Hiking can be such a fun and rewarding experience. While bringing kids along may slow your pace, it’s a great way to explore the outdoors together as a family. 

At first, I was unsure whether my kids (ages 8, 6, 4, and 2) were capable of successfully hiking a trail. We decided there was only one way to find out – by trying it!  On a recent vacation to Chattanooga, TN, we ventured along the Rainbow Lake Wilderness trail on Signal Mountain, which ended up being a really great experience for all.  Here are my tips and tricks for making your next outdoor adventure with kids a successful one.

Here are my tips and tricks for making your next outdoor adventure a successful one:

Tip #1: Do your research in advance. Understand the difficulty of your hike before you go.  I typically read other hikers’ reviews to better understand the elevation, roughness of the terrain, and whether other kids have successfully completed it.  I also research what “payoffs” they may encounter (the rock structures they can climb up, the bridge they cross, the waterfall at the end) that will keep them engaged and eager to keep going.

Tip #2: Dress appropriately.  Uncomfortable kids are whiny kids.  Check weather conditions before you go, and bring layers so your children stay warm and comfortable during the hike. Also, ensure your kids wear comfortable shoes that can get dirty (especially if your kids enjoy mud as mine do).


Tip #3: Bring snacks. Snacks are an essential part of any outing with my family, and hiking is no exception.

Comfortable Kids Hiking Shoes

We usually overpack on snacks, especially when the kids are engaged in physical activity; our kids enjoy having a variety to choose from, and they tend to eat a lot while on the trail.  Scampering over rocks is hard work for little bodies, and they need to stay fueled up!

Bringing snacks on the trail is also a good opportunity to teach your kids about Leave No Trace principles.  My kids felt an added responsibility to keep the trail clean and undisturbed and ensured that any snack waste was brought with us back to the trailhead.  They were quick to point out lingering evidence of past hikers, such as an abandoned sock, a granola bar wrapper, or the charred remains of a campfire, which led to some good discussion about forest fires and how to responsibly leave a campsite.

Tip #4:  Make it fun.  We allowed the kids to pick out a walking stick to aid them on their journey, which they found positively novel.  They marveled at the unfamiliar bugs we encountered on our trail and listened for different bird sounds, trying to guess what they were saying to each other.  At one point, the trail ran parallel to a stream, so we stopped to teach our kids how to skip rocks, which my oldest son thoroughly enjoyed.  The bottom line: find ways to keep your kids engaged, and they will focus more on the beauty around them than on the length of time they’ve been walking.

Son Skipping Rocks

Tip #5: Expect to carry young kids (at least a little) and take frequent breaks. Especially with young kids, it’s likely that their legs might get tired before they have a chance to find a bench and take a break. Our 4-year-old spent a decent amount of time walking but needed a couple of piggyback rides along the way and asked to be carried over the suspension bridge we crossed. My youngest son is only two, so we brought a backpack carrier in which he could ride. We were pleasantly surprised that our oldest children (8 and 6 yrs) never once complained about their legs and only stopped to rest when a bench or large rock was available. Being a patient parent is important: allowing extra time for the kids to rest makes the overall experience more enjoyable.

Carrying Son on My Back During Our Hike
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how well our kids did on their 2-mile hike along Signal Mountain. 

When asked, their favorite parts were the waterfalls they encountered, learning how to skip rocks, and using their own walking sticks along the way.  It was wonderful to make memories together as a family, and I’m excited to get them out on another trail soon!

Kristina Shane
Written by Kristina Shane OPL Content Contributor and Editor