5 Ways to Keep Kids Engaged on the Trail

Hiking with kids is a great way to get them out of the house, away from screens, and into nature. While some children will take to the trail with gusto, others are bound to find the journey too “boring” or “hard.” Battle the pushback from less enthusiastic hikers and keep everyone on the journey engaged in your adventure with these quick tips.

Pick the Right Trail

Brown County Lookout Tower Not all trails are kid-friendly, particularly when you’re starting out. Look for routes that are marked as easy or moderate, and stay under two miles for your first few jaunts. These are often located near the lodges in State Parks, which is doubly convenient because it will put you near restrooms and food at the beginning and end of your hike. Try options like Trail 11 at Turkey Run, which takes you to the Log Church and Lieber Memorial. Trail 9 at Clifty Falls is just one mile and connects the Clifty Inn and pool. Start short and sweet and work your way up. You’ll soon know whether your kids are fit for three or four miles and how they’ll handle rugged terrain. There’s something for everyone so don’t let a fear of your first stroll discourage you from trying.

Grab a Guide

Hiking with children offers a wealth of learning opportunities that are so engaging, your kids won’t even realize how much they’re soaking in. Stop by the park’s Nature Center and pick up some information on local wildlife. Get a guide to birds or trees from the bookstore. Some trails even offer extra information of their own. The Discovery Trail in Brown County State Park has markers along the path to identify the trees and plants along the route. A brochure is available at the trailhead with detailed information for each one. Make a project of identifying trees, or trying to distinguish the sounds of frogs and bugs. Point out one beech tree and you may be surprised at how many similar trees your kids are enthusiastic to find. Identify what you’re seeing to give it more relevance in your journey.

Watch for Wildlife

Finding Baby Frogs
If you’re a city dweller, your kids’ only real experience with wildlife might be squirrels and birds. Head out on the trail and you can catch frogs, spot snakes, identify turtles, and count chipmunks. On lucky days, you may spot bigger finds as well, such as wild turkeys and deer. Encourage your kids to tread lightly and keep a keen eye, and always slow down to appreciate their finds.

Stock Up on Snacks

Something as simple as a granola bar and bottle of water can ease kids’ complaints in an instant. Giving them something to do with their hands can extend their patience with your jaunts, and help them get over those boredom bumps. Remember to teach your children about carrying out their own trash and keeping food away from wildlife early so these become lifetime habits for their adventures.

Find Miniature Adventures

Fishing at Ogle Lake
The marked trail isn’t your only opportunity for adventure. Look for small side jaunts that will add to your trek. Take a few steps off the trail to relax on a rock by the lake. Test your balance along a fallen tree. Follow the creek for a few steps and look for minnows. Incorporate other activities in your hike like fishing, having a picnic, or enjoying a playground. Diversity is key with kids.

Hiking can be jarring for kids who are accustomed to more time inside, but with the right approach, you can turn the trail into your easy go-to for family fun.

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