Planning an outdoor vacation can be hard enough. There’s a seemingly endless number of things to do, from choosing activities to coordinating gear rentals, making sure you have the right supplies, obtaining permits, and getting any training you may need. Add in little ones who may or may not have the strength or stamina for most outdoor activities, and who may be more prone to injuries or simply wandering off than most adults, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Does that mean that you shouldn’t bring kids along for an outdoor vacation? Definitely not. In fact, studies have proven that spending time outdoors can have numerous, long-lasting benefits for children. You’ll help them build confidence, inspire their imaginations, teach them responsibility, and more.
But it does mean that you’ll need to do a little extra planning and preparation to make sure that everyone, regardless of their age, is happy and healthy during your outdoor adventure. Keep reading for a few tips to help you do just that.
Research Activities and Trails Ahead of Time
As a parent, you’re already used to planning ahead to make sure you have time to get from soccer practice to ballet and still be able to feed your little ones somewhere in there. The same pre-planning is necessary before any outdoor adventure as well.
If you plan to do some hiking, research trails ahead of time. Don’t just look at the trail’s length and elevation either; look for reviews from real hikers. Find out whether there are hazards like cliffs that you won’t be comfortable taking your children near. Decide whether the terrain might be too rough and difficult for short legs and little feet. Figure out if wet weather might make a trail unsafe.
Make a Packing List for Each Family Member
Packing for several kids, a spouse, and yourself for a hiking trip can be stressful. Forgetting an essential like someone’s hiking boots or someone else’s underwear will mean an emergency shopping trip. Depending on your itinerary, this may mean skipping out on something fun.
A few weeks before your trip, compile a packing list for each family member. Include everything you know you’ll need, and then check off the items that you already have. As you shop for the rest of the supplies for your trip, add a check mark. When it comes time to pack, add another check mark as you place each item in your luggage. That way you won’t have any “oh no!” moments during your trip as you realize that an essential was left behind.
Always Carry Snacks and Extra Water
It’s a given that you’ll you need to pack water, even if you’re only planning for short hikes. But it’s a good idea to take this tip one step further and pack extra water and a few simple trail snacks.
You never know when a delay might occur. Maybe you find an overlook or spot to rest and decide to stay for a while. Or you find that your children are eager to hike further than you originally planned. Either way, you’ll be grateful to have thought ahead so you won’t run out of water. And those snacks will come in handy when the kids start getting tired and cranky.
Plan for More Time Than You Think You’ll Need
Packing snacks and water isn’t the only thing you need to do to prepare for a delay. If you’re someone who likes to travel on a schedule, you likely get to see and do more than most in a short amount of time. But when you’re hiking and exploring with kids, don’t get too attached to that timeline. Things happen, and the last thing you want to do on your vacation is worry about running late or falling behind.
If you still want to create a schedule, simply allot more time for each activity and stop than you expect to use. You can always simply get ahead of schedule, or use the extra time to explore other trails, overlooks, or activities in the vicinity.
Get Kids Involved in the Hike
If your kids already enjoy hiking, that’s great! But if they’re new to the sport, they might not take to long, quiet walks through the woods. Once the newness of the scenery wears off, boredom may set in faster than you’d expect.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get kids engaged and help them enjoy the hike. If you have time before your trip, look up common plants and trees that are likely to be found on your hike. Print pictures or purchase a guidebook and learn a little about them. Then, during your hike, remind your kids to be on the lookout. They’ll love the search and the excitement of finding the plants they’ve learned about.
Singing songs or playing simple games like “I Spy” is also great for preventing boredom. If all else fails, give your child a “job.” Make them the leader, and tell them that they have to keep everyone else on the trail. Designate them “waterkeeper” and instruct them to remind the group to drink water regularly. You could even give out titles like “wildlife watch” to keep your children’s’ eyes open and watching for common critters on the trails.
Break Up Hiking Days
If you plan to do more than one long day of hiking during your vacation, it’s best to plan a day in between to do something else. That way your kids–and you–have a chance to recover.
There’s plenty of ways to spend your off day in and around Springdale, or even without leaving Cougar Ridge. Go horseback riding. Host a family volleyball tournament. In the heat of the summer, even relaxing inside with board games can be a great way to rest your feet and spend some quality time together.
Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge Your Kids
Perhaps the most important tip you can follow when hiking with kids is to not over-worry about them. While you should prepare for tired feet and crankiness, don’t start your trip expecting problems. Instead, aim to challenge your kids, and watch as they surprise and amaze you.
If your previous family record is a 2-mile hike, ask if your kids feel up to another half mile. When feet begin to drag, challenge everyone in your group to encourage one another to keep going. Plan for a fun reward like ice cream or stargazing at the end of the day. Just because a vacation is fun doesn’t mean that it can’t be an opportunity for your children to learn and grow!
Planning a Family-friendly Outdoor Adventure
Southern Utah is the perfect destination for all ages to enjoy together. Whether your family is just passing through or planning a week of hiking, bringing your children along, even if they are young, is a great way to start inspiring a love of nature and the outdoors.
One final tip for planning an outdoor adventure when you have kids along is to give yourself some room to stretch out. Rather than staying in a hotel, opt for a larger space like one of our Casitas. After a long day in the heat, your family will appreciate having room to spread out and enjoy each other’s company without feeling stuffed into a tiny single room.