How to Prevent Trail Burn-Out with Kids

My kid is stretched out in front of the door, yelling.

“I DON’T WANT TO GO HIKING I HATE HIKING I NEVER WANT TO GO HIKING AGAIN.”

I sigh. We’ve been here before.

If you too find yourself in this situation often, you’ve got a few options.

  • Drag your kid to the car screaming back, “YOU WILL GO HIKING YOU DON’T HATE HIKING YOU WILL GO HIKING AGAIN.”
  • Throw the hiking boots and poles back in the closet and immediately try to fix the situation. “Okay! Oh no! What do you want to do? Eat ice cream? Buy a puppy?”
  • Take three deep breaths. My kids are of the “slow to transition” variety. It’s rare that when I tell them my plan for the day that they cheer with enthusiasm. I could tell them we are going to take a ride on the Millennium Falcon with Han Solo and they would still grump and groan. But sometimes I worry that I’ve pushed them to the trail too often and they are legitimately experiencing trail burn out. So when your kids start whining about going hiking again, here are tips to get them excited about hitting the trail once again.
Prevent Trail Burn-Out

Hear them out

Sometimes we all just need to be heard. Often as parents we forget to let our children legitimately and fully express their feelings. Yes, you might have a hike planned already and changing plans is absolutely not an option. But you can still take five minutes to fully hear why they don’t want to go. Often times, kids just need to be heard.

Listening can also help you come up with solutions – they don’t want to miss a football game? Tape it! Would rather play catch in the backyard? Throw a ball in the backpack! Need some space from siblings? Offer to split up the hike for a bit so they can have one on one time with mom or dad. Sometimes the source of their resistance will surprise you.

Take a break from the trail

My oldest came to me the other day whining about how we never go hiking any more and how he wants to hike every trail in Montana. I had to smile. It had only been two days since we were in the woods hiking along a creek, but in the weeks prior most of our walks had just been heading home from school. I promised we would head straight to the woods after pickup that day.

If your kids are frequently whining about not wanting to hike, take a break for a week or three. I promised myself this summer that every time the kids asked to go to a playground, we would go (as long as it was feasible.) This meant less time on the trail, but still plenty of time outside. And when I did suggest a hike, they were less likely to whine about how we only ever do what I want to do.

Prevent Trail Burn-Out

Find interesting hikes – from a kid’s perspective

Hiking to a scenic viewpoint might not be your kid’s idea of a good time. But they would climb over boulders and throw rocks into water all day long if I let them. When you choose hikes for the kids, find ones with varied terrain and lots of interesting places to stop and play – a bridge, a meadow, a creek to hop over, or a boulder field.

Of course, this means I rarely get the pay off of hiking to a stunning overlook or a mountain waterfall. But I’ve learned to enjoy the experience of just being in nature much more.

Encourage them to lead

Little ones have such little control in their life as it is. Asking them to lead plan and lead a hike is a great way to help them gain some control and therefore excitement. Have them pick where you will go, what snacks to take, and any other options you feel comfortable letting them choose (what time of day, how long to go for, where to stop for dinner on the way home).

Go with friends

My kids will hike significantly farther with other kids than they will with just our family. (Especially if the kids are slightly older.) Before I know it, they will have run halfway around the loop giggling and laughing and forgetting to stop to ask for snacks. I am forever amazed and how much better their stamina is when they are having fun with playmates than on their own.

As a bonus, the trail typically makes for a much better play date than hanging out at home. There are no toys to get possessive over, no differing house rules to worry about, no one begging them to please be a little quieter. There is of course the occasional stick to fight over but sticks are much easier to replace than favorite teddy bears.

Prevent Trail Burn-Out

Snacks, snacks, snacks

Let me clarify this one for you: snacks, snacks, snacks, snacks, snacks. And don’t forget – snacks.

Some days, your kids just won’t want to hike and there isn’t much you can do about it. Maybe you decide to bribe them with an ice cream cone, maybe you decide to bag the trip and watch clouds in your backyard instead. No phase lasts too long, and before you know it, they’ll be asking to hit the trail again soon.

Prevent Trail Burn-Out

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Team Member Jackie is a coffee-lover, writer and a mom of a six year old, five year old and a 18 month old living in Helena, MT. She thought that hiking might help tame her children’s wild spirits, and co-leads a Hike it Baby branch. All that hiking only made her crew wilder, but in a good way. Before kids she enjoyed reading, knitting and baking, but now she enjoys making it to bedtime.

© 2019, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.

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