18 Tips for an Amazing Family Trip into America’s Wilderness

Springtime in the Upper Left of the U.S. means it is time for to plan the warmer months ahead. Before you know it, the snow will be melted around the nation, with the outdoors beckoning for adventures.

I’m not an overly organized person, but I love taking advantage of great weather and love taking my family to the outdoors any given opportunity and I’ve learned a few things over the last years.

Last night, while preparing for this article, I decided to interview my kids about their favorite hikes, what makes them special for them and what they are looking forward to the most.

So, here are my tips to help you make the most of your next adventure.

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1. Get kids excited and involved in the planning

Every kid goes through phases when they want to spend their whole weekend in pajamas watching cartoons and playing LEGOs. But if you involve them early on in the preparation process and talk to them about possible places to explore, they can get excited and feel like they are a part of the decision-making process. This may sound very theoretical, but that is actually one of the points my 9 year old son made during dinner last night, after all, it is their weekend too.

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2. Pack your bags, gear, and get everything you can ready the night before your trip.

This is important, especially on longer trips when you want to leave the house as early as possible. trying to get the whole family ready on a weekend morning, before 9 o’clock can lead to stress and frustration before the trip has even started. On longer trips we try to get everything ready the night before. We involve the kids with letting them gather stuff for their backpacks and some toys for the car. They pull the hiking boots from the garage and find any gear we might need. Let them bring that extra camera you don’t use anymore. Are the batteries charged? Let them stuff the car, if you can spare the space.

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3. Eat a smart breakfast

Most trail heads we hike are at least 2 hours drive away from home. If we leave the house after breakfast and the kids barely ate anything in the mornings, they will start demanding snacks in the car within fifteen minutes of hitting the highway. We really need a good breakfast to get the day of right, but we want to make sure that it doesn’t take an hour to prepare and that cleanup doesn’t take forever. There is nothing worse than coming home after a long day out in the sun to a messy kitchen. Make baked French toast that can be just thrown in the over, or try breakfast burritos, prepped the night before. Fruit and yogurt with you cereal is also a healthy and filling option.

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4. Stuff for the car

The car ride can be boring for the kids, especially if they get car sick easy and can’t read. We always let them bring a pillow and a stuffed animal in the car, as well as a few small toys for them to occupy themselves.

5. Always be prepared for a quick trip

Sunny weather can’t be pre-booked, but if your pantry is always stocked with all the necessities for picnic, then you can allow yourself to be spontaneous and take advantage of a great day without needing to run to the grocery store, wasting valuable time that could be spent on the trail. During the summer months, we always keep our basics stocked up- Some snacks/fun food for the car: gold fish crackers/pirate booty/pretzels. Some special snacks that we keep secret until we’re in the car.

picnic

6. Bring a really good picnic

This is super important!
When our family is outside, we want to maximize our time out there. We love the picnic sites in National Parks and we always prepare a good lunch. We always try to bring a few things everyone loves and add a couple things that make the picnic something special. We fill every one of our SIGG bottles we have with water and for lunch we have a thermos with juice and water we share as a family. Finally, we bring clothes napkins and a couple blankets as a tablecloth to make the day perfect.

beach

7. Bathroom breaks

A reminder for ourselves.
You get to the trail head, load up your backpack, check if you have everything and forget to ask the kids if they need to go potty. They will not remember to ask, and you might forget if you are thinking of 100s of different things. Make sure to check before you set of. If not, they will ask within 10 minutes on the trail. Trust me on that.

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8. Pick a destination that’s both adventurous and familiar.

In an ideal world, I would like to have hiked every trail before I take my kids on them. Not because I don’t trust them, but being familiar with the surroundings allows me to tell better stories and prepare my family of what to expect of the day. This is not always feasible and adventure can be exciting for everyone. Remember to keep the balance of what everyone is ready for on any given day- the stress of not finding the trail head, getting lost on the way or misreading the trail reports only increases if your whole family is affected.

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9. On your hike, listen to them. It’s their time

This was my 6 year old’s comment: “I love hiking with my family, cause I get to spend time with them and talk to them and be with them.”
Hiking with your family is time for everyone to be together. That’s when the kids tell you stories and get a chance to connect with you. Remember to give them your full attention, as your perfect photograph is not as important as hanging out with them. Away from Minecraft and Pokemon with friends, they start sharing what is on their mind. It’s their time to decompress and bond. This is one of my favorite things about hiking with my family.

