10 ways to get young children into hiking

Switzerland has amazing mountains.  We love hiking the mountains, especially with my older children (who were aged 5 & 7 at the time of writing this piece).  The question:  How to transfer a love of hiking to children?  Here are 10 ideas and 10 tips to get children hiking.

Designing the hike

1) Go up!  I don’t know if it’s due to short stride length, inefficiency of motion or reduced body weight, but compared to adults, children seem much better at hiking upwards than hiking along the flat.  We unintentionally proved this one day by selecting a route with 8km of flat followed by 800m of climb.  The 8km of flat took us four hours, the 800m hike upwards took less than two hours.  Lesson for the future: save walking along the flat for the grand-parents.

2) Hike in woods.  When the boys were young, they would walk much better on a woodland path than on an open footpath.  I don’t know why, but perhaps it’s because a path lined with trees demands to be followed?

3) Do a one-way walk.  A great route is to take the route de foret vert from La Tzoumaz around the mountain to Iserables, then take the bus back to La Tzoumaz.  Be warned, the bus only runs every two hours.   www.cff.ch.  Another favourite is hiking from the station in Grenolier through the woods to St Cergue.  The hike would take 2 to 3 hours, and we’d finish with lunch in a cafe before taking the train back down the hill to the car.  

4) Hike to a trampoline, or a bouncy castle.  The croix-de-coeur restaurant between Verbier and La Tzoumaz has a magic trampoline and a bouncy castle outside until the end of October.  We know the trampoline is magic:  we had dragged our five year old on a four hour hike, and every step he told us how tired his legs were.  Within seconds of seeing his brother on the trampoline, the tiredness seemed to magically evaporate!

Having fun on the hike

5) Find some snow in Summer!  Need I say more?  If there are two children of different ages/speeds, the child in front can use a stick to write messages or draw pictures in the snow for the child coming behind.

6) Look for mountain flowers.  Every swiss child has heard of the mysterious edelweiss.  The locals here know where to find them.  If you search for our edelweiss blog you will know too!

7) Dam a stream, or cross it on stepping stones.

8) Listen for birdsong, and look for animals. Cuckoos are fabulous as you can have a conversation with them by imitating their familiar sound, and there is usually at least one to be found somewhere in the forests around La Tzoumaz. Mischievous marmots can often be heard on sunny slopes, always sitting just out of range of whatever photography equipment you’ve bought with you.

Motivating the little ones

9) Start from different places, or at different times, and do a race.  Every time the children walk faster or further the new pace seems to stick, so even just doing this occasionally makes a big difference to the other walks.  And they really enjoy winning.

10) Climb to the top of something and promise to take a silly picture at the top.  It works to motivate adults as well!

And some bonus tips…

1) In Switzerland, the hiking routes are marked differently from mountain trails, which are significantly more dangerous.  The enclosed site gives a good description

2) Take warm and waterproof clothing, and don’t forget the sunscreen, and a spare pair of socks if you’re going anywhere near water

3) Take non-sugar based snacks, and plenty of water.

4) Remember that being tired is necessary in order to get stronger.  The average time to the first “I’m tired” is normally less than 15 seconds, as is the time to subsequent repetitions.  Short of finding a magic trampoline, I don’t know of a way to stop this.  Patience, tolerance or earplugs are recommended.

This post first appeared as a Guest Blog by Percy Kirkman, on http://www.genevafamilydiaries.net/, a great blog for families in the Geneva area.