Hiking with Kids
Shawnee National Forest
Many of you might have kids and your kids might be smaller kids that still live at home. Getting your kids involved in your hikes promotes outdoor stewardship and a healthy lifestyle. Kids nowadays seem to be cooped up inside playing video games and that isn’t healthy at all. They need exercise. They need fresh air. And we need future generations of nature lovers in order to preserve our forest for the years to come. So, I wanted to write this article to help you understand how to get your kids hiking and how to make sure they enjoy it and want to do it again and again.
This article is a Hiking with Shawn Patreon Exclusive meaning it was written for and only shared with you, the Patreon Member and your support is very much appreciated!
Hiking with Kids Tip #1: Dress Appropriately
The first thing we need to do is make sure our kids are dressed appropriately for the conditions and weather. They need to be comfortable. They need to be warm when its cold and cool when its hot. Make sure you protect their head all the way down to their feet. And remember, we can take a pretty good beating when it comes to what we wear as adult hikers, but children are not as tough as us and we need to remember that.
Hiking with Kids Tip #2: Bring Essentials
When hiking alone as an adult, you should always bring important hiking essentials but when hiking with a child, you need to double up per child and bring extra essentials that will benefit them. Extra essentials might be candy or other snacks that your child favors, maybe a toy/blankie/stuffed animal that your child usually can be seen with. Maybe designate a specific stuffed animal as the hiking “mascot” to get the child excited for each hike. Bring enough food and water to make sure you can keep the child healthy especially in an event where you don’t make it out at the planned time.
Hiking with Kids Tip #3: Go on the Best Day
If you’re like me, you hike no matter what the conditions are. We hike in rain. We hike when it’s really hot. We even put on snow cleats and hike in deep snow and ice. It is a lot fun for us to hike in the extremes. However, it probably wouldn’t be fun for a child. So, when choosing the day to hike with your kids, choose a day that is perfect in which they will be comfortable especially if they are just starting out and you want them to enjoy hiking.
Hiking with Kids Tip #4: Take More Breaks
I’m non-stop when I hike. I don’t take that many breaks aside from pausing for a few seconds when going uphill. Hiking is exercise for me, so I treat it as such. And while it can be exercise for a child, not taking breaks when hiking with kids is a bad idea. Kids are not as tough as us, especially if they are just starting out with hiking. Take breaks and take more breaks that you think you would need to take. Make sure the kid is getting enough rest as they require and tell them its okay to ask for a break when they need it. And on that note, don’t choose a trail that is too hard or too long – gradually move to the more moderately rugged and longer trails as they get better at hiking.
Hiking with Kids Tip #5: Play on the Hike
Keep the child happy about hiking by making it fun! There are several ways to do this. Do the old fashion “I see something you don’t see and it’s -this color “, game with the child. If you have cell phone signal, you can always download the GEOCACHING app and do Geocaching adventures which kids really tend to enjoy. You could also use something like the iNaturalist app to identify different plants, flowers, leaves and bugs that you run into to make the experience a learning experience for you and the child. While a quiet hike through the forest may be peaceful for you, ask yourself will it be the same for a young child as well? We have to make sure we keep them happy!
Hiking with Kids Tip #6: Pick a Scenic Trail
Going back to not picking a long or rugged trail first-do try to pick a trail with a lot to see, though. The more there is to see, the most likely the child will enjoy their hiking trip. A trail through the forest with no geological features can be fun for us adult but I bet it is pretty boring to a smaller child who has an imagination and is always looking for something fun to look at or do. So, if possible, try to choose a trail with plenty of stuff to look at or have fun around.
Ideal Starter Spots in and around the Shawnee for Hiking with Kids?
1: Millstone Bluff (Directions Here)
Millstone Bluff is less than a mile, a loop and is fairly easy with some hills at the beginning. This is an interpretive trail meaning there are signs with reading material and pictures along the way to explain what you’re looking at. Millstone Bluff is famous for being an area where Native Americans once called their home long before we arrived. There is a Stonefort, cemetery, community with old home depressions and Native American rock art. This trail should be very fun for kids.
2: Sand Cave (Directions Here)
Sand Cave can be accessed by parking at the end of Save Cave road. Don’t block driveways, please! This is an out and back hike that is a little over a mile there and back. There are a lot of bluffs along the way with interesting formations. During wet conditions (please use caution and watch the little one), there are waterfalls present. The main feature however is the large and deep cave shelter that is so big that jeeps used to drive into it. The kids will absolutely love this place.
3: Heron Pond Boardwalk (Directions Here)
Heron Pond Boardwalk is a 2-mile out and back hiking trail that explores the swamplands of southern Illinois. During the summer, mosquitoes can be thick so please take plenty of bug deterrent with you. This trail offers interpretive signage, a boardwalk across the swamp, a view of the Cache River with a bridge to walk over it and a very large oak tree that is a state champion. There is plenty to see in between including plants, wildflowers, swamp, frogs, and snakes. Please use caution as there are venomous cottonmouth snakes at this location. Don’t touch the snake and give it plenty of room and you will be fine being around them.
4: Hawk’s Cave (Directions Here)
Hawk’s Cave is located in Ferne Clyffe State Park and is about a half mile long and a loop trail. This trail features a very large cave shelter and a couple of waterfalls when the area is wet. There are also neat bluff and rock formations along the way. For extra mileage after hiking the trail, check out Rebman and Big Rocky Hollow trail in the area, especially when the area is wet.
5: Nature Trail (Directions Here)
The Nature Trail is located in Giant City State Park. It is an easy 1-mile loop trail that offers a number of things to see. There are tall bluffs, rock formations, old carvings, cave shelters and much more. A nice playground and shelter are also located at the trailhead. There are tons more trails in the park as well and if the lodge is open, the fried chicken is to die for.
Thanks for reading my article about hiking with kids. I hope you have enjoyed this article and I hope you enjoy the Patreon Exclusive content that I have been writing. If you have further ideas for other article topics, please let me know!
Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.