Okay, so some of you asked about how we hike with kids. Here’s the deal…we live in Oklahoma not a mountain state. We don’t have all the gear you are supposed to have. We don’t have ‘hiking’ shoes or ‘hiking’ clothes. We just like hiking and exploring. Chris and I enjoyed getting ‘lost’ in places before we had kids, so naturally once we had kids we just started bringing them along. As a younger couple I remember people telling us to “enjoy it now because when you have kids you won’t be able to anymore.” Or something along those lines. They were wrong. In some ways we enjoy things even more now that we have kids. When it comes to hiking and camping it is different with kids, but not less fun.

The biggest difference in hiking with kids for us has been letting the kids dictate the hikes. Chris and I would like to do longer, more difficult hikes but there will be a season for that again one day. Right now we are focusing on relishing the time together on an adventure and building a love for hiking in the kids. I am by no means and expert on hiking, just a mom that enjoys it. So this post is my unprofessional (can you be a professional hiker?) advice.

Things to always pack:

  • Sunscreen
  • Water
  • More snacks than you think you will need (in a bag)
  • A ziploc bag to hold your snack trash
  • Camera
  • Carrier (for the times your toddler gets too tired)

What we wear (since we don’t own true “hiking” gear):

  • Layered clothes…shorts and t-shirts
  • Tennis shoes or flip flops (flip flops because we are Okies and we think they are a multi-purpose and multi-weather shoe)
  • Hats (when we remember)

Now some of my random tips:

Keep it fun: cross through water, go over and under things, change up the terrain to keep things exciting


Change it up when tired: when someone complains of getting tired, we try new things like walking backwards or taking turns being the leader6.14hikingwithkids-5

Embrace the adventure: instead of fleeing to the car to avoid rain or wind, teach them to discover shelters and ways to hide out until summer showers pass. This is us hiding under a few (sturdy) fallen trees from a short rain shower. The kids giggled the whole time and it made for an unforgettable hike.6.14hikingwithkids-6

Go slow and let their imaginations enjoy the playground: these two found the “world’s largest slingshot” and we spent a good 15 minutes in this one spot as they played6.14hikingwithkids-76.14hikingwithkids-86.14hikingwithkids-96.14hikingwithkids-10

Set break destinations: instead of stopping each time someone needs a break, we usually pick a distance up ahead and all aim to make it to that spot for a little break. We take lots of breaks!6.14hikingwithkids-11

Snack Breaks: we don’t snack at every break, but we do snack a lot – way more than if Chris and I were hiking alone.6.14hikingwithkids-13

Be playful – the goal is to enjoy the hike, not just reach a destination: the more fun we make the hike, the more excited the kids are about hiking. The more excited they are, the farther we get to hike. The kids found this hollowed out tree and pretended it was their shelter from a bear (Chris)6.14hikingwithkids-15

Say “yes”: If it doesn’t involve hurting nature or disturbing wildlife…say yes. We teach our kids about leaving no trace and letting wildlife be wild, but we also want their senses to come alive when hiking. We don’t just want it to be a long walk. If they want to stick their head in cold mountain streams or try to jump from rock to rock – we try to say “yes” more than “no”.6.14hikingwithkids-16

Keep the long term goal in mind (if you have one): We have some big trips and big hikes in our future dreams. There are places we want to go with the kids when they get older that will require them being able to carry their own backpacks, with all their gear, for miles. We can’t just wake up with teenagers and expect them to do it if we never put in the ground work. These young years we aren’t focused on long hikes or having all the right gear. We are focusing on sharing our love for nature and the outdoors with our kids. We are soaking up this time, even if the hikes are short…they are good. I’d rather have a short hike with happy kids than a long trek with complaining. And on the short hikes, if the complaining starts…we try to smile and come up with a new way to bring out the laughter.6.14hikingwithkids-12

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  • Stephanie - Loved seeing your trip photos. My husband and I are hikers and campers, we live in MN and are planning a boundary waters canoe area (BWCA) trip for our family (girls 2&4). We love a kids bluegrass/folk band called the Okee Dokee Brothers. They wrote two adventure albums. If you like that kind of music your family might love them. We enjoy them because they actually sound good musically and have fun lyrics. It’s the only kids music we have :) Thanks for sharing your trip. Ps. I love your camper updates.

