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Any tips to motivate toddler hiking?

I’d love tips on how to motivate/interest a toddler in hiking on his own. We’ve surpassed the age where our kiddo is comfortably (for everyone) transported via a carrier. Snacks have been helpful as are interesting sites but I would love any other insider tricks the community might have. 

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12 Replies

Definitely let the kids pick out their own snacks ahead of time. That's always a winner. 

We do "hiking rewards" in our family. If you hike 5 miles in a day, we'll buy you a souvenir in the gift shop or visitor center. You can set the distance to whatever you want. If we hike over 10 miles, it's "double hiking rewards" and we'll buy you something a little more expensive, say $15 or so. 

It's a way to give back to the parks, motivate the kids, and make sure they have something to remember all the parks we've been to. 

Check out this invaluable resource  fromt A.M.C.  I hope it is helpful!

Another activity I have seen done with older kids and could see it being done with younger ones too, involves only a pencil.  Bring an unsharpened pencil w / you. And as you stop to take breaks have your toddler turn around as you hide it.  Pencils camoflage well in the outdoors. Depending on how old your toddler is, perhaps have he /she hide it at the next stop!

Any time you can make a game, sing a song etc, when hiking w/ little ones is a win in my book!

Great ideas!  Like I always say, "it's not a bribe, it's an 'incentive'"!  Sometimes you have to be a little creative to get them outdoors!


As a youngster my Son always lagged behind, we were constaantly stopping and waiting for him to catch up...Until one day, on our 2nd hike to the Hike Inn in Ga. he inquired as to how long it had taken us to do the 5-6 miles last time we were there. A little over 2 hours I replied. Can we do it in less then  2 hours. I am sure we can...From then on (he was probably 9 at the time) he has been the leader on most of our hikes (he is now 14) and 'competes' w/his older 17 old sister on every hike. It has gotten to the point where his not so young Dad (I'm 57) has to work to keep up. My point is, I guess, is you never know what may serve as motivation, but since both of my kids are quite comptetitive athletes, that is what has worked for them. Just keep getting them out there, having a goal like a swimming hole or waterfall, etc. has always seemed to be a big help as well.

Many states where we live also have 'passports' which are good motivator, we have done the letterboxing which is a presursor to Geocaching, I like it better because you use clues and maybe a map, not electronics which we are trying to escape. And, we participate in our states 100 mile challenge, where you can also earn stamps and other cool swag....for free. 

@weashloucks Snacks have been a big key to our success (from good healthy calories to the exciting (less healthy) gummy bears and fruit by the foot). That being said, I think part of the reason my twins have really stuck with it when they could have decided they were over it was how I sold the destination. For example, when they were 4 they summited our local highest peak. We discussed the height, how far of a hike it was, and that for a moment they would be on the tallest point in the county. They seemed to really enjoy that and look forward to reaching this magical spot. For other destinations, we have discussed the wildlife we may be lucky enough to see, such as a higher elevation lake that is inhabited by tiger salamanders and small frogs, or even a moose (on the loose). We will bring little notebooks to draw in as well as sometimes a small toy to snap pictures of in various neat spots along the trail. Hope this helps 🙂 Happy trails!IMAG0759.jpg


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Gummy bears and Raisinets have gotten my kids through some pretty challenging hikes!

Hi @weashloucks !

My 4 year old has a kid's digital camera (it was cheap and can survive being dropped, so win-win) and we use it for scavenger hunts.  We'll make a list of 10-15 things he can look for and take a picture of on his hikes - simple stuff like 'cool looking rock' or 'spider web'.  He loves it.  Plus, as a bonus, since he's only taking pictures and knows not to disturb anything, it's instilling a bit of Leave No Trace ethics as well at an early age.  Since it's a game, he doesn't even realize it is exercise, and just bounces around having fun.

Hope this helps!

My wife got the idea of scavenger hunts on the trail, and that’s been a winner for sure. To dovetail on the snacks comments, we take y pocket stove and usually bring a couple camp cups and some instant hot coco mix. They love just taking a break and having coco.


Start small (no Bataan death marches) and let them stop and check things out - bugs, rocks, etc.  Kids love to touch and pick things up. For a young toddler, even a 100 yard walk on a park path can be a big adventure. Take time to point things out for them to investigate, tell them what they are and ask them about the things they see. The most important thing is to let them see you enjoying it too.