Hiking in Victoria, Grampians

Hiking with Kids - 13 tips to make it a success!

You decide to take your kids on a family bush walk or hike, and that’s when the whinging starts… ‘CARRY ME, my legs hurt, can we go now, I’m bored, are we there yet?’

Never again you think… WHY IS THIS SO HARD...?

Adults and kids are wired differently when it comes to hiking – adults will walk for hours to see that ‘amazing view,’ whereas kids don’t care about the view - they just want to have fun along the way!

How to make your hike fun for the whole family. 

Standing at fish falls in the Grampians
Fish Falls at Gariwerd (The Grampians)

1: Choose trails with hidden adventures

What makes a great trail for kids? It really depends on their age, interests and abilities. Little kids will get tired very quickly, so start small (under 3kms) and slowly build them up to longer walks.

No matter what their age – great kid-friendly trails are interactive, have variety and are engaging to explore!

BUT – if you don’t make it fun along the way and spark their interest – it will be hard to motivate your kids to keep going.

Maybe you choose a trail where you might see kangaroos along the path, or turtles in the lake. Or maybe there’s a mosaic treasure hunt to follow that will keep them running to the next spot!

Or maybe the trail has caves to hide in, rivers and beaches to play in, rocks to scramble over, boardwalks to navigate, magical forests to run and hide in, bush cubbies to check out, plus a special destination to look forward to. See some ideas.

Family sitting down on the walk

2. Let them play… and double the walk time.

Adults want to make it to the end – kids just want to stop and play.

When we start pushing our kids to ‘make it to the end’ and ‘keep going’ they can get frustrated very quickly. If you’re not careful, your fun day out will soon become a battle of wills.

The solution? Factor in lots of 10-minute play and rest breaks on every walk – it will help them recharge and make the day out more enjoyable for everyone.

Sometimes a short walk can easily turn into a 1 - 2 hour walk, which is no problem at all if you have planned for this to happen!

Try not to get too frustrated if you never make it to the end and see that amazing view – as the more fun your kids have on the walk itself, the more excited they will be to go hiking again!

Rock scrambling at the Grampians
The Pinnacle walk at Gariwerd

3. Don’t make it too easy.

Curious fact: Take your kids on a flat boring walk and they will complain the WHOLE way... Take them on a trail where they can scramble over rocks, jump over stepping stones, clamber up hills and put themselves to the test, and they will walk and play for hours!

Kids love challenging trails - it becomes an adventure course.

So next time you’re deciding whether you choose the easy (and boring walk), or the longer and more interesting trail – take a breath - and go for the challenging one and see what happens.

Of course, if they’re toddlers and just starting out – you will have to think smaller and be very mindful of safety. So, your ‘rock scrambling trails’ may be fairly flat with just a few rocks and logs they can test their balance on.  

4. Morning walks are better

What better way to start the day than with a family walk? Everyone is well rested and full of energy, and the threat of tired legs and tantrums is hours and hours away (hopefully).

The mornings are also the perfect time to see more wildlife! You will find more birds and animals foraging for food in the mornings – something else for your kids to look out for on the walk.

boy walking ahead up a trail

5: Put them in charge and see what happens

Hand them the map or give them a compass and tell them they’re the tour leader or chief navigator – they will love it!

If they’re not comfortable taking the lead, maybe they can be in charge of finding the trail markers or best spots for a picnic along the way.

If you have more than one child in the group, make sure they take turns or have clear roles that contribute to the fun on the day.

Girl looking through fence with binoculars

6. Give your kids props to use along the way

Kids love exploring with props! Hand them binoculars or a magnifying glass, and they will be constantly investigating the trail around them, searching for birds, bugs or whatever catches their eye.

It’s the perfect way to keep them engaged for longer without them realising how far they’ve walked!

You can also bring field guides to help ID the birds, plants or animal traces (tracks and scats) you may see.

Every walk is a chance to learn that little bit more about the local wildlife and land we live on.

Family walking into the woods

7. Go hiking with friends

When your kids can bring friends on the walk, they will have double the fun! They will be racing ahead, shouting out their discoveries (it won’t be a quiet walk), stopping to play frequently and the time will fly by for everyone.

However, try and go hiking with kids of a similar age and abilities so everyone can keep up. Otherwise, you may end up carrying the little ones so they don’t get left behind.  