  • Aubrey - I know next to nothing about hiking, but you guys make it look so fun! I love that you’re providing opportunities for adventure and exploration with them and laying the groundwork to prepare them for things you and Chris would love to do with them when they’re older. Smart! :)

  • Debbie - Thank you for sharing your tips and photos on hiking. I really enjoy following your blog.

  • Michelle Hill - I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again.. you and chris are model human beings and parents. A true inspiration! Your stories and pictures inspire me everyday to be the person, mother and wife I hope to be in the future. I really enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing!

  • mel - Great tips!! As a family of six (with three teenagers), our kids have grown up hiking. Every summer we go on a multi-day backpacking trip. My kids look forward to it all year. It’s surely hard work, but we do it as a team. It gets us outside in God’s creation, away from technology, and it’s always an adventure! You need no skill to hike, just put one foot in front of the other. :)

  • Elise O. - Thank you for your perspective on parenting. This is so inspiring to me! Your blog is one of my very favorites because you seem to enjoy your family so much and are so positive about your kids and parenting. This blog post makes me look forward to the day that I have children and can include them in the things I enjoy!

  • Meg - Thanks!I am so looking forward to going on hikes with my kids. I think I turn it into too big of a deal and I need to have more fun with it and take the pressure off the situation. This post was a great reminder of just that.We don’t need to be pros or spend a fortune on gear. I am curious. Do you pack a little first aid kit? It seems like I would want to have a few bandaids and maybe some antiseptic and a few other little things.

  • Seamingly Sarah - I second the bringing more snacks than you think you need! I would like to know how others keep the slow and fast kids together or at least not fighting at having to stick to the other one’s pace during the hike?

  • Meryl - Some great ideas–thanks! Our little guy is only 3, so we’re still keeping it short, but love the tip to change it up when he gets tired.

  • Alice H - I dislike when people say that about enjoying things before you have kids. I love having my kids involved in almost everything I do. Thanks for your tips!

  • susie - Great tips! I am hoping you do a post on food! It will probably be similar as what we pack, but I am always looking for new ideas.

  • kimberly oyler - firecracker in that work out outfit is killing me. she looks way cuter than i do.

  • Kelly - Fun pictures! Look very similar to a lot of ours :) The one piece of “equipment” I would suggest investing in is Keens sandals for all! They’re the perfect hiking shoe!

  • Paige - This is actually really helpful, thank you! We are at the stage where its more of an introduction into something we (well, me) love. We have to allow for fun and stopping. Also, the snack idea is great and I’ll remember next time. At age 8 and 5, I guess I just want them to think back to our camping and hiking and remember it was fun. Bigger and better hikes later.

  • Kelli - Do you guys use bug spray? I live in MN and the bugs are terrible this year, and I just can’t seem to find anything that works really well on my kids… (2yr old & 5mo old)

  • Diana - Your trip is so inspiring to read about! Thank for sharing it!

  • Ry Simmons - Love!!! We take little hikes with our kids (2,3,&4-years-old) and we just love it. Great advice with lots of snacks & breaks!! We also take small bags for them to collect leafs & rocks throughout our hike – keeps them busy and happy. Rock on, sister 😉

    PS… love your blog!!!

  • Taylor - Wonderful tips!!


