Getting kids hooked on outdoor recreation helps them grow to be physically active. Hiking and canoeing are sports they can start as preschoolers and enjoy for a lifetime.

For small children, don't set lofty goals like climbing to the top of a mountain. Begin gradually with a short hike to collect different kinds of leaves or a canoe ride to spot turtles and other aquatic life. Be flexible about your plans, and let your child's curiosity be your guide.

Children can begin hiking adventures as soon as they can walk or earlier if carried in a baby backpack. Hiking strengthens the legs, the heart, and the lungs. It provides a fun form of fitness for the whole family.

Starting Out

For short legs, take short hikes in parks or on nature trails with relatively flat terrain. With older kids or teens, head to the hills and count up the miles.

Planning

Plan hikes with exciting destinations—a panoramic view, a waterfall, or a lake for swimming. Pre-teens and teens can take part in planning the trip. Let them choose a destination, map out a safe route, and help pack the necessary supplies.

Safety Tips
  • Never walk alone.
  • Let someone at home know your hike plans in advance.
  • Stay together as a group, hiking at the pace of slower walkers. If older children want to walk faster than younger ones, designate an easy-to-find meeting spot.
  • Know your route. Follow a map or ask a forest ranger about the trail.
  • Don't run on rocky or steep trails.
  • Step around or over rocks and roots whenever possible.
  • Stay on the trail to limit damage to nature and avoid poison ivy, poison oak, and ticks.
  • Don't wait until you feel thirsty to drink.
  • Don't drink from mountain streams, which may be contaminated with infectious organisms.
  • Take frequent rests—at least five minutes every half hour for novices.
  • Be prepared for bad weather or a longer trip than expected. Bring extra clothes, food, and water.