Ready for an off-roading experience with the whole family? Before you pack the Jeep for your trip, check out our tips for your next off-road experience with the kids.
Tips for Off-Roading with Kids
Preparing for family road trips can be stressful. Everyone has different places they want to see, and then there's the hassle of making sure everybody is packed and ready to go. But when you drive a formidable off-road machine like a Jeep, it gets even more complicated: how do you ensure that your family will be safe when the trail gets treacherous? For your next off-roading adventure with kids, we're sharing our advice to ensure the whole family has a great time they'll never forget.
From planning to packing, we'll cover our best tips, so that your family and your Jeep are off-road ready. We'll also share our best advice for harmoniously traveling with kids so that your next off-road vacation will be better than ever.
Plan an Appropriate Route
Take your kids' ages into account. Consider your family's camping experience level and road experience when planning a route. Are you traveling with teens already into high-speed racing on their ATVs? Or are you bringing two toddlers who might feel uneasy on difficult terrain? Different states may also have a minimum age requirement for off-roading.
If your family has taken off-road vehicle trips before, maybe you're up for rocky climbs. But you'll still need to consider the time of year and where you'll be traveling. No one wants to encounter snow or mudslides when you’re not ready for it. Make sure your Jeep is trail-rated and ready for the terrain it might encounter. Ask your family for input, too, and include them in the decision-making process. Make sure there's time in your itinerary for some fun stops. You’ll also want your daily drive times to be within a reasonable range or, before you know it, you’ll be hearing the dreaded “Are we there yet?” from the backseat.
Forests and Public Lands
Many families start their off-roading adventures in forests and public lands. National Forests or National Parks can be a great choice, especially for first-time off-roaders. Trails are usually maintained or at least monitored in these areas.
Also consider that many public lands will require permits for all or certain types of vehicles operating off-road. You'll probably be restricted to road trails here, as many of these areas are environmentally sensitive. Driving off the designated path can have adverse impacts so be careful and respectful. Environmental responsibility is a huge part of Jeep culture.
Long trail routes wind through undeveloped land. If your off-road experience involves days on the trail, be prepared for some rugged camping. Many places will not offer essential services, and you can't be sure of water quality along the route. We recommend bringing your own water supply.
Talk to kids about how rustic camping works. Teach them how to cook on a fire and dig a latrine. Practice camping in the backyard and review how to get comfortable sleeping on the ground (or better yet, a rooftop tent). There are many ways to help your kids learn about rustic camping. You want everyone prepared to have fun when you’re ready to hit the trail in your off-road vehicle.
Pack Necessary Supplies and Special Treats
Be sure to pack any trail maps you'll need for off-roading. We recommend reviewing the routes together as a family so everyone knows what to expect. Kids probably won't be entertained by the map for the duration of the trip so make sure you plan some road activities so you can focus on the road. It probably won’t hurt to bring an iPad or Kindle for some much-needed screen time (and quiet).
Make packing a family activity. Use it as an opportunity to teach your kids what supplies you’re bringing and why. For example, while packing trash bags, have an essential discussion about leaving campsites cleaner than when you found them. You could also explore the first aid kit together and show your kids how to treat basic injuries in children and adults.
Keeping Kids Motivated
When introducing kids to new activities, it's good to give them lots of positive reinforcement. If you want them to enjoy off-roading in the Jeep as much as you do, reward them with special treats. Bring along a favorite candy or snack for bribing purposes. For small kids, pack lots of picture books, nature books, and activity books to keep them occupied.
Remember to schedule downtime on your trip too. Everyone will need a break on occasion, so make sure to work this into your itinerary. Worn out kids are hard to engage and even harder to keep happy. Keep the whining to a minimum. Be sure to plan breaks and pack snacks so everyone will have a chance to rest and recharge.
Keeping Kids Safe
Hopefully, you already keep an emergency kit in your Jeep, but it could lack some essential supplies to keep your kids happy and healthy. One of the most common health problems traveling with children is diarrhea. Make sure your emergency kit has medicine to treat this. Also, carry lots of water to prevent dehydration. And pack the bug spray! Itchy children make for unpleasant traveling companions.
Ensure you have proper safety seating for your kids in your off-roading vehicle. A booster seat or car seat will be required for young children.
Calm Their Fears and Answer Their Questions
Children can become apprehensive about new situations they have no control over. Combat this by thoroughly answering their questions. Sign up for an off-roading class or safety education course through your local Jeep club. The more your child knows, the more confidence they’ll have to deal with real off-roading situations.
Answering your child's questions helps to alleviate their fears. When kids know what the plan is, they're less likely to panic if something goes wrong. The more you can share with your children ahead of time, the more confident they'll be on the trails.
If you don’t want to damage your precious Jeep, make sure you follow trail etiquette. Many road trails over rugged terrain are shared pathways for different off-road vehicles, horses, mountain bikers, and hikers. Follow the Wheels Yield to Heels rule when sharing the road. This means that motorized vehicles and bikers should yield to all other travelers on the trail.