  • amy cornwell - I love this post! It’s spurring me on to do more hikes with our kids, because Dave & I love to hike and adventure together. You’re so right that we can’t just expect them to grow up being able to do long hikes, they have to work up to it. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  • Heidi Jo the Artist - You guys are awesome! I love parents that say, yes, more than no. We’d love to take a hike with you guys someday (well, I should say, I would, I haven’t mentioned it to any of my family (as the idea just popped in my head), but they like to hike and especially love homeschoolers, so I think it would be pretty great). I love the walking backwards idea, and I’m going to show my kiddos “the world’s largest slingshot”, so cool. Hiking is one of our favorite forms of exercise as a family. We were debating on taking our first backpacking trip to Isle Royale this year, but the longer we wait, the more each kid will be able to carry or even walk more (we’ve got two pretty young ones), so it is on the back burner for this year, since we had so many other things going on, and there is only a little bit of window to go.

  • Kaitlyn - Awesome post! What type of carrier do you use for little one? Does Chris normally carry her? I’d love to take my one year old out on a hike but haven’t figured out a way. She is a whopping 35 pounds so I’m not sure how far I personally could go with her on my back! I’d love some tips!

  • Crystal - This is great! Thanks!

  • AshleyAnn - Kaitlyn, We use an Ergo Carrier and I normally do the carrying and had her on my back with this. We have used it pretty much for all of our kids so we have definitely got our money’s worth out of it over the almost 10 years! It has good padding and saves the back a little. It says that its max weight recommendation is up to 45 pounds.

    ERGObaby Original Baby Carrier, Black/Camel

    Chris Campbell

  • Julie B - Perfect timing for this post! (I realize you are in Africa and might never see this, but I’m commenting anyway!).

    We are heading out with our 5, 3, and 1 year old next week to North Carolina. We plan to do lots of outdoor things including hiking. I will definitely use your tips. And we were planning to use our ERGO for the baby. Best carrier ever!

  • {bits & pieces} - […] fun and encouraging look at how to hike (or go on nature walks) with kids! Auntie Leila says that this is pretty much the advice she’d give, if she were to give it, […]

  • Se7en's Fabulous Fun Post #230 - se7en | se7en - […] Really enjoyed Under the Sycamore’s Hiking with Kids non-professional tips!!! […]

  • Kaitlyn - Thanks Chris! I actually a carrier at a yard sale this weekend! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - I love that! Just say “YES”!

  • Natalie C - That bear picture is just the best!

  • Friday Favorites | Cupcakes and Commentary - […] Simple, yet insightful tips for hiking with kids. […]

  • Stoich91 - Wonderful tips, wonderful photos! I can’t help but notice how healthy your kids are in this photo compared to the kids I see daily at a theme park! lol Thank you so much for sharing, hope I can do this one day with my munchkins!

Several of you asked about our itinerary for our big road trip. I told Chris I feel like I need to make a million disclaimers before sharing this. Chris and I have both traveled overseas and can handle primitive/rustic living conditions. We are both pretty low-maintenance and can ‘go with the flow’. We travel that way. With a big family, we also try to do cheap and free. Mainly free. So, for whatever it is worth, here are some of the places we went and stayed. I don’t recommend them for everyone, but we sure had an incredible time! Most days we woke up and decided what we would do that day…we had a very loose ‘plan’ which allowed us to explore as we found things.

For the most part, we picked one location to camp and then explored several surrounding areas. This method worked well for us.

Below is the itinerary for our trip with a few notes (the blue font designates it links to a post I wrote during our trip):

Steamboat Springs, CO

  • we explored all over this town and surrounding areas for about a week. You can find tons of things to do on the city website.
  • Fish Creek falls – great hike for young kids
  • Sarvis Creek – drove until the road ended and then hiked (really rough, single lane road)
  • Pearl Lake
  • Steamboat State Park
  • Botanical Gardens – kids loved this
  • Dumont Lake – closed access (but we found a way in 😉 )
  • Hiked to the top of the ski slope – drove up as far as we could, then hiked
  • Alpine Slide – my kids loved this
  • Horseback riding – my son and I made a date of this, he soaked it up

