From Playstation to trailhead: Introducing your kids to hiking

Children Hiking Panorama by JefferyTurner, on Flickr


I love kids and, obviously, I love hiking. So naturally one of my favourite things is sharing my love of the outdoors with the next generation of potential nature-lovers.

Why not get the kids their own binoculars?
Why not get the kids their own binoculars?

Unfortunately though, in the age of Playstation and Wii, it isn’t always easy to convince the little darlings to tear themselves away from the screen and get outside for a walk. So I’ve put together a few ideas for how to coax them off the couch, and how to keep them entertained once out on the trail.


Be mindful of their comfort zone

Firstly, consider whether or not your children are used to walking. If they would normally travel in the car with you, even when you’re only going to the convenience store at the end of the street, then even a very short bushwalk is going to be a shock to their system. Before you think about hiking with your kids, create a habit of walking instead of driving in your day-to-day life. The transition to hiking will be easier from there.

Once they’re away from the creature comforts of home, you’re there to show them that hiking isn’t all that bad. Bring along yummy snacks to share and make sure they have enough water. I know I’m at my grumpiest when I’m hungry and thirsty… Kids are no different.

Hiking is an awesome way to bond with kids
Hiking is an awesome way to bond with kids.

Encourage them to bring a friend along and they’ll immediately be more interested. They’ll talk and play together along the way, which is a brilliant way for them to bond and will make the walk more fun for them. Next time, they’ll be more likely to consider heading out with just you for company.

When choosing your walks, make sure you start with trails that are short and flat. Most importantly, don’t rush. You’re trying to give the kids an appreciation for nature. If they want to stop and play with every leaf or fallen branch they find along the way, not only should you let them, but you should probably join in. They might even teach you a thing or two about really being present and immersing yourself in nature.


“Muh-uuuhhmm, I’m booorrred!”

There’s nothing more likely to cut short a walk with the kids than the dreaded whining, so you really need to do whatever possible to make sure they’re not bored.

For a start, try to put yourself in their shoes and choose a walk with a feature that they’ll find interesting. Wildlife, caves, mine-shafts, and waterfalls are obvious examples, but children might be just as interested in a big hollow tree, or one that has fallen and can be used to cross a river or creek.

Get the kids to draw pictures of what they see on their walk
Get the kids to draw pictures of what
they see on their walk.

Giving the kids a selection of walks to choose from and letting them make the final decision will engage them instantly. You might also want to consider putting them in charge of a map and compass, or GPS.

Younger kids might like to stop and draw pictures of their surroundings, or play some games along the trail. A simple game of “I Spy” can be fun, or with a bit more preparation you could make bingo cards featuring local flora and fauna to cross off as you hike. The latter can be an excellent way to teach children to take more notice of the smaller details of a forest, which are often the most fascinating parts.

For older kids, turn your bushwalk into a photography adventure. Use the time to learn and practice new photography techniques, or set a challenge to capture images of certain objects in new and creative ways.


Whatever you do, don’t tell them they’re doing something healthy

There’s no doubt that getting the kids out for a walk will have all kinds of physical and mental health benefits, but they’re probably not going to see that as a good thing. Make it incidental. Make it fun. Never call it exercise.


The backup plan

If the plan fails, and the kids return home disappointed at not seeing what they’d hoped, this dad provides an inspirational, if not completely ethical, “Plan B”. It’s certainly one way to keep the kids looking forward to their next adventure.


This article is brought to you by Bushwalking Blog and Zuji – Book cheap flights and hotels online at


Do you have any other tips for getting kids out in nature? Or stories about sharing nature with the next generation? If you have anything to say, please let us know by commenting below.

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12 Responses to “From Playstation to trailhead: Introducing your kids to hiking”

  1. Jane
    November 14, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    Hi Neil,
    I love this piece. Lots of fantastic tips here, especially “Don’t tell them they’re doing something healthy’! Heheh
    Yes, it’s so important to keep it to their comfort zone, at least when they’re beginning or very young. Down the track they may catch the “challenge bug” and enjoy a bit more physical suffering…perhaps!

    I used to get lots of nature books out of the library and we’d have field guides at home as well that we would look through to get them interested. yes, kids often enjoy ticking off boxes of things they have discovered. Making the walk about an adventure filled with possible exciting discoveries helps. I’d found that some kids are actually very fascinated by animal tracks and poo! The hike can become a bit of a mystery…what creatures have left these clues?

