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Hiking with kids: a sanity guide

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Hiking with kids: a sanity guide

Every parent will agree that hiking with little ones has its ups and downs. But with well-planned routes and a couple hacks, wanderwegs can actually be a lot of fun.

BY MARK COHEN 30.09.2021

This summer I went hiking with three kids in Laax above 2000ms. It was cloudy. You couldn’t see. But the parents were keen. So, on we hiked, taking the kids on rocky paths, flower picking, pretending you could see marmots. You couldn’t see marmots. We could barely see in front of us.

After about two hours, the weather lifted, we found a mountain playground attached to a restaurant. All was well again. The kids were happy. The adults were relieved.

Such is life hiking with little kids. The joys of walking point to point or in a loop – no matter how spectacular – is not immediately obvious, no matter how obvious it is for the grown-ups. Maybe it’s the tantrums. Or the refusals to continue. Or the inescapable cries of “I’m tired” and “I need a snack.”

So how to keep going with little ones who might consider hiking type-two kind of fun? We asked a bunch of avid hikers around the office for their thoughts. Intrepid types who rarely let cries of “hiking, really,” stand in their way of a good day on the trail. Here are a couple tips:

1. Set the day to music

While your six-year-old might look odd in a pair of Bang + Olufsen Bluetooth headphones, the joys of exploring nature with a soundtrack is sometimes the motivation they need – and bonus – the quiet you’ll enjoy. (Story Time podcasts or Taylor Swift is a favourite for our eight-year-old). It helps them forget they’re hiking. A little music, some singing – the same formula works in any setting. The results are just as magical.

2. Keep it on the downhill 

One of our designers makes a point of planning downhill or flat routes only. With a five- and seven-year-old, the idea is to get outside but keep routes simple. Abandon notions of steep ascents, grab a gondola, then explore till their heart's content. But no uphill means less whining and thus more fun for everyone. 

3. Theme the hike

Central Europe is blessed with an abundance of easy-to-access hiking. And while not all routes are little kid friendly, there are many hikes in popular areas that focus on themes, hunts, and exploration. Kids love these. The Tinkle-bell Ursli walk, for example, in the Engadin Valley, is fun, easy, and filled with things to look at and touch, which makes the 3.5-kilometre distance fly by. The inevitable presence of other kids will keep them motivated, too.

4. Do your homework

If you’re hiking in an area of significance – old, historic, lots of flora and fauna – educate yourself about it beforehand and then share those details with your kids when you’re walking. The hike will transform into an outdoor classroom. They’ll feed off your enthusiasm. And the environment – in a new context – will take on additional meaning and motivation. 

5. The importance of snacks

The importance of keeping kids fueled can’t be underestimated. A piece of chocolate. A little warm tea. A sandwich. Fresh air ups the appetite for everyone, but especially little ones. In the autumn, packing a warm lunch and cooking on an open fire is a nice treat. Top things off with roasting marshmallows on a stick. It’ll be a day they’ll remember. 

6. Travel in packs

Hiking in groups of kids can often be easier than hiking in ones and twos. Bring one of their friends. Go hiking with another family. Having other kids around leads to kid conversations and can make the time pass by, with their imaginations running wild. Creates a little solidarity amongst the adults as well.

7. Bring layers

Of course we’d say bring layers on a hike, right? But this couldn’t be truer. Weather in the Alps is always changing – and wherever you’re hiking, you want to be prepared. Rain. Sun. All of it. Without the right kid clothing, you won’t have a great day. So pack options and keep kids comfortable. It’s one less thing they’ll have to grumble about.

There are loads of family-friendly hiking guides and websites here in Switzerland. Swiss Family Fun always posts lots of routes and tips for family hikes. It’s worth a newsletter subscription, too, for weekly inspiration. Anywhere there is good hiking there are similar resources, so take advantage to help with planning. And remember, no matter how hard, frustrating, or infuriating – hiking with little kids is awesome. If not now, then as they grow older as you see them exploring and enjoying.

Time and patience. But they’ll get there.