Wyman Museum– Craig, CO

Dinosaur National Park (CO, Utah) – we missed this because we got there too late, but it looks cool to explore

Flaming Gorge– Utah

Grand Tetons – it was really cold and snowing while we were here, so we didn’t do as much hiking and exploring as we would have liked

  • Colter Bay – we stayed in a handicap accessible spot in the campground that are a first come-first serve basis if not used. This spot was more spacious than the RV park spots. We really liked Colter Bay.
  • Jackson Hole
  • Jenny Lake
  • South Yellowstone Entrance/Old Faithful area (accessed this part of the park from where we stayed in the Grand Tetons)
  • West Yellowstone (the town) – great taco bus, Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

Shoshone National Forest

Glacier National Park

  • Avalanche Lake hike – 4 miles, but so worth it
  • Running Eagle Falls – super short walk to the falls
  • Lake McDonald
  • Polebridge
  • Bowman Lake – wish we could have spent more time here (bring bug spray, lots of mosquito), the road is bumpy gravel and single lane (4 wheel drive would be nice)
  • Glacier Campground RV park – this park allows for reservations, so we booked it instead of searching for one in the park. Free laundry service and showers – we really liked this one.
  • Whitefish – we got to visit The Red Caboose – so good!

West Montana

  • Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest

Bozeman, Montana

  • Palisade Falls
  • Museum of the Rockies
  • Sola Cafe – we just tried the tea & lemonade bar before heading out of town…everything looked yummy though
  • Granny’s Gourmet Donuts – FireCracker got to make her own donut, totally worth it just for that. The donuts were yummy too.

Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming

Mount Rushmore (take the trail that leads up closer to the monument)

And some of my favorite phone pictures from the trip.


Chris uses the Trip Advisor app tons too….and Google Maps:)

I’ll post more details about living in the trailer and hiking with kids. If you have any questions about our itinerary, you can ask them below. I’ll be in Africa when you read this, but Chris or I will try to answer your questions at some point.


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  • Tara - Love this! So inspiring. We are planning to explore some southern states in the next year in our travel trailer. I’m a little nervous on how we (as a family of 6) will manage going from an over 4,000 sq ft home to a 33ft trailer. I would love to see some behind the scenes pictures and tutorals on how to pack, organize, keep the trailer clean, etc.

  • Pamela - Africa? Where in Africa??? Anywhere close?

  • grace - it’s our dream vacation (to hit up all the national parks).
    If possible, could you show a map of where you went? I just want to see how much land you covered.

  • Amanda @ Click. The Good News - Wow- the trip of a lifetime! So glad we readers got to share in this with you- not only the incredible scenery, but the true joy and happiness of your family exploring these places.

  • Heather - Sounds like such an amazing trip – exactly what my husband and I hope to do when the kids are a little older. Our dream is to get an RV and travel around the U.S. during the summertime, so I’m really looking forward to how you all made it work.

  • Kimberly Oyler - thanks for typing all this out! now to just find a roadtrip buddy (or a husband ;))

  • Laura S. - What a glorious trip for your entire family. So happy to hear you are all safe and sound at home. I truly enjoyed every post and picture.

  • Ujjaini - I want to go on an American roadtrip very soon. This is very helpful!


  • Trisha - Memories for your kids that will last a lifetime! LOVE your blog!

  • Agnes - Please share how long your trip took.

  • Heidi Jo the Artist - I’ve always wanted to take the kids to Dinosaur National Park, among many others on your list. I will definitely be bookmarking this post! One of these days we will head out west to explore more. We went to Mt. Rushmore in fall of 2012, it snowed when we arrived and it was awesome, except Mt. Rushmore wasn’t very visible. We stopped back a couple days later and it was clear, so we were able to see its glory, and get some nicer photos. But we were on a time crunch, so next time we will definitely do the trail. We visited Crazy Horse too, which was pretty amazing and chocked full of history. Looks like you guys had an amazing trip. Love seeing all the beautiful photos and reading the stories.

