Change Your Hiking Mentality

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One of the easiest outdoor activities to do with kids is hiking. However, hiking with kids is not like hiking alone or with other adults. It requires a completely new hiking mentality. If you’re looking for a happier outdoor hiking experience with kids, try these tips to change your hiking mentality.

Change Your Hiking Mentality


Don’t Hike. Explore.

A few years ago a friend of mine told me she had stopped hiking with her three young boys. I was surprised, since we often took our kids on trails together. She assured me that she’d still be getting outdoors.

“I’m just not calling our outings hikes anymore. Instead we’re exploring.”

I love this! With the change of one little word my friend suddenly gave me permission to just enjoy time with my kids outdoors. I no longer had to track how far we traveled or hear my kids whine, “Are we there yet?” An exploration had no time limit, no distance, it was pure adventure on a child-size scale.

I immediately adopted her explorer mentality when hiking with kids.

What does it mean to explore instead of hike? Exploring means taking time to examine interesting rocks, leaves, bugs and dirt. Exploring includes climbing boulders and trees, splashing in rivers and tasting wild huckleberries. It allows for a ten minute excursion or a ten-day backpacking trek.

Ditch the Destination

So often when I hike on my own or with other adults, the experience is all about getting to the summit, seeing the waterfall or bagging the peak. We focus on the destination and feel a sense of failure if we don’t reach it.

Baby L in pack

By shifting my hiking mentality to focus on exploration instead, I don’t worry about distance. It doesn’t matter if we reach the peak or waterfall. A successful adventure occurs the minute I walk out the door. The accomplishment occurs in the attempt, not the destination. The fact that I TRIED to go hiking with my kids means I can feel good regardless of how far we get.

This change in thinking is vital when hiking with kids. Let me give you an example. Just a few days ago, I had planned to join some friends on a two-mile round trip Hike It Baby hike. Unfortunately life got in the way. Loading up three kids took longer than expected and by the time I arrived at the trail head the group was already on their way.

Instead of beating myself up about not getting out the door faster, my kids and I searched for tree bark and rock cairns as part of a spur of the moment scavenger hunt. My two-year-old, Baby L, gleefully followed a stream. Big E and I found the last icicles of winter clinging to grass along the water’s edge. Little G tested her balance by crossing the water on a log.

We didn’t even walk 100 feet, but we still had an outdoor adventure that frankly, my kids enjoyed more than they would a two-mile round trip hike. Their explorer mentality was contagious, and I enjoyed just being outdoors with them.

See It Again For the First Time

Another benefit of changing my hiking mentality to an exploration mentality is that I can see the natural world through the eyes of my children.

Kids explore at Capitol Reef

Anyone who has attempted hiking with a two-year-old knows the snail-like pace you take at times. It seems the two speeds that age can handle are either sprinting toward the most dangerous natural element they see or flopping right down in the middle of the trail to look at a rock. More often than not, it’s all about the rock.

When I first tried hiking with my oldest, this excruciatingly slow pace drove me crazy. Why did he stop to smell every flower? What’s so interesting about that bit of dirt? It’s just dirt! Did he stop to look at another ladybug?

Somewhere along the way I realized that the things I thought of as mundane on a hike were fascinating new discoveries for my son.

Mountain Mom with Toddler Big E

I may have seen a ladybug a million times, but for a two-year-old, holding a ladybug is a new and scintillating experience. The color, the movement, the sudden flight – a ladybug is full of surprises. Watching the tiny creature crawl along a leaf is nothing new to me, but for a child it is magical.

With an exploration hiking mentality, I can stop to examine the ladybug, count its spots, and see what plants it’s crawling on. When the focus is exploring new sights, smells and experiences, it gives me permission to look through the eyes of a child.

Change Your Hiking Mentality

At times I miss hiking for exercise, or planning an epic trip to a mountain top, but overall I think changing my hiking mentality has helped me enjoy the outdoors even more. Changing your hiking mentality to emphasize exploration allows for patience, takes off the burden of tracking distance and encourages you to see the world through the eyes of a child.

So forget about hiking with your kids. Just go explore!

See you in the outdoors!

-Mountain Mom

Change Your Hiking Mentality 2

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Author: Mountain Mom

Hi! I'm Mountain Mom. I live with my husband and three young kids in the mountains near Sundance, Utah. When we're not hiking, biking, skiing and camping, I spend my time doing Mom stuff and reading. Summer of 2016 we traveled over 7,000 miles along the US National Park to Park Highway.

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