use laminated nature guides as a source of the “I Spy” list.
Kid Sized Hydration – Eliminating “I’m Thirsty” from Your Hike
Buying a pint-sized hydration pack like a Camelback or Osprey pack for kids is definitely an investment, but worth it if you consistently go hiking. One of my children’s core complaints when hiking is thirst. A Camelback allows children unlimited and instant access to hydration. You can also include little snacks in the pack so that you can eliminate the “I’m hungry” complaint as well. Win-win!
I hope you enjoyed these ideas for making hiking more fun for the whole family. Enjoy and get out there! Comment with your ideas below as well.