  • Katie Founds - These are so much fun, Ashley! And it was such a joy for me to look at; these are the places I spent my childhood exploring, the mountains I miss so much during this weird season in Kentucky. I love seeing glimpses of you guys as parents and your crazy kids. It’s a ministry in pictures, to be sure :)

  • Ashley - What a great family trip! It inspires me.

  • Sarah - I love following your blog! God Bless you and your adorable family. I was curious if you had any advice on how to find campsites that worked with your Avion and it’s clearance? All of your campsites looked beautiful and remote. We have a similar camper and don’t want to always have to drive into to more formal campsites and have to pay for the hook up’s, etc. to park it. Did you use a phone app or book? Thank you for your help!

  • annaO - My family took a similar camping trip when we were all a little older than your kiddos. We’re from Kansas and went up through Nebraska, South Dakota (saw Mt Rushmore), Montana (Billings and Devil’s Tower), Wyoming (Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and Jenny Lake!) and down through Colorado. These posts have brought back so many memories. I’m 31 and that’s still by far my favorite vacation. I’m so glad you are willing and able to give your kids these experiences. Kudos to you!

  • AshleyAnn - Thanks Sarah! On this trip, since it was one of our first with a trailer, we really tried to reserve sites as best as we could ahead of time for our trailer. We have not really “boondocked” but I believe in a lot of the national forests that it is an option too. If you really like rustic, we saw several folks just parked in the woods, still in designated areas but there I believe for free. I recommend doing the research before you go on the internet and having some set base camps that you can reserve initially. You could then leave a couple of days open where you could move to a different location after you scout out the area. Chris Campbell

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - I love your ‘plan’. It sounds just my speed!

  • Courtney Ward - Ashley,
    You are the type of mother I hope I can be one day. I love reading about your growing family, your faith, and all of the adventures you guys take. The pictures you take are so incredible. Thanks for your blog!

  • Sarah D. - Hi Ashley,
    I was revisiting this blog post because my husband and I are planning a two week trip out west for next June with my eight year old twin boys. We are planning on splitting our time between Glacier, Yellowstone and Tetons. Currently we are planning 2 days in Glacier, 3 in Yellowstone and 2 in Tetons. Based on your experience, is that a good split? And I am thinking that if we go during the second half of June we should plan for some cold weather (based on your pictures!). Do you agree? I am going to use this blog post to do lots of planning! Thank you!

There are so many photos I took over the last month that will bring back such fond memories of our trip. There are photos that might stand out to photographers as ones with better composition or technical aspects. While those things are important to me, they are far from most important. I pick up my camera for so many reasons. It is my tool for artistic expression. It is a creative outlet. It captures the things my family does. Most importantly, it captures WHO those that I love are. While I appreciate beautiful portraits, I treasure those times I can capture an image that really tells WHO my kids are at any given stage.

The photos I wanted to share today may not be technically great. They have room for compositional improvement. But, they capture the “WHO” and that makes them my favorites.

It is hard to put into words my 6 year old’s personality. He is a perfect mix of quirky, intense and tender. Chris was playing his guitar while the kids were cooking over the campfire. The wind changed directions to push smoke towards my 6 year old. He immediately began laughing and dancing in the smoke. I imagine I will always smile at the sight of this image, it is just so him. (ISO 160, 1/630, f/2.8)


Hiking, tree climbing, balance beam walking…always in pink and flip flops. She is tough and dainty all at once. This is the her I see everyday. (ISO 500, 1/400, f/3.2)7.14favorites-2

Peaceful sleep has been a long, hard battle for this little miss. Watching her nap, completely happy and peaceful in a trailer –  I love this photo. (ISO 125, 1/200, f/2.8)7.14favorites-3

This, perhaps, is my very favorite picture of the trip. I challenged the boys to jump from one bench to the other. Before my oldest would consider jumping, he started measuring out the distance on the ground and making calculations regarding the chance of him making the jump. As I was snapping a shot of him doing his measuring, his younger brother just went for it throwing caution to the wind. What I love about this is how perfectly it captures so much of their personalities. One way is not better than the other. They are just different and different is good. Seeing images like this also help me understand them a little better too. This will need to be framed in my house somewhere. (ISO 160, 1/125, f/2.8)7.14favorites-4

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  • Meg - I love watching our kids grown and seeing the beautiful differences in them! Such a fun perk of parenting!

