When taking children on their first hiking experiences, it is important to teach them appropriate behavior just as you would in any other situation. Let’s face it, children can be impulsive and in their excitement might not make the best decisions.
Below are nine “etiquette rules” for hiking. I find it is best to approach them in two ways. First, modeling correct behavior is always a great way to teach. Children often do what they see others do.
However, explicit instruction is also helpful as children are sometimes so involved in what they are doing they miss what we are modeling. Specifically explaining the rules beforehand or as they come up during hike along with why we follow these rules is key.
1. Stay on Hiking Trails
It is important to stay on the hiking trails so that plants and animals’ homes do not get trampled. Also, if everyone started leaving the main trail and making their own, there would be so many trails, we would all get lost! However, in the case of Rule 7, please break this rule! We also break this rule to play in creek beds sometimes.
2. Keep Voices Down
If you want to see animals, it is best to talk in a normal or quiet speaking voice. In the beginning, I often had to remind the boys that running yelling and screaming down the trails would scare all the animals away!
3. Leave No Waste
I think it is obvious that we don’t want to leave our trash behind unless it is in a trash can. However, I know it can be common to throw apple cores, banana peels, etc. into the woods. It can take a couple months for these to decompose so imagine a couple months’ worth of hikers’ leftover fruit lining the trails before you toss yours aside. Not to mention, you could be introducing seeds from a non-native plant to the environment or feeding animals foods that are not good for them. Best practice is to put food waste in the garbage can, too, or take them back home with you to dispose.
4. Take No Souvenirs
This is a tough one as our boys like to collect rocks, nuts, leaves, etc. However, if you are in a US National Park, it is against the rules to take any of these items from the park. Outside of the national parks, follow the rules of where you are hiking or decide on your own what your children may collect, if anything. I often encourage the boys to take pictures of items instead of taking the items home. But, a few nuts and small rocks usually end up in pockets.
5. Touch Plants Gently
This one is a challenge in our family! One of the boys impulsively grabs a stick and whacks plants as he walks by them. So we have to talk each time about how it is okay to touch plants to learn about them, but it must be done gently. Touch the plants as you would want to be touched!
6. Do Not Feed Animals
We don’t want to feed wild animals our food because it could make them sick. We also don’t want to give them nuts or leaves from where we are hiking because then it could make them too reliant on humans over time. Feeding animals also encourages them to come closer to humans than is safe, depending on the animal. (Definitely, don’t feed alligators or bears!)
7. Potty Away From the Trail
The one time it is okay to leave a trail is to go to the bathroom! Some boys (and maybe girls?) may start going on the trail before you even notice. So remind them that we need to find a place away from where people walk to go to the bathroom!
8. Don’t Topple Cairns
Cairns are human made piles of rocks. Sometimes they are officially used to mark a location, but sometimes people just start them for fun. The general rule is to not topple them or add to them. In other words, just let them be.
9. Don’t Climb on Ruins or Monuments
My boys love to try to climb on ruins! I have to remind them if lots of people did that, the ruins would soon be gone and we would have nothing to visit. And it is just disrespectful to climb on monuments! Standing on the base of a monument to have your picture taken? Probably, fine. Shimmying up to the top, not fine!
Kids are amazing with all their creative ways to push the limits! So other questions of “Should I let my kids do this?” are sure to pop up. My suggestion is to ask “If everyone did this, what would happen?”.
For example, my kids always want to throw rocks in the water when we are near water. I usually let them throw a couple and then tell them that’s enough. Because, if everyone threw unlimited rocks in the water, there would be no rocks left at the edge and a lot more rocks in the water, which seems like it would disrupt the environment, right?
What rules have I forgotten that you have found helpful? Comment below!