9 Tips for Winter Hiking with Kids

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We love to go hiking in the winter. Fortunately, our winters are pretty mild so snow is a treat rather than something we need to be concerned about all the time. But, it still gets quite cold and there are some extra precautions to take and things to consider when winter hiking with kids. 

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We’ve been hiking with our son since he was a baby and it has been a great family experience. He turned three a few months ago and regularly asks to go hiking which we try to do often. When it was just the two of us it was easy to just grab a water bottle and head up a mountain. Now we have to be a little more prepared. Here are 9 tips for winter hiking with kids that we always consider before setting out. 

Winter hiking with kids along a snowy trail through pine trees.

9 Tips for Winter Hiking with Kids

  1. Wear Layers. Layers are the absolute key to comfortable hiking for everybody. Read more about layers in our tips and tricks for winter hiking post or in our post about how to dress your kids for winter activities
  2. Keep it short. If your kids can comfortably complete a 2-mile hike in the summer, you probably need to half the distance for a winter hike. The extra weight of heavy clothing paired with cold temperatures can lead to exhaustion earlier than you might expect. Carrying a kid in the summer can be taxing but it’s near impossible when everyone is bundled up. Here is a great list of family-friendly winter and spring hikes in Arkansas.
  3. Choose a familiar trail. If you are hiking in areas with snow this is especially important. Freshly fallen snow can mask trails, trail blazes and hidden dangers like holes, branches and even water. If snow isn’t a concern shorter daylight and quickly falling temperatures can become major issues if you get lost on an unfamiliar trail.
  4. Hike early. Although afternoons are warmer than mornings, you will be in a race against the sun. Hike early to avoid being stranded on a trail when the sun goes down and carry a headlamp like this one. 
  5. Wear sunglasses. In the summer my sunglasses are practically permanently attached to me. In the winter I am more inclined to forget them even though they are just as important. The glare of sunlight on snow, ice, and wet surfaces can be irritating to the eyes, especially kids’ eyes! 
  6. Bring snacks and water. If you’ve ever tried to accomplish anything with a hungry kid in tow you know why snacks are important. Read more about how to prepare your water and snacks for winter hiking here. These energy bites are one of our favorite hiking snacks.
  7. Allow time for play. Hiking should be about exploration and discovery. As adults that may mean taking in the sites and scenery, but for kids, that is achieved through play. Plan time into the hike that your children can explore, build a snowman or even go sledding. 
  8. Bring Hot Cocoa. There’s no need to lug hot cocoa along the trail but keeping a thermos full of the sweet chocolaty beverage in your car will give everyone something to look forward to at the end of a fun day in the woods. This thermos is great for keeping enough cocoa for the whole family warm for several hours. 
  9. Keep dry clothes and shoes in the car. If your kids get sweaty or wet while hiking, having dry clothes and shoes can make the difference between a happy or miserable ride home. 

Bonus Tip: Know Your Limits

Probably the best advice is to know the limits of your child and of yourself. Kids’ behaviors can be unpredictable so being prepared will make winter hiking with your kids much more enjoyable. No one wants to get a mile down the trail and have an unhappy child that is done. If carrying your child back that entire mile isn’t something you plan to undertake, take the necessary steps beforehand and meet your child where he or she is at in their hiking ability.

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