  • Alex - You inspire me so much, Ashley! Not just to take pictures of life, but to really treasure it. And maybe to take a long trip in a trailer. Maybe.

  • Taylor - That last pictures is just fantastic! I love it!


  • danielle - These are great! I love capturing who they are right now :)

  • dana - Isn’t it awesome how God made each one so unique!? I often think how boring things would be if each one of my kids had the exact same personality! Love how these photos celebrate their uniqueness!

  • Michelle Hill - That last shot is perfection! Love reading and see pics of your trip :)

  • kris - I read your post this morning and then went about my work and saw, what looked to be a pic of your son, on the next website I went to–The Chronicle of Philanthropy: http://philanthropy.com/article/Charities-Try-New-Strategies/147167/ I thought you might want to see if it you didn’t already know about it. Love you blog, and hope you are enjoying a great Africa trip!

  • Susan - Ashley,
    I would say this trip was once in a lifetime, but I would be wrong. I imagine that your family will take many, many memorable trips.
    Thank you for sharing with us. It is a delight to see how you describe your children and your affection for each individual they are.

  • elizabeth - i sooooo love that last photo. it really says a lot about those two. thank you for sharing these beautiful images!

  • Rebecca Harrington - Yes! This is what I love about photographs. Capturing a moment that so perfectly shows me something about a person, especially my family. Your girl is SO much like mine. I always assume a lot of that has to do with having brothers….. who knows. I especially love the last one of your boys. My boys have such different personalities as well. :)

  • renee @ savoring life through creativity - oh, i love love LOVE this post SO, SO much!! i connect with it SO much because the message you’re talking about here is the EXACT reason WHY I take pictures of my kids…i even have a category on my blog that’s called ‘who my kids are’ — to me, these pictures are so much more amazing that set up, ‘perfect’, portrait pictures, because what you captured here IS exactly what life IS!! i love them all…every single one made me smile!! thanks for sharing this awesome, awesome message!!!

  • Diana - Love love love this. Capturing “who” they are is so much more important than a perfectly composed & shot picture.

  • Emily - These are such lovely captures. I’d frame all of them 😉

  • Rikki - This post.. and these pictures.. are just so perfect. Those candid, real life images are what my business is all about. I love it more than any other photograph. Great job mama!

  • gHina - There are also 4 of us..and each has different personalities too. Your kids reminds me so much of me and my siblings 😀
    I love the way you capture life through camera :)

  • Analise - I understand the perfect moment of capturing your kids personality.I’m not a photographer like you, but I use my camera every day capturing the little moments. You have beautiful children and you inspire me with how you delight in them. Love this post.

  • Leigh Ann - These are great. :) I think you’re so good at capturing the ‘who’; it’s one of the things that makes your blog so approachable, and probably makes many readers who are really strangers feel like you’re an old friend!

    Here’s something I’ve been wondering for a while: do the boys have nicknames? Firecracker and Little One are mentioned this way a lot, but with the boys it’s usually age-related. If they picked their own nicknames, what would they be? 😀

  • Paige - I just love how you just let them be themselves. I’m really working on being better at that. Instead of seeing that, “Oh my, I don’t think my son ought to be jumping with flip flops,” I really want to see his adventurous side and allow him to figure out life for himself with me just in the background for guidance. I’m working on it! Lord, help me see my kids (and myself) as you see them!

  • Debbie H - I LOVE every one of these. Priceless

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - This is awesome! I love the measuring!