Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Hike" is not a four letter word

I've heard that you should never use the word "hike" when you go out for an adventure with your children.  I've seen it suggested that you use words like "expedition," or "journey" - even "a big wild adventure," but never "hike."

Personally, I don't quite get that idea.  My three year old loves hiking and gets so excited when I say we are going for a hike that he drives me crazy jumping up and down and running in circles.  It's come to the point where I don't actually tell him what we are doing until I'm packing the last bag and about ready to load the car.  I wrote another story on How To Survive a Toddler Hike last month but thought I'd revisit the idea of enjoyable family hiking with some simple games and fun activities you can try on the trail. 

Hiking is fun!

One - Trail Snacking

Not sure this can be called a game but I try to feed my son constantly while hiking.  Every time he starts to whine, complain, or even whimper, I pull out another mini-muffin, another granola bar, a bag of crackers or even corn pops.  Yes, that's right, I said corn pops.  I don't buy into the idea that hiking food has to be healthy.  If the food is fun, the hike will be fun.  And you can quote me on that!  You can determine for your own family what would be considered "fun."  If your child thinks carrot sticks are fun I'm super jealous.  When I go on a big climbing trip I've been known to bring pop tarts, candy, chocolate and pringles in my pack and if you are doing a 3-5km hike with preschoolers, it's the equivalent of a big climbing trip for them.  Their feet are small and they need some motivation on those hills you might not exactly consider a mountain. 

Now, please don't get me wrong and think I allow my son to eat junk food on a daily basis.  I'm talking about treats here and I hope most people can see the difference.  As well, I would never suggest that if your child's feet are sore that you just stuff another cookie in his or her mouth and push them onward.  I'm assuming most families will be able to discern the difference between gentle persuasion to hike a little further Vs. cruelty when a child has clearly reached his or her limit. 

Not such a bad snack option

Two - Trail Football

We created this game today and it saved our butts on the way back out as we had to climb back up the hills we'd run down at the beginning.  My son wanted to bring his little football along that Grandma had bought him yesterday.  I couldn't see any reason not to allow this so along came the ball.  It was just a small toy and super soft so I wasn't worried that anybody would get hit in the head with it and start crying.  Every time we got to a big hill, my son would throw it up ahead of him and then run to catch it.  On the downhill sections, he'd throw it and watch it go tumbling down the hill.  He'd again run after it squealing with delight.  If you have older children you could play catch on the trail, passing the ball back and forth amongst your family members.

Catch me if you can

Three - Trail Singing

We've entertained the troops with endless verses of "The ants go marching" and "Old McDonald's farm" on more than one long hike.  Pick silly songs and let the kids think up verses to distract them from tedious moments on the hike (usually the return to the car).  "Down by the bay" is another good song where older children will have to use their creativity to think of another animal doing something silly - down by the bay. The Ultimate Camp Resource website has an amazing list of camp songs complete with lyrics if it's been a while since you've sung "Alice the Camel" or "Going on a Bear Hunt." 

Butterflies flying down the trail

Four - Trail Car Races

I got this idea from Helen Olsson in her new book "The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids."  Helen suggests bringing toy trucks and cars for each small child on the hike so that they can race their vehicles down the hills.  I thought this was a very creative idea and if you're like me, you probably have sand toys and miniature trucks, diggers, cars, etc. living in your car ready to pull out at a moment's notice.  If your child is carrying their own little backpack, they can even carry their own toy cars and trucks.  Brilliant!  Thanks Helen for that one.  If you haven't checked out her book yet, I can't recommend it enough.  She has a whole chapter on Outdoor Recreation with a section titled "Top Ten Ways to Keep Kids Trucking Down the Trail."  It's worth buying the book just to read that section.  I know it gave me some new ideas.  Helen blogs at Mad Dog Mom so check out her fabulous information for families there. 

Sand toys should come everywhere

Five - Trail Running

Now, I'm not talking about long distance running in spandex shorts here.  I'm just talking about trail games that will get your children running, playing, and interacting with their friends that hopefully you've brought along.  I've said before that if you bring a friend for your child, you've basically given him or her a superman cape.  Games like Hide and Seek, Tag and Follow the Leader are perfect diversions for the hiking trail.  I've watched older kids playing Hide and Seek  before and seen how much fun they were having when they'd run ahead, hide behind a tree, and then jump out at Mom and Dad coming up behind. 

One word of caution about these games is that you need to be pretty sure your children will be safe if they're running ahead or hiding in the bush.  It's always a good idea to enforce a buddy system where children have to hike with a partner at all times and if there is any threat of bears or cougars in the area, you'll want to hike in a tight group.  Follow the Leader and Tag will still work as long as the adults take turns running right behind and don't let the kids out of sight.  Hide and Seek though should be done at your discretion and might be a good game for urban hikes where you are fairly confident your child won't run into a wild animal on the trail.

Follow the Leader

Happy Hiking and please let me know what games you play with your children on the trails.  


  1. Totally chuckled at the yellow-bag-of-teddy-grahams picture. Those come on every hike of ours too! The kids have come to know if they see them in the pantry, "Those are for hiking...not home." I totally agree on the fun food thing.

    We sing a lot, we aso have the "Daddy tow service" that revs into existence on particularly steep sections of trail. Oh, and we will totally try the trail football idea, my son would go for that...

  2. Love the ideas! We have had the kids (6-9) hunting for Bigfoot, trying to find signs of him, the secret entrance to his lair etc.

  3. We "hide" jujubes (in plain site) part way up or at the top of the hills and they have to find them. I too like the trail football idea.

  4. Story telling - I have used that on my daughter when she is lagging on a hike, and the whinging has set in (and we have run out of snacks, which I so agree, are mandatory on hikes!!). I break my detailed made-up fairytale into sections, and she gets so engrossed in them that she forgets about the climb. I tell her that when we get to Spot X on the hill, the next part of the story will begin (the previous section always ends with a "will the princess escape?")

    I can't tell you how often that has saved us in the past!!!