The Wheels Yield to Heels method helps to prevent accidents, but the U.S. Forest Service also provides other great tips for following trail etiquette:
- Be aware of others along the trail.
- Slow down on corners.
- Obey all posted signs.
- Respect wildlife.
- Clean up after yourself and any animals you bring on your trip.
- Approach pedestrians slowly.
- Stay on designated trails.
Keep your Jeep or other off-road vehicles well maintained and clean. Not only will this ensure you're safe on the trails, but it will also prevent the spreading of non-native seeds from one area to another.
Wear Proper Attire
Traveling through rugged terrain means you'll need to be appropriately outfitted before heading out. You won't always be able to pick up what you need along the way. Read the weather for the area where you’ll be off-roading and pack accordingly. And if you need some Jeep apparel for the kids, head here.
Rain Coats and Warm Jackets
Even if you're planning on taking a family off-road trip through the desert in the summer, it's still a good idea to bring a raincoat. Rainstorms can sweep in with surprising swiftness. Don’t let unpredictable weather affect your journey. Prepare by bringing raincoats for everyone in your group.
The same goes for a warm jacket, preferably a sturdy one. Even the desert can get cold at night. Be prepared for unexpected chill by bringing an extra coat, even if you think you won't need it.
Kids have sensitive skin, so don't forget the sunscreen. Bringing along hats and sunglasses is a good idea to protect everyone from harsh UV rays. Off-roading is not as much fun with a sunburn.
Bring a GPS Device
Outfit your Jeep with a GPS device before heading out. Mistakes happen. If you go off-route during your adventure, you'll want to be able to find your way back.
If you don't already own a GPS, work with your family to find a model everyone feels comfortable using. Teach older children how to use your GPS so they know how it works in an emergency.
Final Thoughts Before Hitting the Road
By now, you're probably dreaming up a few family-oriented off-road adventures. Remember, on any road trip, planning and communication is key to everyone's happiness, and that’s even more important when you go off-road. Getting kids involved in the planning helps them stay engaged and excited for their journey. You're ready once you've packed the proper supplies and have informed the family about what to expect.
With our tips, you'll be all set to embark on your family-friendly adventure. All you need now is the perfect trail. So head out on those off-road trails and enjoy the great outdoors!
Frequently Asked Questions
What equipment do you need for off-roading?
Be prepared for rough terrain. Test your Jeep's off-road performance before heading out. As far as your Jeep goes, upgrading your engine lubricant can help handle the extra weight of your camping gear. In addition, consider upgrading your air intake heading out.
Off-roading tires can be beneficial whether using the four-wheel-drive or just the rear wheels. Other specialized equipment you may need includes:
- A fully stocked emergency kit.
- Tools to repair your vehicle.
- A fire extinguisher.
How to choose the right type of off-roading for you?
Dune bashing, green laning, mudding, or rock crawling: Which is the best option for you and your family? Make the decision together and do a little something that everyone is interested in. Different types of off-roading are only available in certain places. For instance, mudding is prohibited on public land.
Consider the challenge rating of different routes and whether you have the appropriate road tires to traverse them. Think about your passengers, too. An off-road adventure with water fording might entice teens but be too intense for younger kids.
Has there ever been a better time to go off-roading?
We don’t think so. At the tail end of a pandemic, we’re all desperate for a little fun. Other attractions have opened back up, so you can grab lunch at a local spot and then head out for a socially distanced outdoor adventure.
Other kinds of events are back on, too, like the Jeep Jamboree. Look for weekend events in your area to join in on all the fun with your fellow Jeepsters. You can also have off-roading fun at one of the Jeep Week celebrations across the country. Go here for events near you.
What is the longest trail in California?
The longest off-road trail in California is the Mojave Road, at 150 miles long. This road passes through the Mojave National Preserve. Only street-legal vehicles in California are allowed in this protected area, so it's a great trip to take in your Jeep.
To protect and conserve the preserve, travelers must stay on the trail. The whole trip takes about three days and offers the opportunity for rustic camping and stunning views along the way.
Why do people enjoy off-roading?
Good question. Off-roading appeals to the thrill-seekers in all of us. In addition, lots of Jeepsters love the challenge of navigating their Jeep off-road. Others enjoy getting a glimpse of nature that many people don't get to experience. When you off-road with a friend or family member, you can bond and make lasting memories in a way that’s hard to replicate on the road.
What is the point of off-roading?
Is “fun” too simple of an answer? We don’t think so. But there are other goal-oriented reasons to go off-roading. You might off-road to reach a specific campsite or for the experience of scenic views along the trail.
Is off-roading a hobby?
Yes. Millions of Americans go off-roading each year. Off-roading combines the love of the great outdoors with the thrill of driving on unsurfaced roads. Off-roading is especially popular among Jeep owners, which is why Jeep offers the trail-rated badge.