Hiking with Kids in the Black Hills

Hiking is a simple activity, but the real trick is getting kids to enjoy it rather than dragging their feet the entire way. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make hiking with kids fun so your entire family will look forward to hitting the trail. 

Start out right

The first thing with any sport is true with hiking: make sure you have the proper equipment. For hiking, this means good shoes and comfortable clothes. Focus on shoes that fit well and have good support, especially around the ankles. Pick clothing that is light and breathable, but also look for layers that will keep them warm and dry if the weather turns. 

Getting your kids on board with hiking also means being realistic with expectations. Two things will ruin a family hike faster than saying “are we there yet?” The first one is going on a hike that’s too hard for your kids, whether it’s too long or the terrain is too challenging. Start out slow on flat trails; there are many hikes in the hills that don’t require a lot of effort. Try to pick areas that have interesting things to look at along the way, such as trails next to creeks or fun rock formations. 

Second, if you insist your kids stick to the trail and not explore the world around them, they can get frustrated and disengage from the activity. Walking along a path in the woods simply to do it isn’t appealing to most kids. Younger ones especially will want to wander off the trail and look at every nook and cranny along the way — and that’s okay! As they say, the journey is more important than the destination. Just plan more time than you think you’ll need, and get ready to discover what’s behind every rock and tree along the way.

Ask the expert

Tanner Edwards is Scheels’ Men’s Sport Shoes Specialty Shop Leader, and he enjoys helping families hit the trail in comfort. He knows picking a good pair of shoes can make or break your kids’ interest in hiking: “When looking for a good pair, make sure they fit well; too tight and they can be uncomfortable, too loose and they can cause blisters.” Kids love to explore the world around them, so getting proper support is key: “It’s a good idea to pick a pair with ankle support so kids can explore with less chance of rolling an ankle or getting hurt,” Tanner suggests. It’s also important to break in shoes before taking them out on the trail. Have your kids wear their new shoes around the house or to school a couple times before a long hike, so they’re comfortable the first time out.

Scheels employee Brie Brown’s family taking a break on the trail to enjoy the view.
Photo courtesy of Scheels.

Waterproofing of some sort is also an excellent investment, whether the shoes are already waterproof or you purchase a spray. The Black Hills are full of great trails that cross creeks, which means you’re likely to have wet feet. Letting feet stay wet can cause more blisters, but also fungal infections like athlete’s foot, so it’s a good idea to prevent it as much as possible. 

Not only should parents consider good shoes, a pair of good socks is almost as important. Socks protect your feet from rubbing, and can also help them stay dry if you get wet. Picking taller socks can also protect shins from taller grasses or underbrush, which is helpful in summer months when kids want to wear shorts. Tanner says, “I recommend parents look for wool socks for their kids, and themselves. In the winter you can wear thick ones that wick moisture and keep you warm; for summer we have thinner pairs that will keep your feet cool and dry.” Fortunately for young kids (and those young at heart) wool socks don’t have to be boring anymore. Scheels carries a great selection of both traditional, solid-colored socks and socks with bright colors and fun patterns. 

It’s almost a guarantee that your hiking shoes and socks are going to get dirty out on the trail. It may seem counterintuitive, but when you get home, you need to clean your gear to keep it in good condition. Try not to let mud cake onto shoes, or let them stay damp for long periods of time. Have everyone clean their hiking shoes when you get home, and let them dry in a warm, dry place. Don’t leave them out in the sun or use a heat source to dry them, as this can weaken the materials and cause them to get brittle. Likewise, wash your wool socks according to the manufacturer’s directions to keep them in excellent condition for years to come.

Make the hiking with kids fun

While simply enjoying the outdoors while walking along the trail appeals to us as we get older, kids often have a shorter attention span. When you’re out for a hike, here are some fun ways to keep them engaged.

  • Play games: this can be as easy as playing “I Spy,” or getting creative and turning your hike into a hero’s quest or a secret mission to find an enemy base. 
  • Take notes: take along a journal or a sketchbook and encourage your kids to record what they see. Try drawing animals, tracing the outline of leaves, or making a map of the trail.
  • Let your kids help: from planning where to go or assigning jobs like leading your family on the trail, kids like to feel included. Even something as simple as carrying the first aid kit sounds way cooler if you dub them the family medic. 
  • Bring friends: invite your kids’ friends or a family you’re close with to come along. Having other kids along means you are more likely to explore and have fun.
  • Plan ahead: Kids in Parks is a national organization that has developed activities that you can print or use on the app. Kids can look up TRACK Trails in the Black Hills and learn about types of birds and trees, go on scavenger hunts, and learn to identify animals by their tracks.