One of the best things about living in Colorado Springs is the abundance of opportunities to get your kids outdoors throughout the year. There are plenty of beautiful parks and fun playgrounds, camping opportunities, and ski resorts that are a short drive away. Colorado Springs also offers numerous options for hiking with kids. If you’re new to hiking with kiddos, we have a few tips to help encourage a lifelong love of outdoor adventures for your children.
1. Find Beginner Trails
It’s important to find trails that meet the skill level for the smallest members of your family. You can use resources like AllTrails.com and Hiking Project to search for trails that fit your needs. Check out our list of 10 Easy Hiking Trails for some inspiration on where to start. Some things to consider when looking for an appropriate trail:
- Distance. This is largely dependent on how your child’s age and current physical fitness. Start out at easy distances and build from there. The last thing you want to do is over commit and have your hike turn into a trail of tears.
- Terrain. Is the trail well-groomed? Easy to navigate? (Pro Tip: take a picture or screenshot of the trail map before you start your hike. That way you can refer back to the map even if you lose cell reception)
- Grade. How steep is the trail? How much elevation will you gain?
- Drop offs. Are there steep drop offs that could pose a danger to small kids?
- Protection from the sun. A lot of trails in Colorado Springs can be quite hot in the summer without some trees for shade. In the winter, trails that have tall trees tend to hold on to ice and snow much longer than those without.
2. Keep a Positive Attitude
The key to encouraging kids to love hiking? Keep it fun. If you approach hiking as a fun adventure, your kids will more than likely learn to follow your lead. This can be challenging when kiddos get tired and start whining, or your hike ends up being hotter than you expected. But in my experiences on the trail with my kids, my kids’ attitude usually reflects my own. Need a little motivation for your kids? Play Eye Spy or print off a nature scavenger hunt to keep your kids engaged and interested.
3. Hike with Friends
Friends are like a secret weapon in getting your kids to go just a little bit further without complaint. They have someone to chat and play with along the trail, and the mileage goes by a bit faster for them. Invite some friends next time you plan a hike and see what happens. If you’re looking for a hiking group, Hike it Baby is a great way to explore new trails and make new friends. (Need inspiration for exploring the great outdoors with kids? Follow Hike it Baby and Born Wild Project on social media.)
4. Gear Up
You really don’t need much gear for hiking. I do recommend good, sturdy shoes with some tread and ankle support. Hiking boots are ideal but not necessary for beginner trails. If you have a kiddo that needs to be carried, figure out what works for you. Go to a store like REI and try a few carriers on (with and without your kid). Different brands work for different body types. Some parents prefer to use a soft carrier for hiking and that works, too! Personally, I liked the extra storage that a framed backpack provided. You can also find great deals on used carriers and other gear at REI Garage Sales and through online sales avenues like North Springs Mamas and Craigslist.
5. Get the Kiddos their own Backpack
If your kids are just starting out with hiking, it may seem counter-intuitive to get them their own backpack. Won’t that just make them more tired? Maybe. But it will also give them a sense of autonomy and responsibility. And those two factors could encourage them to hike just a bit further without whining. Throw in their own compass and a safety whistle and they will be over the moon. After moving to Colorado Springs and diving into hiking, we quickly realized it was cumbersome to stop and dig water out of backpacks every time a kid was thirsty. If you purchase a backpack with a water reservoir, you’re likely to cut down on stops for water because they have access to their water without opening their pack.
Bonus: when kids have their own packs, you can spread any gear among your family instead of carrying everything yourself. Everyone’s pack will be lighter if the load is shared. You can encourage a sense of responsibility by teaching your kids which items they are in charge of packing and carrying for each hike. Pro Tip: Take a look inside your kid’s pack before you get to the trailhead. My son was unusually tired on a recent hike and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I discovered that his backpack was super heavy because he had packed about 30 Matchbox cars in it!
6. Bring Snacks
Even if you’re just going for a short hike, I recommend bringing a small snack. Kids need fuel to keep going, and snacks usually instantly boast morale for us. If you have a little more time for your hike, pack a picnic lunch to eat along the way or at the turnaround point. This will help rest everyone’s legs and break the hike up into smaller portions.
7. Be Prepared
Any time you venture into the mountains or forest, you are ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature. I’m especially aware of this when hiking with my kids. Our family tends to error on the side of extreme caution, but we pack as though there is a possibility that we could get lost, hurt, or stranded for awhile.
Here’s what we take on every hike: more water than we need for the hike, compass, small mirror and orange ribbon for signaling, Spot Satellite Messenger, extensive first aid kit, extra food, parachute cord, an extra layer of clothing, sunscreen, safety whistles (my kids’ backpacks have one built in to the chest strap), hats and sunglasses for everyone.
We also teach our kids what each of these items is for and what to do in an emergency or if they get lost. Sharing preparedness and survival information can be another way to keep kids engaged and happy on a hike. And remember: if your kids have their own backpacks, all of the weight can be shared.
8. Keep an eye on the Weather
It’s no secret: Colorado weather can change in the blink of an eye. Check the weather closely when planning your hikes, and keep an eye on the clouds while you’re out on the trail. Afternoon thunderstorms are very common in the summer (and sometimes almost daily). If you see dark clouds rolling in over the Front Range, consider cutting your hike short or postponing it for better weather. Lightening here is no joke. And those thunderstorms can also leave you with wet clothes in much cooler temperatures than you started your hike with.
9. Teach your kids to be good Trail Stewards
If you’re new to hiking, take a moment to learn a little bit about trail etiquette and pass that knowledge on to your kids. If we are all good trail stewards, future generations will be able to enjoy the outdoors, too. Here are a few pointers to get started:
- Stay on the designated trail. Venturing off the trail can harm fragile vegetation and encourages erosion. This is also a good way to decrease unwanted encounters with snakes and other wildlife.
- Leave no trace. Pack out all of your trash. Don’t leave anything behind. The idea is to leave the trail as it was when you arrived (or even better).
- Stay to the right side of the trail in single file when passing hikers going the opposite direction.
- Yield to uphill hikers.
- Mountain bikers always yield to hikers. Everyone yields to horses.
What are you tips for hiking with kids? What works for your family? Let us know in the comments below!
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