Get Outside! 6 Tips for Making Hiking with Kids Fun


My family loves hiking. We love the outdoors. Despite this, our children are, how shall I put it? Reluctant hikers. And by that I mean that they whine, complain, fall down, whine more, ask for snacks, fall down again, and then magic happens…they start to have fun! Every time it goes this way. How do we go hiking with kids without the whining? If you know, please comment.


Here’s what I do know about hiking with kids; how to eventually get to the fun part:

  1. There must be a destination

    Sometimes “the top” is enough, but  other times it needs to be a waterfall, or a lake, or the beach. Name your destination, and then remind those little toe-draggers what it is they’re working toward.

  2. Trail treats!

    I bribe my sweet, little sugar addicts. If they’ve been particularly non-whiny, I say, “I think that next big tree is a treat tree.” We race to the tree, look all around it and in my hand appear two jelly beans. It only takes one every 10-15 minutes, but it keeps ’em hiking. Also, trail treats are for when they’ve been working particularly hard, and not complaining that it’s too steep, too wet, too dry, too boring, or too difficult. 

  3. Animal signs

    You may not see the animals (probably because your small, sweet babies are as noisy as a small troop of excessively loud monkeys.) The animals are there though, even if your crew has scared them all away. So look. Look at trees for scraped bark and nests. Look at the ground for big piles of desiccated pine cones, scat (a favorite for those under ten), and tracks. We love the book, Been There Done That by Jen Funk Weber

  4. Varied terrainHiking

    My kids think it’s fun to scramble over and around rocks and fallen trees. They love “fording” the small creek that runs across the path. They are not hiking, they are exploring and adventuring. Make sure you tell them how bad ass they are.

  5. Let go of your need for speed 

    Choose hikes that are a manageable distance for your kids, and know that it will take you half the day to hike the 2.5 miles. It doesn’t matter; you’re outside and you’re sharing the value of nature and fresh air with your sweet babies. For now, your hike is an exploration on a more micro level. And occasionally they run. And then probably fall down. It will be slow-ish. 

  6. Don’t be afraid

    Every description of every trail tells you about the rattle snakes, the poison oak, the fallen trees, the steep drop-offs, the steep climbs to the summit, or the mud. You can do it. Your kids can do it. You will probably not be bitten by a snake. And when you are done and exhausted, you can all bask in your glory. And maybe your sweet monsters babies will even sleep in the car on the way home. 

Outside is good for our souls, and so is hiking! We wax sentimental about the days when kids could run amok all over the place, when they could build forts in the woods, climb trees, and romp all day outside. Then we discuss, in sad tones how those days are behind us. I say, yes, those were the days, but so are these. These can be the days of outside ramblings! You, parents, are the deciders. Make it happen. 


For some great, local-ish hiking, here are some of my kids’ favorites:

  1. Crescent Beach Trail at Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach is a  2.4 mile out-and-back that winds through sometimes muddy forests, and pops you out on a sparsely-populated, beautiful beach. There you’ll find rocks to climb on, and tide pools to explore (if you catch the tide just right). 
  2. McCall Point Hike starts at the Rowena Crest Trailhead, and is 3.6 mile round-trip. It takes you along an old wagon trail, and up into the grassy meadows to give you a stunning view of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and the Columbia River Gorge. It’s the gorge and can be windy, so bring a coat, no matter the weather. 
  3. Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is a 2.4 mile loop. It doesn’t get more Portland-y than a waterfall hike and this one will not disappoint. It’s close, gorgeous, and rife with the lush green we’ve come to expect from our waterfall hikes.