    Kids love cameras and the beauty of the digital age is that you don’t have to waste lots of money on film. A very inexpensive camera can be a way to get them interested also. How many different leaves or trees or rocks can they photograph to make a collection…or even a poster? It’s so delightful to see the wonder in their eyes when they make discoveries, isn’t it? I hope you have many more fun experiences with your family. 🙂 Jane

    • Neil Fahey
      November 15, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

      Thanks Jane! I hope you’re right about the “challenge bug”! Yeah, there are definitely benefits to “gamifying” a hike. We have an old digital point and shoot that we sometimes let the kids use when we’re out hiking too. They love it!


  2. Patti
    May 23, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

    Another great way to promote a bush walk with kids is to first let them make “binoculars” by attaching two cardboard toilet paper tubes together, decorating them with crayons or whatever, and then attaching a yarn loop so they can wear them… Then when you go, you ask them to use their “super spy eyes” to find ______. (Birds, bugs, or treasure you have hidden along the way…) If you have no toilet paper tubes have them make their hands into pretend binoculars and just call them “super spy eyes.”

    Another fun one is to use the “going on a bear hunt” (you can put any animal in place of the word bear) song, and have the kids do the actions as they walk through long grass, mud or whatever!

    I could go on and on! Walking in nature with children of all ages is such fun! It can take time to get them used to the idea, but soon they will be asking to go… Also, I find some kids are resistant to the idea, but once they are out there, they don’t want to be finished!

    • Neil Fahey
      May 24, 2014 at 9:52 am #

      Hey Patti,

      Thanks very much for the comment. Those are some great ideas. You’re right. They usually do love it once they get out there!


  3. Dougal
    April 19, 2014 at 10:21 am #


    I do try to take my kids hiking (5 and 7 years old) as much as I can. I’ve taken them to the You Yangs plus assorted places at the Dandenongs. Has there been any hikes that you’ve found kids have really liked?

    • Neil Fahey
      April 19, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

      The You Yangs is a good idea! I’ll have to do that with the kids soon. We haven’t done that many around Melbourne so far, but they love Olinda Falls.

      Thanks for the comment!


      • Dougal
        April 21, 2014 at 8:31 am #


        The East West Walk at the You Yangs is a good kids one. Lots of rocks to clamber and explore, plus the view of the bird made from rocks is good. A side trip down to the Big Rock is fun as well. Plus there was a lot of stick tepees at the picnic area at Big Rock last I was there, great fun for the kids.

        Mixing up the tracks that are in the Western Sherbrooke Loop is good as well. Sights like the waterfall and the knobbly tree add a bit of fun for the kids…plus the very tame bird life..

        • Neil Fahey
          April 21, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

          Hey Dougal,

          The East West Walk is a great idea. I’ve done a circuit in the western section of Sherbrooke Forest too, and can confirm that it was lovely (although for some reason my blog post about it seems to have disappeared).

          Thanks for the advice!


  4. Annie
    March 14, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    Excellent points raised in this post! Whining by our youngest child has definitely caused a few of our small-ish bushwalks to be aborted half way through. Sometimes its because they were just not ready enough to do what we were asking them to, so that was our mistake.

    One way we have encouraged our kids to continue on the hike (sometimes because we have just come too far to turn around!) is the supply of lollies in my pack. Every 200metres up the walk from the Cove at Deep Creek, our children got rewarded with a snake (the sort you eat, not fear). Not exactly healthy, but you do what you have to do to get back to the car with your sanity intact.

    • Neil Fahey
      March 14, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

      Thanks for commenting, Annie! Bribery is most definitely a necessity sometimes, even if it is in the form of lollies. At least they got some exercise!


  5. Birch
    March 11, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    The earlier you start, the easier it is. My kid’s recently gotten interested in (paranoid about?) survival situations, so when she gets antsy and food doesn’t help, we look for places we could spend the night, plants we could eat, ways we could get un-lost.

    This is a nice summary. How old are your kids and how long have they been hiking?

    • Neil Fahey
      March 11, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

      Thanks for the comments, Birch. That’s another fun idea for an activity on the trail, and what an excellent way to learn some survival skills!

      I don’t actually have any children of my own but have had experience hiking with nieces, nephews, and friend’s children (probably ranging in age from 3 to 10ish). My lady has two little ones, so I’d love to get them out on the trail some time too.


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