8 tips for hiking with your children

8 tips for hiking with your children

Here's how to make hiking more fun for little ones

Children or teenagers at home who are eager to go hiking? Then you're in luck, because many people under twenty find that hiking is just boring. Yet it's not so difficult to make it enjoyable even for small(er) hikers. From critter-spotting to geocaching: these tips will get your family off the couch and into their hiking boots for a day out in East Flanders in no time.

  1. Spot some animals along your route
  2. Find a playground or play area nearby
  3. Turn it into a game with these apps
  4. Provide some treats during the hike
  5. Choose buggy-friendly routes
  6. Make it nice and dirty barefoot
  7. Make it an adventure at these surprising locations 
  8. Go geocaching

Our 8 tips for getting your children hiking

1. SPOTTING ANIMALS 

Critters are charming, even on a hike. Make them the reason to get out there, and your kids will change their minds just like that. So it's better to say 'Come on, let's go spot some animals' instead of 'Today, we'll walk four kilometres instead of three'. Teenagers will also be more easily charmed by a hiking spot where Galloway cattle graze or where a herd of Exmoor ponies could pass by at any moment. 

In THE LIVING HERITAGE PARK 

Anyone who hears 'erfgoed' ('heritage') will automatically think of old buildings or crafts from our (great) grandparents. At the Living Heritage Park in Puyenbroek, things are different. There, the heritage blows and cackles, gives birth to little ones and provides milk. In this special piece of the Provincial Domain – kind of like Bokrijk, but with animals – regional farm animals whose existence is threatened were given a new permanent home.

No bears or tigers here, but there are some stone rabbits, Ardennes fox heads and numerous other poultry animals in the most colourful varieties. This unique park is freely accessible to all. 

WALK THROUGH THE LIVING HERITAGE PARK

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Keep track of which animals you have already spotted on the chalkboard.

HIKING AND BIRD-watching 

Anyone who's hip or seeking peace and quiet goes bird-watching these days. East Flanders also has a great many beautiful places – and walks – where birds love to be observed. Here and there are some specially erected viewing huts or peeping walls, behind which you can observe them to your heart's content. Fun to do with your children too. Especially when there is a chalkboard to keep track of your 'critter score', like at the observation tower in the Fondation of Baudelo area of nature. Or turn it into a game. To spot the most black birds, for example.

VIEW 5 HIKING ROUTES FOR SPOTTING BIRDS

INTERACTIVE CHILDREN'S WALK WITH PINE MARTEN EUFRASIE 

Still in the Fondation of Baudelo, the pine marten Eufrasie is your guide on an interactive walk tailored to children. On the map, plot your own route along 12 stops and scan the QR codes for some fun games and more explanations about flora and fauna in this area. Also suitable for prams with large wheels!Download THE FREE HIKING BROCHURE

HIKING ROUTES PAST FREE-ranging ANIMALS 

Anyone hiking along East Flanders footpaths will encounter large grazers such as Galloway cattle, Exmoor ponies and Konik horses. These often make the view in areas of nature such as the Rijtmeersen, Kalkense Meersen and Gentbrugse Meersen extra special, including for your family. While grazing, among other things, they create micro-habitats: ideal for butterflies, beetles and rare plants.

The animals are gentle and wouldn't hurt a fly, but they especially like it when you stay at a distance. So feel free to take a nice selfie with grazing cows or horses in the background, but above all, let them do their work in peace. Walk around the herd, don't pet them and keep your dog on a leash.Download 4 HIKING ROUTES PAST FREE-RANGING ANIMALS

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Play area in Lembeekse bossen

2.  FIND A WALK WITH PLAY AREA

Is it playing while walking or walking while playing? As long as they respect nature, children should be able to have fun along the way. East Flanders provincial domains are, by definition, places where nature and play go hand in hand, and a playground there completes the picture. Check out this article for a list of the best places for little players.

The Agency for Nature and Forest's play areas are often at the top of the list too. At these nature reserve or forest areas, children and young people can play, romp, clamber or build camps to their hearts' content. As a (grand)parent, letting loose the child in yourself is also allowed, of course. Check out ANB's plan for a play area along your hiking route.

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3. ENGAGE THE SCREEN: THE MOST FUN APPS FOR ON THE GO

Of course, the idea is not to have your child tapping away for an entire walk. But why not use the smartphone or iPad as some fun help, or even as a lure?

LET CHILDREN CREATE THEIR OWN ROUTE 

Turn your hike into a wild outdoor adventure with Bushcraft@Home, a Facebook group from Natuurpunt Youth that uses instructional videos to teach your kids to make utensils from nature materials, such as a bow and arrow. 

RECOGNISING ANIMALS, PLANTS AND MUSHROOMS 

With plenty of cool apps, you can identify animals, plants and mushrooms on the go with a click. Picture Insect, for example (1,000+ species of insects), Field Guide (600 species of birds, wildflowers, mushrooms and mammals), Winter Tree (400 native trees) and Picture Mushroom (hundreds of mushrooms).

ChirpOMatic and Bird Song work much the same as Shazam does with music: when you hear a bird sing, you stick your phone in the air and start recording. The app analyses the singing and immediately shows you the top matches. Just order your free Routen magazine and hit the road with Forest Bingo on paper, or a handy trail map works too, of course.

