Hiking has a long laundry list of health benefits — from lowering blood pressure, to building bone density and strength. Hiking helps us sleep better. Recent studies also show that hiking has mental health benefits. Being in nature lowers stress levels, boosts our mood and makes us happier. Time spent in nature also boosts attention spans and creative problem-solving skills.
HOW TO START HIKING AS A FAMILY
1. START HIKING AS A FAMILY EARLY
There is no such thing as hiking too early. A child of any age can enjoy being out in nature. The earlier you start getting your kids hiking, the easier it will be as they grow up. Even a short walk along a bike path or down to wade in a stream can count as a hike when they are young. Just get them outside and moving!
2. LOCATE KID-FRIENDLY HIKING TRAILS
When your kids are young, find flat trails that have interesting areas along the way. When my kids were very young, I located a trail near my home that was flat and about a half mile in had a nice shaded area by a stream perfect for picnics. I would carry our baby in a hiking carrier. And our preschooler could trek along at her own pace smelling the flowers along the way. We’d end with a picnic by the river.
As they got older it became a bit harder to keep their interest. Finding a trail with waterfalls and caves, like Rifle Falls State Park in Colorado, then became key.
Behind the waterfalls at Rifle Falls State Park. Photo: Liana Moore/ InsiderFamilies
3. HAVE REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS FOR FAMILY HIKES
This continues to be the most challenging for me. While your goal (and mine) may be to summit the top of a mountain to take in the spectacular vista, what motivates kids may be and should be completely different. They may want to pick raspberries along the way, splash in the water or explore caves. Don’t plan on a fast pace on your first hikes and let your kids just enjoy themselves. If you succeed at instilling a love of hiking then the challenges of summiting mountains can come later.
4. HAVE FUN
This may seem like an easy one, and it will be if you can follow the previous three steps. Pack a picnic with a special treat. Come up with a game of spotting different animals, animal tracks or even animal scat. Count butterflies. Pick berries. Skip stones. Explore caves. Just have fun and enjoy your time as a family taking in our natural environment.