Studies show that getting out in nature, away from TV screens and out amongst the trees spending time outdoors is paramount to a happy, healthy child. This fall, as the colors change and the weather finally cools, consider hitting the trails with your kiddos. Getting out in nature can be great for the soul but let’s be honest…it’s not always easy. That perfect hike you pictured can be quickly derailed by a cranky, hungry, melodramatic kiddo having a mega melt down. Hiking with toddlers and young children can be a challenge but the following tips can help with some whine-free hiking this Fall. Read on for tips on hiking with young children:

Find a Family Friendly Trail

You can search for kid-friendly trails at AllTrails, a database of over 50,000 trails across the US. Consider your child’s age, skill level and stamina. This shouldn’t be Everest just something fun with cool features (like creeks or rocks to scramble up on) that will keep your kiddos engaged. Be sure to save some energy for the return trip and try to be realistic with your expectations for how much ground you can cover. Just keep it fun!

Timing is Everything

Early morning (when the sun isn’t too hot and energy levels are up), is typically a great time for a hike with the kids.A sleepy, cranky kid makes for a bad hiker, so be sure to work around naptime and only hike when everyone’s likely to be in a good mood.  Aim for a time of day when the weather is pleasant, the kids are well rested and ready to rock.

Buy Kid-Sized Gear

Young children love having their own gear, so get your toddler a small pack to carry some lightweight items like snacks or a hoodie. It’s great to be prepared but don’t bring too much stuff! Do know that whatever the kids bring in, you’ll end up carrying out. If you don’t want to feel like a packmule, be kind to yourself by packing light and leaving extraneous stuffed animals or beloved toys at home.

Wear Comfy Shoes

My little girl always want to wear her sparkly princess shoes when we go hiking, but this is the time to put my foot down ( or risk having to carry her the whole hike since her feet inevitably hurt). Hiking requires shoes with sturdy support for all-terrain fun. Keen Footwear has a wide selection of shoes for active kids. All their shoes rock. For summer hiking, Big Kid’s Newport H2is a light, comfy, quick dry shoe that breathes but still protects the toes. Plus they come in cool colors like Rainbow Tie-Die and Glow-in-the-Dark. To avoid blisters, be sure to break in those shoes before the hike.

Buy the Best Child Carrier or Stroller for Hiking 

Depending on the hike, the terrain may be flat enough for a stroller. BOB strollers are the best and have heavy tires, good suspension and can easily maneuver through all kinds of rugged terrain. If you have young kids who can’t walk very far before they need a rest or a nap this kind of stroller could be a hiking life saver.  If you’re in the market for a carrier, there are a million out there. The Deuter Kid Comfort 2 Child Carrier is among the best reviewed. Lightweight at only 7lbs, with an adjustable harness, 5-point child safety systemand plenty of pockets, the backpack can hold up to 48.5 pounds (weight includes your gear and kiddo). This weight restriction means that even older kids (not just babies) can comfortably fit in the carrier, giving the product far more longevity.

Gamify the Hike

To keep the kids engaged, check out Pinterest for free nature-themed hunts outdoor scavenger hunts. Print out the list of things to gather (everything from pine cones, to dandelions), glue the paper to a small gift bag and voila! Be sure to include a pencil or crayon so they can check found items off the list. Kids can collect all the “treasures” they find and store them in their bags. You can also pack a magnifying glass or kid-sized binoculars so kids can take their observation skills to the next level. Some cool apps to check out include iNaturalistand Plant Snap Plant Identificationto help identify plants and trees. Or, if you want to identify birds or butterflies check out these cool apps check out: MyNature Animal Tracks,Meet the Insects,Audubon Birdsand Butterfly Collection

Pack Lots of Snacks

Healthy portable snacks like apples, granola bars or homemade chocolate protein balls are a good things to have on hand. Even DIY trail mix can be fun for the kids to make. They can mix their own Goldfish crackers, M&Ms, pretzels, raisins, nuts or whatever…snacks are key to survival.

Praise and Keep it Fun

Make the kids feel successful and they’ll be excited to hike again in the future. Reward the kids for a great job done! Happy hiking!

What are you best tips for hiking with young children?