Fall is such a magical time to get outside and hit the trail! As the crisp autumn air sweeps through the colorful leaves, there’s no better time to embark on an outdoor adventure with your little ones. Fall hiking with kids gets your kids outside, active, having fun, and creating lasting memories that will be cherished for years to come. In this post, Lissy Perna, Cape Cod mom of two, explores the wonders of fall hiking. She’s got some valuable tips on how to keep your young explorers motivated, engaged, and excited on the trail with hiking activities, tips, and the best fall hiking snacks! 

Fall hiking with kids

Hiking is our favorite family outdoor activity year-round, but our favorite time of year to go on nature hikes is definitely the Fall. We live in New England, so the natural changes of the season are so pronounced, and it’s a cooler and quieter time to get outside. The changing colors of the leaves make our hike feel like we’re walking through a postcard. The cool, crisp air is refreshing after a hot summer. 

Would you like to experience fall hiking with your kids? Well, keep reading because I have a few tricks to make your adventures safe and fun for all!

Picking a trail for your fall nature hike

Are you in a rut, hiking with your kids on the same nature trail every time you explore? Are you ready to make hiking feel exciting again for your kids? While re-hiking the same route has benefits, sometimes it’s nice to explore a new-to-you location! Hiking in a new location opens all kinds of possibilities and exciting finds for kids. Not knowing exactly what to expect can be part fo the fun (especially for older kids).

I have a few methods for finding new hiking trails near us: (1) using the All Trails app (they have a free version!), (2) checking out local Land Trust websites, and (3) visiting the nearby town’s natural resource department web pages. These resources will usually have a list of any local trails they own and maintain. Sometimes, these pages will have trail maps, lengths, and even a description of what to expect in the area.

Another idea is to check out your local library or bookstore for hiking guides. Where we live on Cape Cod, there are so many! None of them were necessarily geared toward families, so I ended up writing my own. It’s called “50 Cape Cod Hiking Trails” and is available at local shops and on Amazon, too!

Trail sign.

What to pack for fall hiking with kids

It’s always best to be prepared when hiking with kids, no matter the season. We bring a hiking bag filled with what we’ll need every time we go out on a trail. Usually, our little nature walks are under three miles, so we don’t need much, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Sometimes, my kids bring their own backpacks or fanny packs, but generally, they want me to be the pack horse, and I’m okay with that, too!

Here’s a list of the essentials we keep in our bag:

  • First aid kit – you can find these at most grocery stores, pharmacies, or sporting goods stores. I also recommend keeping one in the car at all times as well.
  • Bug spray– we almost always spray our shoes and clothes before heading out on a trail, but I bring it along in case we need a refresh.
  • Baby wipes – we use these before we eat a snack, if someone has an emergency bathroom break, or for sticky encounters such as slugs, sap, or mud puddles!
  • Tecnu wipes – these are wipes used if you come into contact with poison ivy. I highly recommend them if this noxious plant affects you or your kids.
  • SNACKS! – a must-have with doing absolutely anything with kids. More on this essential below. 
  • Wet bagthese reusable, washable bags are a lifesaver. I use them for any trash we accumulate or soiled or wet clothes. The snap loops on the packs are great for attaching to your backpack.
  • Water– our backpack has water bottle holders on each side. I like to bring our reusable water bottles along on any trail we walk.

For more info on what to pack when hiking with kids, see our full post on the 10 Essentials for Hiking with Kids

Me with my hiking backpack

What to wear when fall hiking with kids

With the change in season comes cooler temperatures, so it’s best to dress appropriately. Layering is the key to comfortable dressing in the fall! You can always shed or add layers to adjust as temperature changes or you warm up (or cool down) on your hikes.

On warmer days, we still wear a single-layer shirt, but bring a sweatshirt or light jacket. On colder days, wear an additional coat over a sweater or sweatshirt. When choosing hiking shoes, I always opt for closed-toe waterproof shoes or boots if it has been raining lately or if the trail we are walking has a pond or beach nearby. Wool socks are always my go-to, as they keep the feet warm and dry.

We also keep a set of clothes and shoes in the car at all times in case we need to change after our hike, as oftentimes, we’re hiking near water and it’s inevitable that the kids will get wet and/or muddy. 

Check out our full post on the best hiking shoes for kids

Bundle up for fall hiking.

Tick prevention while hiking in the fall with kids

While you may encounter fewer mosquitoes and gnats while hiking in the fall, ticks can still be active during this season. If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, it’s a smart idea to wear bug spray or take other precautions. All-natural bug sprays exist, but we chose this brand as it works great. If you aren’t into using bug sprays, you can take other precautions like wearing light colors, long sleeves and pants, hats, and tucking your pants into your socks. As always, make sure to do thorough tick checks after every hike.

