Preparing to Hike the Wonderland Trail with kids

IMG_5970Last summer, we hiked the Wonderland Trail with our 7 kids (ages 14 down to 18 months).

The Wonderland is a 93-mile loop trail around Mount Rainier, with 22,000 feet of elevation gain. People have taken anywhere from 20 hours to 15 days to hike the entire thing.

We did it in 12 days.

For those who want to hike the Wonderland Trail with kids, or do something similar, here’s how we prepared:


Get out there and do it. We did a lot of day hikes, increasing in distance, then in difficulty, then adding weight in packs.



We went for a walk every day– at least a mile– for months in advance. Sometimes we added in other activities (biking, jogging for 5-10 minutes), etc., but mostly, my goal was just– be active, at least a little bit, every day.

We ran bleachers with our packs on (loaded with books or gatorade bottles) about 5-6 times in the last few weeks before our trip. I think it all helped.




But really, I’d say that the most important prep work we did with our kids was drawing out their expectations and talking through the realities of what it would be like.

We really took time to get their buy-in before we fully committed and went all in. One day, after our longest pre-Wonderland hike (10.7 miles), we talked to them each individually about their thoughts, concerns, and expectations.

We asked for complete honesty and said they could tell us anything at all they were thinking.







Here’s the notes I took from what they said (expectations, good things, hard things):

MeiMei (10 year old daughter):

Expectations: “It’ll be fun, we’ll spend time together as a family.”
Good: see pretty places, take pictures
Hard: “I’ll survive” (smiled), heavy backpack, long days, getting tired

Silas (8):

Expectations: “It’ll be super fun.” Be together as a family.
Good: flowers, berries, getting wet, snow
Hard: steep hills, heavy backpack, Moses behind/in front of him (that’s the brother he tended to clash with most while hiking)

Baxter (12):

Expectations: “To have fun, be together as a family, and enjoy time together.”
Good: Playing on rocks & rivers
Hard: 1st few 3/4 days, “whole thing will be hard”, sleeping in a tent/feet & kicking

Ethan (14):

Expectations: “all for it, except for missing debate camp”
Good: being alone, walking alone, stopping for waterfalls
Hard: middle/little kids, especially in the tent, NOT shoving past for berries/running ahead
*Requested that we find some good online debate course/videos if possible.
*Requested that he & Baxter could sometimes have time to hike alone


IDEAS the kids had for making the trip better:

  • let big boys hike alone sometimes
  • put a whistle in the bathroom pack, just in case you get separated
  • 1-2 meals of emergency food for a freak blizzard
  • cheap foam earplugs for each person for sleeping
  • aloe for sunburn


After asking for their comments, questions, and concerns, we changed some of our plans:

  1. We made our trip longer– stretching our plan of 9/10 days, to a 12-day trip.
  2. We educated our kids more on first aid and contingency plans than we had planned to, just in case, so that they felt more confident in case of emergencies.
  3. We put a whistle in the bathroom pack and bought foam earplugs for sleeping.
  4. We went on day hikes and worked to control ourselves and not to yell at each other (because “we always get in fights” was a concern between me and our oldest son).
  5. We found some online resources and trainings for our oldest son for debate (since he would miss debate camp).






In our family meeting, we drove home the importance of the following rules:

  1. When you see a sign, STOP!  Never go ahead. Wait for others to catch up.
  2. When hiking, always stay where mom & dad can see you.
  3. Don’t horse around on the trail. It really can be life or death.
  4. Cover all gear every night with a garbage bag. (In case of rain.)
  5. Always fully zip the tent to the bottom. Bugs when you’re trying to sleep are the worst.




  • What do you love about hiking as a family?
  • Are you planning/hoping to do the Wonderland?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast ( I write and wrangle kids.

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1 Response

  1. Lauren Scott says:

    This is great! I have two boys (8 and 6) and my husband and I have gotten into backpacking in recent years. The longest we’ve gone as a family was a three-day, two-night backpacking trip. We would love to eventually work up to through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, but obviously we’ll have to warm up to it. :-)

    We love sleeping in hammocks, though I know for some hiking adventures where good tree set-ups are hard to find, we’d need to use tents. Hammocking has at least been a great way for me to get used to camping since it’s more comfortable for sleeping than the ground.

    (Found you from my friend Sarah Dees on Facebook, btw.) :-)

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