We did it, we made it to spring. The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming. It’s time to get the kids away from screens and outside in nature. It’s not always as simple as loading the kids into the car for an afternoon on the hiking trails, but it can be done. To help ensure a successful family hike, here are five key pieces of advice.
Bring all the snacks.
As in, all the good snacks. Look for special snacks that only come out when you go hiking. Bring dried fruit and granola bars for energy, but also the special trail mix with the name-brand M&Ms.
Let kids bring friends.
Hikes may be better received if you let your child bring a friend. At the very least, there may be fewer complaints and stops along the way if your child’s bestie can come along, too.
Take it slow.
It’s okay to dial it back and slow down on the hiking trails. Keep pace with your child. Don’t force your child to keep pace with you. Watch your child as she leads the way to see what engages and interests her during the hike.
Choose an engaging trail.
Look for hikes with cool features, like rock scrambles, waterfalls, and swinging bridges. Let your kids splash in the water or walk through the mud. It’s okay. Just let your kids have fun.
Plan for rewards.
Just as good snacks are key while on the trail, post-hike rewards are critical to reward a completed hike. Plan to stop for ice cream and map out where the ice cream shop is before you hit the trail.
Now that you know how to prepare for and celebrate a successful family hike, here are three can’t-miss destinations in the Tidewater region. These kid-friendly hikes will wow every member of your hiking crew.
Hampton ~ Sandy Bottom Nature Park
The 456-acre Sandy Bottom Nature Park in Hampton was once little more than a garbage dump. The area has been reclaimed by nature, and it’s been quite a transformation. Today, this beautiful park wows with two glistening lakes, a campground, hiking trails, boat rentals, and a nature center.
There are 11 named trails at Sandy Bottom Nature Park, including the popular 3.3-mile Trillium Trail that runs along the perimeter of this city park. An observation tower on the Wetlands Trail allows kids to view the wetlands from up high. Post-hike, stop to play at the children’s playground.
Newport News ~ White Oak Nature Trail
Newport News Park is a massive city park, so you’ll find plenty for the whole family to do, including seven hiking trails that pass through cypress swamps and mature forest. The 3.7-mile White Oak Nature Trail is a favorite with great views across Lee Hall Reservoir.
This hike begins by crossing the reservoir along Dam Bridge #1. Keep your eyes open for small turtles swimming near the wooden footbridge. There are lots of benches, overlooks, boardwalk, and creek crossings on this trail, as well as shade as you move from wetlands to woodlands.
Chesapeake ~ Oak Grove Lake Park
Oak Grove Lake Park may be tucked in between a section of single-family homes and a small office park, but this city park is a hidden gem. An easy 1.9-mile walking loop encircles Oak Grove Lake. Wooden overlooks and benches allow little ones to rest and savor the lake views.
This stroller-friendly hike is just right for getting kids out in nature, under a canopy of coastal pines that shade the walking trail. A colorful playground invites kids to play. It’s easy to spend the afternoon here, thanks to a small picnic pavilion and on-site porta-potties.
Erin Gifford spends much of her time hiking the trails across Virginia and writing about them on her website, Go Hike Virginia. She is also the author of Hiking with Kids Virginia: 52 Great Hikes for Families (April 2022). Follow her on Instagram at @gohikevirginia.