As a family, we’ve successfully completed several long (5-7km) bush treks and one 14km marathon in Carnarvon Gorge — with our 5yo, 4yo and 2yo walking alongside us. Only the baby rides for free. Here’s what we’ve done to make trekking with small children possible and enjoyable.

Aisha walking up a bush trek, November 2010
"Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life." — John Muir

Walk them early

As soon as our babies can walk, they do. The free rides are over, even if it means walking them down the hallway at home or out to the car. This also means that crossing the carpark to the supermarket trolley can take five minutes, but it establishes a precedent and builds muscles early on.

Drop the free rides

Prams and slings are nice — and certainly have had their place in our lives — but our children have not been placed in them when it is no longer warranted. They walk instead. Everywhere. Slowly. If it’s going to be a long walk, we take a spare sling as a back-up for our littlest walker, but we only use it after she’s walked herself out.

Don’t underestimate little legs

Our two-year-old has walked great distances — mostly without complaint. And her legs are the length of my forearms! So we know she can do it. So can her older sisters. We just need to provide them with the opportunities to demonstrate their endurance.

Walks are fun!

Why do you walk? Do you enjoy the world around you, marvel at creatures you have snuck up on and collect treasures from along the path? Trekking is perfect for kids — they love this kind of stuff! I have to keep my enthusiasm for the walk from waning so it’ll inspire little legs to keep pumping.

Provide clear goals

Where are you going? What will you see? We share the anticipation of our destinations with our children so they have something to look forward to. We also nominate future landmarks as snack stops — that’s a great motivator for small, heavy feet.

Distract

When the wonder fades and the legs ache, we tell stories or sing songs. It’s an old-fashioned form of entertainment and there’s only one rule — the story pauses while we sit down. This usually keeps us on the track without complaints. If I run out of ideas for stories, I rehash children’s movies that my children haven’t seen.

Nourish

We like to take packets of dried fruits for our snacks. They provide good sugars for extra energy and are received well — especially dates. Sometimes we also bring hard biscuits and coat them with peanut-butter and honey. But the snacks don’t come out until we arrive at a specific destination!

Involve them

Together we examine the maps of our planned route. We discuss things we’ll see along the way and talk about distances. We’re hoping that these habits we’re forming in our children will stick with them for life so they’ll be bushwalkers as adults.

Acknowledge their feelings

Sure, it’s a long walk, and my legs hurt too. But we haven’t we seen fantastic sights? Often when our girls complain, they just want to be heard and have their complaint recognised. They know that there’s not an option to stop walking, but they want to voice their opinion on the matter.

Relax and enjoy the company

We love being together as a family, and in walking through the bush we encounter different sorts of animals, flora and environments than what we’re accustomed to. It’s educational for us, it’s restful to be in the bush, and even if we’re walking slowly — we get to share it with the people we love the most — our children!