Ruby Beach

10. Let them explore

Find a place and time on your hike when they can roam and explore. They love it out there. Kids want space. Kids want to not just follow a trail and the steps of their parents, but to find a place where they can wonder off and investigate on their own. Even after a long hike, our kids find time to goof off on a grassy patch or throw stones in a stream forever. Give them that time. They’ll cherish those moments forever.

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11. Let the kids carry their own backpacks

After a few hikes where our kids asked us constantly to carry that stick or that rock, we realized what was missing for them. They wanted their own backpacks. We went to REI and got them kid hiking backpacks (NorthFace and Deuter make great ones). The kids love them and haven’t complained once about carrying them. The backpacks are theirs. They love prepping them the night before, thinking about what to bring (LEGO mini figures are great toys to carry which also make amazing props for photos) and they enjoy knowing they can carry their own water bottle, sweater and will use the backpack to hold all the pine cones, seashells and whatever else they might find on the trail.

12. Emergency kit and Ten Essentials

We ALWAYS carry a small emergency kit with us for the inevitable scrap or bruise. Kids love to run on trails, and they fall over roots and rocks. Having some disinfectant and a few bandages cover most ailments. For a detailed article on the Ten Essentials visit Exotic Hikes.

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13. Make it a Mission

That was another suggestion from my son. He wants to know ‘WHY’ he’s out there and he wants a story. We often send them on missions on the trail. Especially when we first set out. Anything from “You’re super ninjas and need to defeat the hordes of doom” to “count the banana slugs” will work, depending on the mood of the day.

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14. Incentives for the trail

Most likely the trip last longer than what your kids envision. They don’t plan for ten or fifteen kilometers. They might run ahead early on, jump and explore, but there will be a time when they are DONE. They flat out don’t want to move anymore and they are too big too carry all the way back to the car. So, what do you do?
We pack a bag of gummy bears. Our favorite, “non-melting” candy. Having a bag of their favorite candies/gummies in your pocket can work wonders. “If you make it for another five minutes without complaining you will get three gummy bears”.

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15. Know your limits

Don’t be a hero. Your kids legs are smaller and they need to make two steps for every one you make. Know when to turn around. Know when they reached their limits and when it’s time to call it a day.

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16. Bring a second set of clothes for the ride home

Trust me on that. Your car is your carriage. Let it carry more stuff. Not sure about the weather? Take bathing suits, rain gear and a snow suit. Little kids can get dirty or wet within seconds of being outside, so always bring extra clothes and a couple towels!
## Make the drive home as comfortable as possible
If the kids are too pooped to pop, they will fall asleep, which is great. But let them fall asleep in comfy fresh clothes. This is also something my kids brought up in last night’s conversation. They love putting on a fresh shirt, comfy shorts and take off their dusty hiking boots. Bring flip flops or similar easy shoes for the ride in the car.

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17. Make dinner easy

This is a tough one, but has become a staple for us. If we want to catch the last rays of sunshine on the beach or stay late at the campsite, we will have hungry kids and do not want to fuss with dinner when we get home late.
Stopping at McDonalds, Chipotle or a similar chain shop for dinner on the way home is a necessary evil. Now, this is not a sponsored post, and I am usually someone to would suggest local restaurants, serving fresh food, but the reality is that kids love familiarity.  On a trip home, you want speedy service, something a mom and pop restaurant can’t always offer. Sometimes local restaurants can be unreliable and are often not any more healthy than chain restaurants.
Cheeseburgers at McDonalds are cheap and my son can easily eat three after a long day on a trail.

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18. Look at pictures together. Create memories.

All our photos from our trips are taken with our iPhones and one of the great benefits of having iPhones is that the pics immediately sync via iCloud to our iPad and Apple TV. We love huddling together on the couch the next day, looking over the pictures we took. The iPad is a great photo viewing device and our Apple TV plays a slideshow of our best outdoor pictures as a screensaver. It’s so important for families to build those memories and using technology to relive great family moments maximizes this.  The screensaver on the Apple TV helps remind our kids of the cool trips we took and awesome times we had as a family. “Can we go there again” is something I hear all the time from the living room when a picture reminds my kids of a certain hike or place.

Thanks to my amazing family of explorers!

PS: Need inspiration of where to go? Look no further.

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