MAKE IT A SCAVENGER HUNT 

How to get young teenagers walking too? By making it a game or a quest, for example, as we learnt from a brief survey. With the Troovie app, you can create your own scavenger hunt in minutes. You can choose the assignments in the app, or you can always think of them yourself.

COUNTING STEPTS AND COLLECTING CRITTERS 

Including a game makes counting steps fun too. The more steps you take with the app Walkr, the more levels you unlock in an adventure space game. Wokamon is a type of Pokémon, where each step provides energy. And the more energy, the more Wokamons you can collect.

INSTAGRAMMING IN THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES 

Try to 'sell' your walk by adding that it's bound to produce some beautiful Instagram pictures. Plenty of choice for some beautiful spots in East Flanders to share on social media. Get inspired by the inspiration pages on Routen and don't forget to post your snapshots with the hashtag #routen. That way, we can see them and who knows, maybe your photo will be reposted on the Routen account.

4. BRING SOME TREATS FOR THE ROAD 

Nothing like a tasty snack to revive your energy levels. Make it an extended picnic from the start and find a nice place to settle down beforehand. Get inspired for an up-and-coming East Flemish picnic basket at Great Butchers' Hall in Ghent – formerly a covered marketplace, now the Centre for East Flemish Regional Products – or at www.lekkeroostvlaams.be.

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5. MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE AS WELL

Happy parents make happy children, even as you step out into the world together. Avoid any stress in advance, and choose a route that starts and ends near an area of nature or a provincial domain with plenty of parking.

If your child is (sometimes) still in a buggy, it's best not to go hopping over the hills of the Flemish Ardennes. Choose some comfortable hiking routes with wide paths that are paved to the max. With small children, it's always wise to bring the buggy along anyway, just to be on the safe side. That way, you'll avoid having to carry them on your back or neck quite a bit.

Another tip: if you're just starting to hike with your children, start with some short trips and slowly build up the length as they enjoy themselves. To determine the appropriate maximum distance, you can use this rule: age = number of kilometres. So a maximum of 5 kilometres for a 5-year-old child and 8 kilometres for an 8-year-old child.

CHECK OUT OUR BUGGY-FRIENDLY HIKING ROUTES

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6. WALKING BAREFOOT

Grass, pebbles, sand, and yes, a dose of mud after that rainstorm too: that's fun, to feel nature tickling between your toes and under your feet on a barefoot path. Especially in the summer, of course, but you can also slog through the mud in the winter, with shoes or boots on.  

  • Gentbrugse Meersen (Ghent): adventure path of about 1km, with a musical pots and pans corner
  • Kaaihoeve (Zwalm): the smallest barefoot path in Flanders, hidden behind the nature education centre and in the middle of a nature garden.
  • Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen (Gent): ): hiking on an adventure path with various ground structures. A deck allows you to get to the middle of the pond to scoop some critters out of the water
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7. MaKE IT AN EXPERIENCE 

Children want to be challenged during a walk. Besides apps, playgrounds and animals, there are a number of places that are sure to delight the youngsters. With a number of obstacles and surprises along the way.

FERRY ACROSS IN MEETJESLAND 

Roll up your sleeves and board one of the three foot ferries  across the Leopold Canal in Sint-Laureins together. You'll end up with dry feet on the other side and you get a mini adventure on top.

You'll find the ferries at between/at node(s) 12-51, 26-72 and 27 of the Meetjeslandse Kreken hiking network. Map out your own ferry walk with the online hiking route planner.

GNOME WALK IN DRONGENGOED 

A day at Drongengoed with the children? Then let them discover the forest in their own wonderful way. Near the Drongengoedhoeve is the starting point of the 1.5-kilometre-long Kabouterpad (Gnome trail): a fun mix of red mushrooms, cool hands-on tasks, informative signs and enjoyable stories.

PHOTO QUEST IN THE KLOOSTER FOREST 

Playing forest pétanque, making a piece of nature art, spotting saplings: there's plenty to do along the 8 kilometres of hiking footpaths in the Kloosterbos in Wachtebeke. Nearly 9 hectares are also designated as play areas.

Download THE PHOTO QUEST IN THE KLOOSTER FOREST

Extra tip: COLLECTING SOME GOODIES 

Is your child fond of crafts or curious about everything that grows and lives in the forest? Then take an empty egg carton, for example, and go on a scavenger hunt together for some decent items. Pine cones, leaves, twigs: anything can serve to craft with. Or bring a magnifying glass along and find out what critters are crawling under plants or bushes.

8. GO GEOCACHING 

Turning your family hike into an exciting scavenger hunt? You can do that with geocaching. Finding some hidden treasures with GPS coordinates is what this popular outdoor game is all about. Not caught the geocache bug yet? The websites www.geocachen.be and www.geocaching.com explain in great detail how this half-real, half-virtual treasure hunt works, what you need for it and how to get started. What you're looking for while geocaching is always a mystery, and that's what makes this outdoor sport so much fun. 

Geocaches are hidden everywhere, including here. In the Ghent area alone, you can search for nearly 5,000 of them. Join the world's greatest treasure hunt here. Once logged into the app, you can navigate to geocaches throughout East Flanders, go on some hikes and share your experiences online.