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Five Tips to Encourage Reluctant Hikers to Enjoy the Trail

My husband and I love to hike, but both of our children feel differently.

Our biggest challenge in the summer is getting our reluctant hikers to go along on our outings without too much complaining. Vermont has so many beautiful trails to explore. When the weather is nice, my husband I simply have to get outside. While we enjoy hiking, our children often complain, particularly my daughter. We have taken our children on small hiking trips ever since they were born, but they still protest. My daughter is angry that she is now too big to fit in a carrier and has to walk the entire way under her own power.

reluctant hikers on a trail

I have tried all the tips I can find to encourage and motivate my reluctant hikers. They haven’t been terribly successful. For example, I reframed a “hike” as a “walk.” However, my daughter saw right through the change of wording and immediately whined about being forced to hike. I also bring along plenty of snacks on hiking trips because I know that my children will start asking for food and/or water approximately two minutes after hitting the trail. Usually, this leads to frequent stops and a giant meltdown when the snacks are gone.

Luckily, through trial and error, I found some tricks that do work to encourage my little reluctant hikers. Here are my favorite tips.

Go on a hike with a break in the middle.

One of my favorite hikes with a natural break spot is Niquette Bay State Park in Colchester. There is a fairly short and easy hike through the woods that ends up on a lovely little beach right on Lake Champlain. My kids really enjoy taking a break from hiking by playing on the beach. My kids got their shoes soaked running through the water so I would recommend asking your children to remove their shoes before entering the water or else bringing along a pair of water shoes. By the time my kids finish playing on the beach, they are ready to hike back to the car. I like that Niquette Bay has multiple trails so that you can hike a different trail on the way back to the parking lot. Variety helps keep the boredom at bay!

Plan a hike with friends.

Kids are much less likely to complain about hiking if they have friends along. It gives them someone to talk to and the time passes so much faster for them. If their friends are more enthusiastic hikers, they will serve as great role models for your reluctant hikers. This is a time when peer pressure is a positive influence. If none of your friends are willing to hike with you, there are several hiking groups in Vermont, such as Hike it Baby. These groups will let you explore new trails with leaders who know the way. Also, you will have plenty of other parents to talk to while your children can meet plenty of new friends.

group of children hiking on a trail

Hike to a destination.

Growing up, my parents often took my brother and me along different rail trails. They had plenty of stops along the way, such as local businesses or even small museums. My children are much happier hiking if they are heading toward a specific destination. For example, you can hike along the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail and plan to stop at restaurants or local businesses in one of the towns that the trail passes through. If your children are reluctant to hike, they may enjoy riding bicycles or riding in a bicycle trailer instead. In the winter, rail trails are also great for snowshoes.

Have a backup plan.

Some days, reluctant hikers will just refuse to hike any further. That’s when a backup plan comes in handy. My favorite hike for a backup plan is Mount Philo State Park. I enjoy hiking up to the top through the woods and then enjoying a picnic lunch with fantastic views. However, my children are usually exhausted by the time they reach the summit. Most of the time, we hike back down on the road, which is easier for my children than navigating the hiking trail. If you have at least two adults in your group, one of them can hike down to the parking lot and drive a car up to the top of Mount Philo to retrieve any children who refuse to walk another step. I haven’t had to rely on a car rescue yet, but I like knowing that it’s always an option.

Bribe your reluctant hikers with ice cream.

When all else fails, I bribe my children with ice cream. I make it very clear in the beginning that they have to hike FIRST, and then we can all get some ice cream afterward. After getting all hot and sweaty hiking, a cold ice cream cone is the most wonderful treat. I honestly enjoy it just as much as my children. I am perfectly okay with my children associating hiking with ice cream when they grow up. They are two of my favorite things!

children playing in water

I hope these tips help turn your reluctant hikers into enthusiastic hikers. (Or at least hikers who complain a little less.) I believe that experiencing nature is essential to health and happiness. So get out there and hike! Have you found any ways to encourage your own reluctant hikers?

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