What to do when your kids hate hiking – the Reluctant Hikers Club

My husband and I had a glorious weekend off while my parents were in town and hiked to an abandoned mine near us. It was a 5-mile round trip, and we hiked it at least partially to see if the kids could handle it. We knew it was a bit far, but we felt the promise of an abandoned mine might make it worth it for them. In the reviews of the hike online, we had found one woman who claimed it wasn’t that hard, she (with a 2-year-old on her back) and her 4 kids and 2 dogs had managed just fine.

As soon as we started uphill, and identified that we were probably heading to the ridge above us, we could tell this wasn’t a kid-friendly hike. At least not for our kids. We laughed at the idea that this lady and her menagerie of kids and dogs had made it up and back down the 1400 feet of elevation. It made me realize, though, that if you’re not used to hiking with kids, and you suspect they’re going to moan about it, it can feel really daunting. And if you see other parents happily hiking with their family (maybe a blog post I write, maybe a smiley family on Instagram) then you’re going to wonder what you’re doing wrong. So I’m here to tell you EVERY kid complains on a hike. That lady with 4 kids and 2 dogs? I bet she listed to moaning all the way up that hill. And possibly much of the way back down too.

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A friend posted on Facebook last week about a family hike they had taken with their boys, who are a bit older than mine. There was a selection of the standard happy pictures with amazing views in the background, but the post told the real tale of just how bad it was, including that one kid had threatened to call 911. And then lots of other people chimed in about their kids hating hiking too. I even suggested we set up a club, the Reluctant Hikers Club, so all the kids could moan together about who had the worst experience. For every section of a family hike where everyone is laughing and enjoying it and taking pictures that demonstrate how grateful they are, there are about 10 sections where everyone (adults included) are crying, and people are muttering under their breath, and the trail mix has run out.

Does it help if you know this before you take your kids on another hike, or even attempt your first? Yes, and no. Yes, because it’s important to understand that there’s nothing particularly unusual or awful about your family.  Your kids will moan, just as they do when you try and take them to the mall shopping, or basically do anything out of the house. There will be enormous amounts of effort expended, and sometimes you will wonder if it’s worth it. I think it helps to know other parents are in the exact same boat right now.

But also no, because the beauty of hiking with your kids is that the fun parts, while they are definitely not the majority of the hike, are so enjoyable, and they are worth it. When your kid starts to identify plants as they walk past them, or point out birds in the sky, their face shiny and red from the effort, beaming ear to ear, that’s worth it. When they yell ‘I did it!’ as they make the final ascent on a hill, that’s worth it. I remember enduring hillwalks (as hikes in Scotland are known) with my dad as a kid, and hating it at the time. When I think back on it now, the bad bits seem funny, and I remember more about the feeling of being in wide open spaces, talking with my dad about everything and nothing as we walked side by side, the smell of the gorse in the rain, the stillness when you are so far from a town. Now I have a genuine love for hiking. I think that if kids are exposed to the outdoors, shown what is on offer, at some point they will probably internalize it and enjoy it. That day is undoubtedly not today when the 6-year-old would rather be playing Minecraft and the 3-year-old has decided he won’t eat anything brown and is picking through the bag of trail mix in disgust, but I hold onto my treasured mix of memories and hope that they will have a similar odd assortment when they grow up. I need just a touch of rose tint on my glasses as I prepare us for a hike or else we’d never make it out there at all, and then I fear that we all would miss out on those moments together.

I like to think that what we are teaching our kids on these trips is that sometimes the joyful feelings, the awe at a beautiful view, or the pride in having walked further or higher than before, these come with a price. Sometimes we have to push through difficult things, boring sections, hard work, before we reach them. And going through those things makes it all the sweeter. And while I’ve no doubt there are other ways to model these traits to your kids, I was taught them through enduring, and then loving, the outdoors, so that’s what I plan to do for my boys too!

hiking me and boys

If you want some tips on how to make these family hikes a little less stressful, check out 3 Tips for A Short, Easy Hike With Kids and 4 Reasons I Love an Out and Back Hike.  I also still use the camera trick in Taking a Mental Picture: How to Help Kids Transition to an Outdoor Activity with Red almost every time we head out for a bike or hike, and would definitely recommend it for those of you who have a hard time even persuading your kids to leave the house! Once Red is out there he has a great time and almost always has a positive memory of the activity, and now he’s old enough to appreciate it, this camera trick is proving easier and easier to implement.

Do you have any reluctant hikers? I’d love to hear about what you find hardest, and why you persevere.

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