Spring is the perfect time to hit San Diego hiking trails with kids—and hiking is free fun for families. Here are great tips for hiking with kids (ages 3 and older):
Refer to hikes as “adventures.” Kids have an innate love of adventure and exploring new things. Start talking about your next adventure a day or two in advance, so the kids have something to look forward to.
Create your own walking stick. Find a piece of bamboo (or a large stick) and cut it down to size for each child. Head to a local home improvement or craft store for wild Duck Tape colors and patterns. Let the kids choose how to wrap and design their own stick.
Prepare for every scenario. Pack your backpack with plenty of water, snacks, a first aid kit, cell phone, sunscreen and pepper spray. Check the weather ahead of time and plan clothing accordingly. Lower temperatures are a little easier on younger hikers.
Choose an urban hike with beautiful views. Try Lake Calavera (hug the trail closest to the lake and stop at the picnic table for snack) or Batiquitos Lagoon (flat and stroller-friendly) in Carlsbad or Torrey Pines Reserve in La Jolla (park at the top and take Guy Fleming Trail). All offer beginner level hikes with water views, and plenty of flora and fauna to investigate.
Go at their pace. Don’t plan to get a great workout. Let the kids pick the pace. Teach them how to navigate rocky areas, scan for snakes on the trail and use their walking stick properly. And always stay on the trail.
Enjoy nature. Point out hawks hunting overhead, interesting cloud formations, fish or dolphins jumping out of the water, animal tracks, and pretty leaves or rocks. Prompt the kids to listen to the sound of the wind in the trees and birds chirping. Teach them to develop a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors. It’s a great way to calm and relax kids that are over-stimulated by electronic devices.
Stop to take a break or two. Let the kids know how far they have to hike before snack break (each of the hikes listed in #4 has benches or a picnic table). Emphasize how much fun hiking is, and what a special experience it is to be outdoors.
Compliment them. Praise the kids for good things they’ve done so far. I tell my 3-year-old niece how strong her legs and lungs are, and how well she did walking up and down the hills with her stick. I praise my 5-year-old nephew for being a good leader and scanning for anything dangerous on the trail as we follow behind him. They beam proudly and tell me they can’t wait for their next hike!
Celebrate the finish. Reward your tired hikers with a trip to their favorite frozen yogurt shop. They just burned a ton of calories and probably need to get their blood sugar back up.
Freelance writer Jenna Sampson lives in Carlsbad and is a former hiking guide.