8. Leave a secret trail to follow on the way back

Sometimes the hardest part of the hike is the return walk back to the start. This is when the ‘carry me’ and complaining usually starts, as their enthusiasm wears off and they suddenly realise how far they’ve walked.

HOWEVER – if you are following a one-way track (not a loop trail), you can encourage them to leave secret trail markers to find on the way back.

This will keep them engaged and searching for their secret trail most of the way home – ingenious adult at work 😉

The trail markers could be wayfinding arrows made of small sticks or stones, or simply scratching arrows on a sandy path. (Always leave what you find behind).

Grampians Peak trail walk
Grampians Peak Trail, cleaning shoes.

9. Play games and turn it into an adventure!

The number one thing you want to do on a family hike or bush walk is HAVE FUN! The more fun you have, the more everyone will be excited to go on their next adventure together!

Choosing an interesting trail can set you up for success – but it’s no guarantee.

That’s why games and ‘secret missions’ are so good to keep everyone busy and engaged on the walk.

The games can be as simple as playing ‘I spy’ or making up silly stories and songs with what you see on the way. Or perhaps you ask them what they would pack on an overnight hiking trip – and see what funny ideas get shared.

Or maybe you are on a detective mission to guess which animals have been before you – searching for traces in the wild. Or maybe you set a scavenger hunt challenge with 5 items to find, and the winner gets a prize.

10. NEVER FORGET THE SNACKS (and treats)

Pack LOTS OF SNACKS (double what you normally take). Children use up a lot more energy than adults on a walk - so allow for plenty of snack breaks. Tired and hungry children on a long walk is not fun for anyone…

Good snack food might be – crackers, fruit, trail mix, museli bars and of course lots of water. You can even slip in a few treats to entice them to walk further if you need to.

Sometimes nothing is going to plan and the only option is the promise of a treat at the other end of your hike, you will be amazed at how quickly they can bounce back…

However, it’s also a test of how tired they really are – sometimes they still can’t make it, and it’s time for a quick exit (or time to carry them).

Redwoods Otways
The Redwoods in The Otways

11. Practice makes perfect – so ‘hike’ regularly

Getting out into nature regularly is one of the best and easiest things we can do as a family to slow down, connect and get active together.

Some of the best family conversations happen on the walking trail – so why not try and factor some kind of outdoor adventure into your weekly, fortnightly or monthly routines?

Like everything, successful hiking is all about practice and learning what works for your family. 

Walking down Queenscliff Dunes
Queenscliff Dune Walk

12. Be adventure ready with Gumnut Trails

Our Gumnut Trails Adventure Guides are full of kid-friendly trails that are perfect for weekend adventures around Melbourne.

We help turn family walks into adventure walks!

Every trail includes a secret mission and 3 - 5 extra adventures to keep your kids engaged and having fun .Because when our kids are having fun, everyone is having fun. 

Today Gumnut Trails, tomorrow hiking the peaks? No promises!

But one thing is for sure, if our kids love exploring when they’re young, there’s no saying what they will achieve when they’re older.

Browse Adventure Guides.

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13. Finally - be prepared

Check conditions before you go

Check the conditions on Parks Victoria and other sites to make sure the park or track is safe (especially after heavy rain or strong winds).

If you’re walking along coastal areas, you may also need to check when low tide is, so you don’t get stranded and it's safe to cross.

For longer and overnight hikes - let your family know where you're going in case of emergency.

What to wear and pack

This is just a general list to get you started for a day walk (not for overnight hikes).

  • wear closed walking shoes (always)
  • cover up to avoid getting
    burnt or bitten.
  • sunscreen and insect repellent
  • muddy and cold? Bring a change of clothes, as miserable kids will not want to walk (we know)
  • hiking carriers for babies and toddlers are great for when they’re little.
  • First aid kit with bandages, antispectic wipes, tweezers etc.
  • LOTS of snacks

Note: You don't need expensive hiking gear to get started.

Hiking safety

Teach your kids about hiking safety; including:

  • Staying on the trail,
  • Watching out for tripping hazards
  • Never crowding, touching or chasing animals.
  • Don't eat plants or wild mushrooms (unless you know what you're doing).
  • Having plenty of water and food to stay hydrated and energised.
  • Packing the first aid kit