Just because you’ve got young kids doesn’t mean you have to hang up your hiking boots for good (or until they grow up). Bushwalking with kids can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience for everyone involved, and it’s a great way to encourage your children to get off the couch, get active and develop an appreciation for the outdoors.
Outdoria caught up with Bushwalking Australia president Andrew Davey to get some expert tips on how to plan a successful hike with kids in tow.
“The number one thing, is to know your child and what they are reasonably capable of,” says Davey.
Choose the right track
When it comes to choosing a track, look for something that that isn't too hard or long and has some interesting things to look at along the way – getting stuck in the bush with bored, tired kids is not a recipe for a good time!
If you’re unsure of how far to take them, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. This way you won’t put your kids off bushwalking from the outset, and you can always build up to longer or more difficult walks once you get a clear idea of their abilities.
“Remember, whatever distance you walk – you still have to walk the whole way back. You want to gauge it so you can turn around and still walk back comfortably, because in this kind of situation the child is the boss – especially if you want to ever want to walk with them again!
“It's really important to know the child and ensure they feel free to comment on how they feel and if they need a rest,” says Davey
Keep them entertained
“If the walk offers something different to the norm, they’re more likely to enjoy it. Look for walks with points of interest like creeks, waterfalls, different sorts of plants (like man ferns, for example), breaking waves and even cliffs (but obviously fenced ones that they can admire safely),” says Davey.
If your children are having fun on the walk and looking forward to things further down the track, they’ll be less focussed on the distance itself. Wildlife is always a source of excitement and trying to spot kangaroos, birds and the like along the way is a great way to keep them going.
“Part of the reason bushwalking is such a great activity for children is because you can meet them on their own level and keep them entertained without pushing any specific idea. They'll entertain themselves quite often, in which case you'd just let them be.”
Point out interesting plants along the way, to keep the kids entertained.
Take your time
Bushwalking should be a relaxing activity so when you’re taking kids along, just accept the fact that it is going to take longer than it otherwise would. Stopping at a picnic area, or just to playing by a creek or on a bridge for a while, will break up the walk and give the kids a rest. It’ll also make the walk seem more like an adventure and less like a long, boring trudge.
“Remember to rest the child. If they're getting tired on the way back, that's when you want to have some treats and just bring them back happily. Don't make it hurried, stop every now and then and talk about the bush or point out things so they’re not as aware of feeling tired. The main thing is – don't wear them out,” says Davey.
When taking children to environments that are cold or wet, always make sure you’re prepared for any eventuality.
“Of course, children love to play in snow and the like, but once they get cold they'll be miserable. You really need to keep an eye on them and also be sure to bring a change of clothes in case they get wet. Hot drinks are a good idea and make sure there’s shelter near by. Conversely, when it’s hot, you need plenty of water and shade.”
Bring along some snacks. This will to keep your kids going and also gives them something to do when you stop for a rest.
Carrying a backpack
It goes without saying that loading a child up like a packhorse is a bad idea, but giving a child their own pack to carry can actually add to the excitement and give them a sense of responsibility.
“Carrying too much weight is a no-no but some children can carry a reasonable amount and when they get to nine or 10 they may actually surprise you. Keep an eye on them and if they're happy with their load then it's good to let them carry it – just be prepared to take over if they get tired,” says Davey.
Be mindful of potential dangers when you’re out in the bush with kids. For example, cliff top walks can be lots of fun for everyone but there can be sheer drop-offs a few short metres from the track, and old mining areas might have holes in the ground. Wherever you’re walking, it’s always a good idea to stay on the path and be aware of where your kids are if they’ve run ahead a short distance – kids are very curious so you do have to be mindful of that.
There are loads of reasons to take your kids bushwalking. You get to enjoy new experiences with them and you’ll often get a chance to talk about things that might not come up in everyday life. It's excellent exercise and a great stress reliever.
“Bushwalking provides a great environment to relax in, enjoy your own children and get to know them better – away from the mundane,” says Davey.