Fall hiking with kids.

Activities for your fall nature walks with kids

While simply walking through the woods in the fall with your kids, breathing in that fresh air, and getting some exercise can be fun enough for most people, sometimes our kids need a little more motivation to keep their feet moving down that trail. With an arsenal of activities at the ready, your kids will be excited to go on your next Fall hiking adventure. Here are some ideas for what works for my family. Hopefully, these fun hiking activities will work for your family, too!

1. Add wheels! 

You might think scooting or biking down a paved pathway through a park or wooded area isn’t hiking. And you may be technically right. But, it still involves moving your body, enjoying nature, and being outside, which counts as a hike in my eyes! (Plus, I’m still hiking, as scootering isn’t quite my thing.) 

My boys love to visit our local state park, Nickerson State Park. There are miles of paved trails that wind through hilly woodlands. It’s a beautiful spot to explore, and the boys love bringing their scooters, skateboards, or bikes along for the adventure. If you have access to paved trails around you, break out some wheels and let them go at it! It’s a whole different way to explore (and burns a ton of energy!). 

Biking on the path.

2. Hike with friends

What is more fun than a fall nature hike? A fall nature hike with friends!

We have a group of friends that try to walk weekly, with children aged two to ten. We pick stroller-friendly walks so the little ones can take a ride if they need a break. The older kids have fun running ahead and playing together. It is an excellent exercise for us moms and gives us time to catch up with one another.

If you’re interested in getting a group together for hiking or just an outdoor play date, consider creating a hiking club with friends or other families in your neighborhood! Here’s a great resource about how to get started organizing an outdoor playgroup

Hiking with friends.

3. Fall leaf activities for kids

Walking in the woods during this time of year is dreamy – crisp, cool air, bright sunny days, and leaves crunching beneath your feet. The leaves are so colorful and pretty this time of year; why not use those leaves for activities once you get home?

While out on your hike, have your kids collect leaves along the path for activities back at home.. (Who said the fun had to stop once you leave the trail.) Start with something fun and easy, like crayon rubbings. Just lay a dry leaf on a flat surface, cover it with paper, and rub the side crayon over the leaf. The result will be an artistic copy of your leaf treasure!

Try with different species of leaves, cut them out, and create a garland. Or, keep your leaves to make a leaf crown. Preserve the leaves by dipping them in beeswax and using them for home decor. Whatever you don’t use, just toss back outside once you’re done! Who knew fall hiking with kids could be so fun?

Check out our full post filled with fall leaf activities for kids

Leaf piles!

4. Fall hiking scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunts are an excellent activity for kids of all ages, are low-cost (or even free), and can be done nearly anywhere (including the hiking trail). They keep kids motivated to continue along the trail to check their finds off the list. 

Scavenger hunts are easy to find and/or create. We have a free downloadable Scavenger Hunt Bundle for Kids that has scavenger hunts for all the seasons and various locations and celebrations. 

If you choose to make your scavenger hunt, you can include items that are native to where you’ll be hiking and what’s going on at this particular time of year. You can include items such as a red leaf, a giant boulder, a wooly caterpillar, a tree with no leaves, ice (if your autumn is extra chilly!), acorns, seed pods, etc. The possibilities are endless.

You can print a paper scavenger hunt or use an iPad or phone to track your findings!

mushroom scavenger hunts.

5. DIY hiking sticks for your fall hike

One of the best DIY activities I’ve done with my kids is to make our own hiking sticks! It’s a pretty simple activity, once you’ve gathered your tools and supplies. All you really need is the perfect-sized stick (this can be your kids’ mission to find when out hiking), and a few colorful accessories like ribbons, string, bells, or paint.

Once you’ve made your hiking stick, you can keep it in the car to bring it on all your fall hikes with your kids! They will be proud of their creations, which help hike uneven terrain! Also, I love a good craft project using found items in nature, don’t you?

Here’s the full tutorial I wrote on how to make your own hiking sticks with kids

Hiking sticks.

6. Make a fall mandala

What’s a mandala? According to Wikipedia, “A mandala is a geometric configuration of symbols. In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing the attention of practitioners and adepts, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.” 

In its simplest form, a mandala is a circular structure with a design that radiates out symmetrically from the center. You can find natural mandalas in flowers, tree rings, the sun, eyes, snowflakes, spider webs, sea shells, seeds, fruits, and more. There is no right or wrong way to make one which is why it is such a wonderful way to engage children to make their own mandalas using items they find in nature.

