5 Tips on Getting Children Interested in the Outdoors

This was originally a blog post that I wrote for the Sport Chalet Outdoor Community blog in 2012. It appears that they have taken it down, so I am reposting it here, with some minor edits. All content is written by me. I’ve added some pictures from over the years to illustrate the point that it takes consistency and patience to have a child that loves the outdoors.

Her first hike - let her get dirty

Her first hike – let her get dirty

On a backpacking trip last weekend in Cuyamaca

On a backpacking trip last weekend in Cuyamaca

“Daddy, when can we climb Black Mountain?” The words were music to my ears. They came from my 2-year-old daughter, sitting in her car seat behind me. Everywhere we went in the car, I would point out different mountains to our daughter, but Black Mountain was special.

Every day, on the way to preschool, we would say “Good morning” to the mountain, which was visible from our home. To have her ask me to go hiking to the top was a success in my book. We’ve been on many hikes before and since, but this was the sign that her motivation was now coming from within.

How did I do it?

My birthday on the Santa Rosa Plateau - Soph was 1

My birthday on the Santa Rosa Plateau – Soph was 1

Be aware of the outdoors areas around you and point them out to your children

My daughter wouldn’t have noticed Black Mountain if I hadn’t pointed it out to her on our walks and drives around our neighborhood. In addition, as we drove around all over the county, I would point out a peak here and a canyon there. Now she notices them on her own and asks me what they are. Keep in mind that this requires you to do the research to know what they are.

Selfie in 2009 on Wooded Hill - Bring snacks

Selfie in 2009 on Wooded Hill – Bring snacks

Sophia on Wooded Hill in Cuyamaca - let her play with dirt

Sophia on Wooded Hill in Cuyamaca – let her play with dirt

Be a role model

I might be an extreme case, since I am an avid hiker and blogger, but most people spring the idea of hiking on their young families while on vacation and encounter resistance. If you’ve never really hiked before, how could you expect your young children to suddenly be interested in it? Before you take your children on hikes, go on hikes yourself and let your children know about your adventures and share pictures of scenery and wildlife with them. They’ll start to get curious and want to go with you.

Sophia, getting ready to go up Ghost Mountain - Adequate sun protection

Sophia, getting ready to go up Ghost Mountain – Adequate sun protection

Sophia, playing atop Ghost Mountain

Sophia, playing atop Ghost Mountain

Encourage curiosity, wonder, and exploration

Always be on the lookout for local flora and fauna. My daughter and I get as much joy in seeing the local squirrels and woodpeckers as we do seeing deer and bison. My daughter now notices turkey vultures and pelicans from the car and points them out to me. Like pointing out the mountains, it’s also great to point out flowers, mushrooms, insects, and anything else there is to see. I look them up on my phone or ask my social media friends to help identify them, so we know the correct names for them.

Sophia and I, ready to hike to Garnet Peak

Sophia and I, ready to hike to Garnet Peak

Sophia atop Garnet Peak

Sophia atop Garnet Peak

Take your children on hikes when young, even if you have to carry them

My daughter actually took her first steps while on a hike. It was when she was just over one year old. I carried her in a backpack on my back in a wonderful area of grasslands and oaks on the Santa Rosa Plateau. While relaxing on the visitor center porch, she decided to start walking. After that trip, I took her on some pretty rugged hikes in the desert, forests, and everything in between, all while carrying her on my back. She would get out of the backpack to play at our destinations, but didn’t have to get too tired on the trail. Now she looks back fondly at pictures of these adventures and knows she’s been in the outdoors since she was a toddler.

Pointing the way to go at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park

Pointing the way to go at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park

Create a positive outdoor experience for your young child

Involve your children in the decision-making process, if possible. Show them on a map where they are going and make sure there is a goal at the end of the hike, like a waterfall or viewpoint. Make sure your children are wearing appropriate clothing for the hike and be sure to pack layers. Be aware of the effects of the sun and bring a hat and sunglasses for your children. You likely wear sun protection, so at least an equal amount of protection would be reasonable for your children. Go to the local outdoors store and let them pick out a day pack. You may carry the bulk of the weight, but let them contribute by carrying snacks or a little bit of water. Ensure they have comfortable shoes and socks and that the hike is an appropriate distance. Nothing sours a child to hiking more than having blisters or being sunburnt after an outing.

Soph on a short hike by our house

Soph on a short hike by our house

Sophia Hiking to Boulder Falls in Colorado

Sophia Hiking to Boulder Falls in Colorado

Hiking up Black Mountain

Hiking up Black Mountain

I love the outdoors. I love the feeling of scrambling up a rocky trail, wiping the sweat out of my eyes, and being rewarded with a jaw-dropping view. By taking some careful steps, your children can love hiking as much as you do.

Enjoying the Boiling River in Yellowstone National Park

Enjoying the Boiling River in Yellowstone National Park

Soph on Swiftcurrent Lake with Iceberg Notch in the background at Glacier National Park

Soph on Swiftcurrent Lake with Iceberg Notch in the background at Glacier National Park

At the Weeping Wall in Zion National Park

At the Weeping Wall in Zion National Park

Hiking along Bryce Canyon

Hiking along Bryce Canyon

Acting silly on a backpacking trip

Acting silly on a backpacking trip

My backpacking partner on Reyes Peak

My backpacking partner on Reyes Peak

 

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Comments

  1. Christine Green says

    Hi Derek, Thanks for your site and for your offer to field questions. Soph is adorable. I want to take my 7 year-old son on a mother/son overnight backpacking trip. This would be his first one so I want to keep it short and sweet. 2 miles in at most. I’m looking for a place we can park our car and hike in to an established campground. It would be okay if we hiked to a car camping place just so long as we could get there without our car. We live in Santa Barbara. If any ideas come to mind, I’d love to hear them. Thanks again,
    Kris

  2. says

    Christine, Sorry about the late reply! It’s been a busy few weeks. Forbush Flat is a great place, if you don’t mind driving up to East Camino Cielo. Search on my website for that hike, it was Sophia’s first overnight hike and it’s about two miles down to the campsite, which has shade, a picnic bench, and a fire ring. Check with the ranger station for fire conditions and mind the poison oak. On the north side of the canyon, there are fossils in the rocks which makes for fun exploration. Good luck!

    Thanks,

    Derek

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