Deciding when to head into the wild places isn’t always a walk in the park, ahem, but the benefits far outweigh any pressures that might arise. In our experience of climbing mountains and hiking long trails with children as young as 4, it’s us, the parents who find it hardest. Are they big enough? How far can they walk? Where can I take my kids hiking?
I’ll try to answer some of those worries here.
Are my children old enough to go hiking?
Let’s not forget that one of the first milestones a child reaches is to put one foot in front of the other and not fall over. The only real difference between walking and hiking is that sense of adventure. Once they reach 4 or 5 you’ll be surprised how quickly they can eat up some miles.
Only you know your child’s capabilities but test them before worrying too much about them. In the run up to our first long trail, the West Highland Way in 2017, we were hoping for 10 miles a day with our kids, ages 5, 7 and 9 and ended up averaging around 12
While this is a much slower pace than I would hike alone, it does have some benefits. You have less aches and pains the following day and much more time to enjoy the trail and its scenery. It’s also extra time together as a family.
But as I say, every child is different but I always say, if we waited until they were bigger, I may have been too old.
Where should I go to start hiking with my kids?
The easiest place to start is your local trails. Just look at a map or your local council website for details of Public Rights of Way. Local nature reserves, Country Parks and Forestry Commission woods usually have several, circular routes of varying length and difficulty that you can build up miles and resilience on.
A great resource for finding local walks is the Slowways network which is endeavouring to connect every town in the UK with a walking route.
If you fortunate enough to live on or near one of our National Trails then you can always walk the local sections of these as an “out and back” or walk to the next town or village and get a bus home.
What about getting my children up a mountain?
We’re very lucky here in the UK that many of our most loved mountains and peaks are fairly accessible to children if you’re willing to put in a bit of effort and planning to help the get there.
Snowdonia is a great option for a first mountain trip. Snowdon itself has lots of routes to the summit that range in difficulty but have at least 3 or 4 options accessible to both children and novice hikers alike. Its accessibility does mean that you won’t be alone on the hill but there will be plenty of people to ask for assistance if you needed.
Other options in Snowdonia would include Moel Siabod and Cadair Idris but again, maybe stick to the direct route up from Capel Curig or the Pony Path respectively. These are less challenging routes and again, will have more fellow hikers to help you out if needed.
A summer time ascent will be best for your first summit attempt, and I say attempt because even now we live by the adage of
Basically, the mountains are cool and being in those massive landscapes is inspiring for kids and grown ups alike, although I challenge anyone to not feel like a kid at Christmas when they’re hiking up mountains!
They can be tough places too and conditions can change rapidly. This post has some more details of what you might want to take with you into the big hills with the kids but briefly, you’ll want plenty of food, water and snacks as well as waterproof and an extra layer. Even in July the temperature change on a summit from that at sea level can be really chilling. Like I say, check the full list on the post.
When can I take my children on long trails?
Again, only you will know, or can make that decision. At 5, 7 and 9 we decided our kids were ready to tackle the West Highland Way. Would we have taken the eldest at 5? Hell no. But by the time we headed out from Milngavie we were much more experienced as hikers and parents than 4 years earlier.
We planned it out to the Nth degree. We gave ourselves lots of time. Twice as long as the average hike on that trail so we knew we had to complete 8 miles a day. 4 in the morning, 4 in the afternoon. And while it didn’t always work out exactly like that we were confident in our plan and knew we were carrying everything we needed.
The biggest part of the preparation was to acknowledge that we were going to TRY and do the West Highland Way. We were prepared to bail if it got too much and also prepared to carry the youngest if necessary. (He didn’t let that happen!)
I think the West Highland Way was the perfect trail to introduce the children to long distance hiking. It was epic and their school friends thought they were cool. The trail is really geared up for hikers so we were never really far from civilisation or assistance and the large numbers of other hikers was great, especially the for the kids who always had a fuss made of them when we met others or arrived at a camp ground.
I’ve written a couple of other posts about hiking with kids, some essentials we like to take and some games we like to play to keep the miles turning but one thing that hiking with my children has taught me is this…
Any questions, just give us a shout and we’ll do our best to help you navigate the crazy, challenging but ultimately fulfilling world of hiking with kids.
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