Create your mandala by collecting items along your hike, such as leaves, acorns, twigs, shells, or rocks, and assemble your mandala. It’s best to find a smooth, flat surface to construct your nature-themed mandala. You’ll be surprised how beautiful these creations turn out. Be sure to take a photo, as you can’t bring your art home!

Shell mandala.

7. Bring your pet on your fall nature walk

Do you have a four-legged friend who loves the outdoors, too? Consider bringing your pup along on your next fall hike! Not only will this keep the kids entertained, but everyone will get extra exercise and fresh air! 

Dogs love to spend time with you and enjoy all the sights (and smells!) in the woods. Just remember to follow guidelines for dog leashing and dog waste for the trail you choose. Also, your dog might get thirsty too. We like this collapsible bowl, as it’s a space saver and convenient to keep in our hiking backpack.

Dogs like hiking too.

8. Let your child lead your fall hike

A fun way to get your kids excited about hiking is to give them control! Kids rarely feel like they get to be in charge, so this is a fun way to hand over the reins on your next fall hike and let them make some decisions. Start by letting them choose which trail you’ll hike. Give them control of packing what you’ll need for the hike and which snacks to pack (with supervision, of course). Once you get to the trail, let them find the trailhead, lead the way, and decide to take a left or right, and when to stop for a snack break.

My boys enjoy taking turns being the leader, and they thrive when they control our adventure. I think it’s great practice for them to make decisions and think about their actions. I hope this trick works for your family, too!fall hiking tips and activities for kids

9. Take a fall hike at night

The sun is setting earlier this time of year, and it may be cutting into your outdoor time. Let’s take advantage of the earlier darkness and take a night hike! Star-gaze, take a flashlight hike, or even go owling!

  • Star gazing: Take a walk outside on a clear night, preferably away from street lights. Check out the stars above and see if you can identify any constellations or plants. Bonus points if you catch a shooting star!
  • Lantern/flashlight hike: We like to do lantern or flashlight hikes on trails we are already familiar with, so we know what to expect regarding terrain and trail layout. Bring along a flashlight to light the way. Trust me, it is so fun! 
  • Owling: Owling is when you go out at night to look and listen for owls. If you have a nature preserve near you, check to see if they lead owling walks; it’s a great introduction to this activity. If not, go for one on your own. Just remember, avoid using flashlights, and stay quiet. Going on a non-windy night is best so the wind won’t obscure the owl’s sounds. Before you head out owling, look at photos of owls local to your area and listen to their calls.

Check out our full post all about Owling with Kids.

fall lantern hike with kidsPhoto credit: @raising_little_naturalists

Best fall hiking snacks for kids

As parents, we know that snacks are an essential part of every day for our kids. It’s no different when you’re going out on a trail! Bringing enough snacks is the key to success for any activity with kids!

Here are some shelf-stable snack ideas for you to tote along and make your fall hiking adventure successful:

  • Trail mix
  • Granola bars
  • Dry cereal
  • Clementines
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Beef sticks/jerky
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Popcorn
  • Dried fruit
  • Apple sauce pouches

Pro tip: You can use that wet bag in your hiking backpack to hold the waste from your snacks until you return home to dispose of it!

For more, check out our full post on trail-tested and kid-approved hiking snacks.

Snacking while hiking.

Fall hiking books for kids

I always like to recommend books that will support the information shared in my posts. The following books can be found at most bookstores and libraries; I hope you check them out!

Kids leading the hike.

Fall hiking with kids

As you lace up your hiking boots and get ready to explore the trails with your little ones this fall, remember that the beauty of the season goes beyond the colorful leaves—it’s in the shared laughter, the time spent outside together, and the connection you made during your hike. Embrace the magic of the season, using the activities and ideas in this post to make your fall family hikes truly special. 

I hope this information was helpful and got you motivated and excited to explore some hiking trails with your children this Fall. Now, get out there and explore! Happy hiking!

About the author

Lissy lives near the ocean on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with her husband, 2 rambunctious boys (aged 4 & 7), and an ever-growing number of pets. She grew up walking nature trails and finding joy in the beauty of nature. She now shares that love for local adventures with her community through her blog, “Get Outside Cape Cod.” Lissy knows that everyone can benefit from spending more time outdoors and wants to inspire and support families to do just that!

You can find more from Lissy in the following online locations:
Instagram: @getoutsidecapecod
Website: Get Outside Cape Cod
Facebook: @getoutsidecapecod
RWMC Posts: Lissy Perna