Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tips for Hiking with Children

Eaton Canyon Falls I often receive emails asking questions about hiking. Occasionally I am asked questions about hiking with children. I received one such inquiry this week, and as I reflect on Father’s Day, I thought it would be timely to share my response with a wider audience.

The question was from a father who had just purchased an annual Adventure Pass to take his two boys (ages 5 and 3) for leisurely, scenic, mild strolls and would greatly appreciate any advice I may have about children-friendly trails. Here was my response, with a few enhancements:

Hi James,

Great question! Thanks for asking. I commend you for wanting to get your boys into the outdoors. That’s a great place to create wonderful experiences.

One of the key issues with children is attention span. A child generally has an attention span of one minute for every year of age. For example, your five-year old can be engaged in an activity for about five minutes before he is ready to move on.

Monrovia CanyonSo even if the outing lasts an hour, you’ll find you can keep the boys engaged by breaking it up into smaller pieces. Walk a few minutes, watch a butterfly, examine a plant, walk some more, talk about lizards, walk, sing a song (not too loudly), tell a story, look at tadpoles, walk, count the rings of a tree stump, etc. My wife, who was a preschool teacher for years, always says, “Keep them wanting, not waiting.” In other words, conclude the outing before they are done so they will want to come back for more. If they are done before the outing is, they may not want to come back.

Now for some specific outings. Generally kids are more inclined to enjoy creek-side strolls rather than climbs to mountain peaks. Some good places in the front range of our San Gabriels include:
  • Monrovia Canyon (pretty waterfall and nature trail)
  • Bailey Canyon (nature trail)
  • Eaton Canyon (wonderful nature center and trails)
  • Fish Canyon (showy falls, great trail)
  • Chantry Flat (keep in mind the uphill climb out)
  • West Fork San Gabriel River (good fishing, splendid scenery)
  • Santa Fe Dam Recreational Area (nice park, lake, nature trail)

See Dan's Hiking Pages for descriptions of these hikes.

Even trails like Icehouse Canyon, which is a trail serious hikers use in trekking deep into the wilderness, can be great for kids if you just wander up the trial for a mile or so. There are lots of spots along the creek for exploring. Up toward Mt. Baldy, San Antonio Falls would be doable and offer a big waterfall experience. Always be vigilant for safety around water, especially swift moving rivers and streams.

Poison oak
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is a lot of poison oak in the foothill canyons, so learn to recognize it and be alert in keeping your kids out of it. I taught my kids to avoid petting dogs on the trail because a dog can easily get the poison oil on its fur and it can transfer to a hand, then to the face...then the kids are horribly miserable for couple weeks.

It’s not permitted to pick flowers or collect natural material from the National Forest or from most parks and recreational areas, so teach your kids to look and enjoy, and take only pictures. And of course, we always want to pack out our own litter, even fruit peals.

Bailey CanyonMake sure your kids are wearing appropriate shoes and clothing for the outing and think in layers to be ready for changing temperatures. Carry plenty of healthy snacks and water with you and always have a first aid kit for any cuts or scrapes that might occur. And wet wipes are always handy to have along. Mosquitoes and other bugs love streamside settings, so carry some repellant in your bag. And don’t forget the sun screen.

Helping your children gain a love and appreciation for nature is a wonderful gift that will last a lifetime. And you’ll have some great times along the way!

Happy hiking!

Do you have other tips for hiking with Children? Feel free to share your comments below. icon

Visit Dan's Hiking Pages

Other Pages on Dan’s Hiking Pages:
Plants Plants and Wildflowers in the San Gabriel Mountains
Animals icon Animals of the San Gabriels
Waterfalls icon Waterfalls of the San Gabriels


  1. I took my kids to the Claremont Wilderness Park ( no streams no waterfalls. They loved the view at the mountain peak. We also got to see a bear and Deers.

  2. Hiking with children is a great idea, thanks for sharing. You should use Piggyback Rider for toddlers 2.5 y/o + up to60lbs, a standing child carrier and you'll surely enjoy your adventure. :)

  3. That’s great news! Thank's for sharing Tips for Hiking with Children. Its always great to find good honest practical content. Thank you so much.