Planning A Family Hike

Explore the outdoors with your family and plan your next hike with these seven tips.

By Jimmy Kennedy
Explore Ambassador

Hiking is perhaps one of the healthiest, least expensive and most accessible forms of outdoor activity that exists. It’s also a great way for the whole family to spend time together, get a little exercise and enjoy the great outdoors all at the same time.

A hike can be defined as any and everything from a long loop around a city park to hiking the Appalachian Trail. That’s another one of the many bonuses of hiking as an outdoor activity, there’s no real limit to the size and scope and it’s available to you and your family regardless of where you live. Depending on your location, you can research and find some hiking trails nearby or, at most, within a short drive.

Have fun and Go Outside!


How To Choose Your Hike

There are several ways to research good hikes in your area but the simplest and probably best is to go to your local state parks’ website. Many state parks list hiking trails by name with helpful details like total distance, difficulty, the scenery, estimated time and whether it’s a good hike for the kids. Google and Google Earth can also be handy tools to use in finding local, popular trails as well as more obscure, old logging roads on public lands.



Once you have chosen a hike, done a little research and have a general idea of the trail, the next step is to check the weather forecast for the day of your hike. This may seem like it goes without saying, but as we all know, weather patterns can change quickly and being prepared for weather conditions is always a good idea. Having a heads up on what to expect weather-wise will help you know what shoes to wear, whether to pack a light rain jacket, if you should choose a shorter route or maybe even reschedule for another day. There’s a myriad of apps available that give up-to-date forecasts with real-time radar. While it’s impossible to know exactly what Mother Nature may have in store, it’s still a good idea to cross check a couple of weather forecasts to get somewhat of an idea.


How Hard Is It

While hiking seems like something you might not have to prepare for fitness-wise, it’s a good idea to start with a relatively easy hike and build up to longer trails with more difficult terrain. Hiking is not strenuous, necessarily, but some hikes will definitely put even the fittest to the test. Hikes in higher elevations and those that require a steep climb to the summit will make you work and appreciate the fact that hiking is real exercise. Elevation can also be a factor to consider, with higher elevations adding extra time to your overall hike. Take into consideration the stamina of your family, the age of your kids and the friends you are hiking with — make it easy for them at first.



If the kids, spouse or friends are hesitant on the hiking idea, it’s time to use incentives. Some of my favorites include a picnic featuring some of their favorite snacks or hot chocolate and marshmallows for cooler months. The picnic is easy to pack and lightweight to transport. Another method is to involve everyone in picking the hike or route. Take turns from week to week picking a different trail and picnic items to bring. Switch up the activities surrounding the hike and allow one of the kids to invite a friend. Many trails are close to lakes and rivers and taking along a packable fishing rod and reel with a few lures can be an added bonus to many of us.


Educational Aspect

Hikes can also be educational. Making a game out of identifying birds, mammals, plants and trees along your hike is a great way to introduce kids to nature. Do a little research on what you might expect to see on your trip. Field guides are a great resource and you can always use one of many apps available for identifying flora and fauna in your neck of the woods. Use this idea as part of the incentive to get your kids outside. Make a game of it — kids love games.


Shoes Or Boots

Good shoes are first and foremost on the list of what’ll you need. For most hikes, they don’t have to be expensive shoes or boots made specifically for hiking, but comfortable closed-toe running or trail shoes, preferably already broken in are very important. For a short, day hike around a park you can get away with your everyday sneakers, but if you are planning for a long, multi-day hike the best bet is a lightweight, hiking or trail shoe with breathable uppers. The rule of thumb used to be that for hiking you needed a sturdy boot for both ankle support and weather protection. However, hiking boots are much heavier than hiking or trail shoes and require a serious break-in before really putting them to the test. Hiking boots still have their place but unless you are plan on a snowy, winter hike I suggest sticking to a lighter, more comfortable and breathable hiking shoe. Also, don’t forget to bring a pair of extra socks for those longer trips.


How To Dress

Wear comfortable clothes such as shorts and a tee shirt in the summer and dress in layers if it’s cooler out. Plan for changing weather and have everyone pack a lightweight rain jacket, just in case. Have everyone bring or wear a cap or hat, too. The general rule of thumb is to pack as light as possible for a day hike. However, you’ll need plenty of water and snacks. A few other “just in case” items that could be essential depending on your hike: Map, Compass, Cellphone, Lighter, Flashlight, Band-Aids/First aid kit, Bug repellent and Sunscreen.



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