Hiking with little children can be both enchanting and exhausting! Watching how they interact with nature—excited and engaged with their surroundings—reminds us to be curious once again.
But with children the excitement soon wears off as tiredness sets in!
We have a few tips on how to plan and pace your walk in our parks or forest, when walking with children, so that they—and you—stay happy and enjoy the experience!
1. Get them involved
Involve your children in preparation and planning. Show them the map of where you will go and read what’s special about the park you’ll visit, including any wildlife they might see. Make a list and pack your backpacks together. This is a great opportunity to build up anticipation and create a sense of connection and shared responsibility.
2. Start early
Mornings—when they are full of energy—are typically the best times for walking with young children! Just make sure you leave time for a healthy breakfast before you set off.
3. Keep it short and rest often
Choose short walks with a scenic highlight, such as a lookout or waterfall. Spend some time here enjoying the scenery and having a picnic. Have rest stops every 20 minutes or so, ideally at a lookout or scenic place. Drink some water, adjust your gear and talk about what you’ve seen so far. Check how everyone is feeling and judge when to turn around if little legs are tiring. For safety, always ensure an adult is walking behind a child.
4. Snack healthy
Pack healthy snacks for the trail. Choose wholesome food—fruit and snacks that you can eat in small portions as you walk. Avoid sugary sweets as these will cause the dreaded ‘sugar crash’ and the inevitable ‘melt down’ on the trail, just as you hope to be heading back. Remember, to take all packaging and food scraps out with you to dispose of on your return home.
5. Spot wildlife
Look for birds and other animals in the bush. Listen for bird calls. If you have a pair of binoculars, introduce children to bird watching. Look for animal tracks and traces—don’t forget the mini-beasts! Read interpretive signs along the track, many of which provide fun facts about the park’s plants and animals. An early connection with nature fosters a healthy respect for the natural world. If children connect with nature as kids, they are more likely to protect it as they get older.
6. Engage, don’t instruct
Chat as you go along. Don’t give too many instructions. Place one adult at the front and one adult or older child at ‘tail-end Charlie’ (the back of the group) to keep everyone together. Allow your children to explore and be curious without being overcautious. Encourage respect and love of nature rather than a fear of the unknown. Children notice your energy and anxiety, so stay close to them if you’re nervous. Always keep them away from steep edges and drop-offs, but don’t shout instructions every few minutes—the joy of being in nature will be lost!
7. Dress well
Pack appropriate clothing for the climate. Be aware that children heat up and cool down more quickly than adults. Pause to take off or add layers as the temperature changes. Dress in soft clothing—ideally wicking material/dryfit/merino—and avoid heavy materials or thick cotton that can chafe tender skin.
8. Get a grip
Make sure the children wear their most grippy trainers. Sandals and thongs/flipflops don’t cut it on the trails. You probably won’t have hiking boots for your children, but they do need shoes with decent, grippy soles to cope with the rough terrain. Little feet will often slip or slide over roots, so stay close to help them over any steep or tricky sections. Choose socks that go above the ankles so they don’t slip down uncomfortably into their shoe.
9. Memories are made of this
Children will often recall their family ‘mini-adventures’, even when they are older. After all, on a nature walk, they have your (and other adults’) full attention. Away from screens, distractions and other stresses, walking is your chance to reconnect the family and make happy memories.
10. ‘Do as I do’
Show your children how to treat the environment with respect and love. They will follow your example. Stay on the track, avoid disturbing plants and animals, and leave nothing along the trail. Take everything out that you brought in, including fruit scraps and seeds. Leave no trace!
They will thank you
Hiking is a great way to share the simple joys of nature with your children. It’s never too late to start, and the memories will be long-lasting!
Find a park near you with walks suitable for you and your family of 'little legs'.