How to Pick the Perfect Hike for Kids of All Ages

Expert advice on choosing trails for families with babies to teenagers, and all ages in between.
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Photo courtesy of Wild Acorns Media

Photo courtesy of Wild Acorns Media

You’re resourceful. You know how to find trails for yourself and your adult hiking partners for whatever suits your mood. But finding a trail suitable for kids—especially of different ages and abilities—is a different story.

You may be motivated to summit a peak or reach a high alpine lake. But your kiddo? Not so much. “Most kids are not going to be psyched about a hot, uphill slog, for instance” says Backpacker Editor-in-Chief, Dennis Lewon. “That’s an acquired taste. Check the trail stats and understand that a 3-mile trail with 2,000 feet elevation gain is still hard, even though it’s just 3 miles.”

“We recommend finding trails for kids the same way you’d find them on your own, on backpacker.com, Hiking Project, using local trial guides, and so on,” says Lewon. “The more important thing is knowing how to read trail details, understanding the terrain, the elevation changes, and so on.”

Keeping kids happy on the trail is all about considering the details ahead of time: Is there any shade? Will you be walking along water? Are there interesting things to look at, like wildflowers and wildlife? Are there rocks they can climb?

We’ve recommended specific hikes in the past for kids in different regions of the country: check out our picks for the Northeast, Southwest, Southeast, Midwest, Northwest, and Mountain West.  

We’ve also run stories on how far kids of each age can hike and how much kids of each age group can carry.  

But now we’re offering tips on how to find trails of age-appropriate challenges wherever you are.