Hiking with the Kids: Tips to Make Spring Break Fun for the Whole Family
Spring break is a mixed blessing. The kids are off from school, which is great for the kids—but it can be craziness for the parents. This counts triple if you spend the week all together inside the house, cooped up like sardines.
Combat the craziness before it starts by planning a slate of outdoor adventures. Hiking is high on the list for family fun, and you can make it as simple or elaborate as you wish.
- Keep it simple by taking a day trip to the nearest state park.
- Go elaborate by weaving the family hike theme into a spring break vacation.
Because the second option is so juicy, we know it’s the one you’ll pick. But before we get into where to go, it’s imperative to know how to make a family hike a safe and fun one.
How to Keep Your Hike Kid-Friendly
Whether you have young children or older kids, safety comes first. Yes, that means bringing a first-aid kit. But it also means you don’t want to choose a spring break hiking location famous for icy cliffs and avalanches. Go for one with miles of trails that every family member can easily conquer—if you don’t have to conquer all the miles in a single day.
Choose a short, mile loop hike with minimum elevation gain over a longer trek that seems to extend forever. Keep in mind the kiddos may not be as well-conditioned as you always-on-the-move adults.
Also remember that most kids (and even adults!) have the attention spans of a goldfish. They’re going to get bored unless you have tricks up your sleeve to make it exciting.
1. Make sure everyone is comfortable
Don't give them even the slightest reason to complain. Wear hiking boots or other supportive footwear. Also make sure to match your clothing and accoutrements to the weather. An Everglades hike demands bug spray and sunglasses. A Rocky Mountain hike requires gloves and thick socks.
2. Take snack breaks
Kids get hungry. And when they get hungry, they get cranky. Stop for regular snack breaks as needed, whether you rest in a picnic area you run across or on the side of the trail. Bonus points for any kid who can hike with their own backpack carrying their water bottle and snacks.
3. Launch a photo scavenger hunt
Create a list of items family members need to spot along the hike, make sure everyone has a camera, and have each member snap a pic of the designated items. Compare photos at the end of the hike to see who got the most spectacular views and who was able to get them all.
4. Turn it into a learning experience
Bring along items that your kids can use to interact with nature. These can include things like a magnifying glass, binoculars and plant and animal identification guides.
5. Make it an artistic experience
Have everyone bring along a small pad and pencil to draw or write haikus about the most intriguing things they see.
6. Let the kids pick the trails
Select a handful of family-friendly hikes in the area you’re exploring and let the kids pick the one you take.
7. Top it off with rewards
If everyone gets through the hike without a complaint, argument or attitude, treat the whole crew to dinner—with ice cream for dessert!
6 Fun Family Hike Recommendations
Now that you know how to make your hike fun for young children, older kids and, most importantly, you parents—your next step is to figure out where to go. We’ve gathered up our top six family hike recommendations for spring break, which range from the hot and humid to the cold and snowy.
1. Everglades National Park in Florida
Heading to Florida for spring break is nothing new, and Everglades National Park makes a tantalizing sub-tropical family hiking spot. With more than 1.5 million acres, this park is even bigger than the Grand Canyon!
It’s also a diverse ecosystem where you may catch a glimpse of everything from raccoons among the mangrove roots to alligators in the swampy waters. A host of trails await, including short, interpretive trails that are perfect for shorter attention spans. Just remember that Florida spring break hotspot—both literally and figuratively. The area is likely to be swamped with crowds, depending on the exact dates of your spring break getaway.
2. Appalachian Trail
It may not be sub-tropical, but winter on the Appalachian Trial can be beyond beautiful. A spring break option here can beat the crowd, provided everyone else isn’t on to the same idea. Just keep in mind that snow and ice can be on any part of the trail through early April, and there are many parts of the trail for you to explore.
The Appalachian Trail winds through not one, not seven, but 14 states. The coldest temps will be in the New England area. The start of the trail is in Georgia. While it might take you and your family a bit longer than spring break to hike all 218 miles of the trail, you can pick a section that appeals to you to serve as the focal point of your trip.
3. Death Valley National Park in California
While you may expect many hikes to take you up the side of a hill or mountain, Death Valley National Park is below sea level. Known as the driest, hottest and lowest national park, it’s also the largest outside of Alaska. The park spans more than 3.4 million acres.
You won’t find your typical wide range of constructed trails here, mainly because you don’t need them. Wide open spaces invite you along ridges, up canyons or across the open land.
September through March is a prime time to visit this rugged wilderness, giving most spring breakers a green light. Summers are scorching enough to be dangerous for outdoor activities, and even springtime temps that kick in around April can be too hot for some.
4. Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah
Alive with pink cliffs, red rocks and the largest collection of hoodoos found on the planet, Bryce Canyon National Park is an otherworldly delight. And you even have a hook for your kids right off the bat. You can ask them what a hoodoo is.
Hoodoos are irregular rock columns, and they’re part of what gives the park such a surreal landscape. Spending a full day at the park is typically plenty of time to check out the scenic vistas, do a bit of hiking, and take quick trips to the car to warm up if needed.
Because the park is at a high elevation, and in Utah, you can expect cold temperatures for the spring break stretch. March and April snow storms are not uncommon, so you want to keep an eye on the weather reports before you book your stay.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
With 415 square miles and a breathtaking range of mountainous terrain, Rocky Mountain National Park has more than 300 miles of hiking trails. It’s also a great place for wildlife viewing, even in the winter.
A spring break trip to the park will put you amid the region’s winter season, which can stretch from September to early June. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a deal breaker. As long as you and your kids are up for a family hike in the snow and you research safety guidelines before you go, you can still have loads of fun. Consider swapping your hiking boots for snowshoes.
6. Hiking in Washington State
Another wintry option is to head to wonderful Washington. The state is packed with family hiking options, including those that are likely to be covered in snow as well as others that remain relatively free of snow all year long.
The Washington Trails Association can fill you in on the tons of options for your spring break getaway, and we mean tons. The lineup includes more than 200 trails throughout the state, including a handful of winter garden options. These gardens double as delightful nature trails that would be perfect for your photo scavenger hunt or learning experience.
Get Outdoors for Spring Break
With all these hiking tips and options, spring break is no longer a mixed blessing. It’s a huge blessing for all. It gives you and your family a chance to enjoy outdoor adventures, the beauty of nature and, most importantly, each other’s company. Here’s to every trail becoming your favorite trail. Enjoy!