Go Take a Hike: Hiking Provides Exercise… and Nature Education

By Bill Carman

Hiking is a great way to enjoy some quality time with your kids, expose them to the outdoors, and get some exercise.

Today’s children have a high incidence of obesity and spend way too much time in front of the TV and computer screen.

Here are some tips that might start your family on the path to healthy, fun and rewarding hiking adventures.


Hiking is good exercise, which comes naturally. It’s the educational aspect of the hike that takes a little planning and work.

Plan your hike in a setting with a variety of flora, fauna and geology.

“I Spy” is a great game that will help kids actually look at their surroundings. See who can first spy an orange butterfly, a red berry, a yellow leaf, a spider web or a deer track.

Relate geology to something else they understand. For instance, on a hike with my grandchildren, we encountered a large rock outcropping that we called the “whale.”

Stop and listen to the gurgling of a stream and ask the kids to listen and imagine what the stream is saying to them.

Small Steps

Start small and phase into longer hikes with breaks. Your first hike might last 20 minutes at a slow pace, observing nature and talking about the features with your kids.

You might even start your children on paved trails. McConnell Springs and Raven Run in Fayette County, and Cove Spring Park in Frankfort all have paved nature trails in addition to dirt paths.

Then phase into longer adventures with frequent breaks for rest or snacks.

Make sure everyone is well hydrated. Particularly in warm weather, carry water or fruit juice boxes.

Bring a Friend

Have your child carry a toy, like a stuffed animal or a Disney flashlight in a lightweight pack. This begins to instill in your child a sense of self sufficiency, and may also provide something else to entertain your child should unexpected circumstances lengthen the hike.

Singing in the Rain

Take a big umbrella or poncho if rain is expected. A light mist or drizzle is something you can characterize as part of nature and make it fun.

However, in a downpour you can huddle under an umbrella or poncho and also make that experience a fun adventure as well.

If the hike becomes longer than expected and your child gets bored, then sing!

There are many “camp songs” that work well on hikes. We’ve all heard “B-I-N-G-O…Bingo was his name.” Try the classics like “Home on the Range,” “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” or let the kids pick a song.

First Aid

Nature can be fun, but there can be hazards. Routine awareness is important.

Use a name-brand kid’s insect repellent to protect against mosquitoes and ticks.

Poison ivy has three leaves. Treatment for exposure can wait until you get home.

Watch out for trip and fall hazards such as rocks and logs. Carry some brightly colored band-aids and antiseptic cream  for “owies.”

Watch out for bees and wasps and carry some anti-itch cream just in case. The important thing is to keep small incidents small, and to avoid unnecessary worry for your kids.

Photo Op

Take photos with your kids on the hike. Let them take photos of you. Take lots of selfies and photos of nature.

Your kids will enjoy the picture taking and you’ll have preserved the memories of a fun day.

More Info

For more information on hiking with children, simply do a quick Internet search and you’ll find dozens of books on the subject.

For info on local hiking trails, call Lexington Parks and Recreation at 288-2900 or stop by J & H Lanmark on Moore Drive or Joseph-Beth Bookstore in Lexington Green and check out their books on hiking in the Red River Gorge and other nearby places.


Bill Carman recently retired after a decade as Regional Director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and is currently teaching his grandchildren the ways of the woods.