Tips and Tricks for Hiking in Phoenix With Kids
We love hiking in Phoenix with our kids! Did you know there’s a seasonal waterfall you can enjoy? Streams to play in? Or what about the popular Hole in the Rock? This may be the desert, but there is beauty and so many unique aspects of this Phoenix desert to explore. Not to mention, there are fabulous kid friendly hikes anywhere from 1-3 hours drive that make for perfect day trips.
But let’s face it, hiking with kids is never easy. Even a mile trail can seem an eternity for little legs. Nature may call, and hearts may answer – so how do you get the body to follow? We currently have three children, ages 9, 5, and 20 months and have been hiking since our oldest was a few years ago. We are definitely not experts, or 5 milers! We do, however, enjoy a few miles of hiking trails with our kids and here are some tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years.
Choose the right trail for your family – if you’re beginners, don’t aim for 3 miles the first couple months. Start with a 1 mile nature trail! Build up to that longer hike you have bookmarked. Take in to consideration the ages of your kids too, and bring along a carrier for toddlers that may not be able to make it the entire distance (we love our Ergo and Tula!). Not sure where to start for easy trails? Here’s a list of our favorite stroller friendly hikes that can easily be done without a stroller as well due to their short length.
Research, and research more – there was one time we joined some friends in hiking to the Aqua Fria River near Black Canyon. This mama was 28 weeks pregnant and doing good, so a 3 mile round trip exploring time to play in a river sounded doable! Well, the hike ended up being almost 5 miles round trip – we survived, but should have read the description more carefully to be prepared. For hike ideas, we have a nice handful on our blog, and also love AZ Utopia and AllTrails (although sometimes the status of trails being open or closed is inaccurate).
Hike with friends – everything is more fun with friends! Find buddies who are interested in exploring too and plan to meet and hike together. It makes any challenges more bearable for sure. Have you heard of Hike it Baby? There are local beginning hiking groups that welcome children and a super fun place to start! Our favorite (and most memorable) hikes have always been with friends, like going to Fossil Creek or the Waterfall Trail.
Take snacks and water – this may seem obvious, but can be easily overlooked. Bringing along water is a must when hiking in Phoenix with kids, no matter what the time of year. This is the desert and even in the winter, it’s needed. And snacks are the easiest motivator! We like to bring along special treats (like donuts) to enjoy at our destination, or halfway point, and often have another snack waiting back at the car.
Experience over distance – with kids, plans are almost always flexible. And it’s even more so with hiking! For toddlers, let them lead sometimes and see what they find. Yes, you may only go less than half a mile, but the experience will be memorable for them, and exploring is just as valuable as mileage. For older kids, don’t push for speed. Of course, dragging feet will result in a longer hike, but talk about what you see, sing songs, tell stories, or use the time to let them talk about whatever is on their mind. Making a game of the hike, a sort of I Spy version, is our favorite game. For any age, breaks are also important. Even a couple minutes can do wonders.
What to bring – while we have hiked in flip flops and sandals before, we don’t recommend it. Closed toed shoes are the way to go, and bring hats and sunscreen too. If you’re destination is water based, water shoes, buckets/shovels, and nets would be a fun addition! For hikes over 2 miles, we bring a backpack as well, with snacks and extra diapers/wipes for the toddler, a small first aid kit, and water. Always bring water on hikes in Phoenix. Always!
Trail safety – Always let someone know where you are hiking and ETA for return. Maps are also a must, paper or digital, or take a snapshot of a map at the trailhead if applicable. Use your ears and eyes to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes and other creatures that live in the desert. (Yes, we’ve come across rattlesnakes while hiking. Also tarantula hawk wasps, desert centipedes, lizards, tarantulas, spiders, etc.) Don’t be scared of them! Just be aware.
Even with all these ideas…sometimes hikes just don’t work out. A great example was the day we joined friends explore at Lost Dutchman State Park. The youngest was 2.5 months at the time. She cried the entire 45 minute drive. We finally arrived, frazzled, but eager to be outside. Not even 10 minutes in to the hike, our 7 year old was done. And in turn, the 4 year old was done and wanted nothing more to go home, complete with complaining and feet dragging and tears. This mama broke down in tears too. We ended up turning around, going back to the car, and driving straight home (yes, with a crying baby again).
That was not our favorite hiking memory. But we didn’t stop hiking! There are ups and down, just like in every day life. Get outside and stretch your legs, explore some new places, and enjoy the family time. And if you see us on the trails, please say hi!