Today was a beautiful, sunny day. With the leaves rapidly disappearing it’s hard to know how many of these warm, sunny days we have left. While I enjoy winter hiking and skiing, nothing compares to a fall hike. So today after lunch, with our 6 kids in tow, a friend and I hit the trail to enjoy the sunny fall day.
I enjoy hiking by myself and try to get out a few times a week. It’s how I get some exercise into my day, as well as decompress and unwind. I may stop to examine a pretty flower or interesting rock, but for the most part I keep moving at a good pace. Hiking with children is a completely different experience. It’s slow going, and we stop all the time. It takes us twice as long to cover half the distance. One kid is running ahead to see what is up around the bend while another is way behind, caught up in examining an interesting tree. Someone always has to stop to pee in the woods. If there is a water feature along the way it must have rocks thrown into it. I always end up with pockets full of pebbles, dirt, leaves, and twigs. And usually, by the time we’re back at the car, we all feel a little better than when we started. For us, the key to hiking with young kids are 3 simple principles:
- Be prepared. Pack the 10 essentials. We usually have extra socks for the kids if we know there’s water nearby. My kids often carry their own snacks, water bottles, and spare jacket in their own little backpacks. Know how to dig a cat hole in case your 3 year old decides she has to poop half-way down the trail (and be sure to bring a bit of toilet paper, otherwise you may end up using leaves like I did. I do have a friend who said pinecones work better than toilet paper–I have yet to test them out though).
- At the start we usually go over a few basic rules. Our rules include staying where we can see them (i.e. don’t get so far ahead that you can no longer see us), unless the trail has cliffs and then they need to stay with us. We’ll also remind them to be respectful of the plants, animals, and other visitors (no yelling or screaming). If they’re older you can always have a good discussion about the leave no trace principles.
- Take lots of timeto stop and check things out. Let the kids stop, explore, and bond with nature. Don’t try to hike too far. Instead, focus on seeing neat things (and you don’t need to know what the names of trees and plants are–you can even make up your own names or take a picture to look them up at home).
Finally, stop while they’re still having fun. You may not be able to get as far as you like, but by being patient while they’re younger, you’ll have hiking companions for many years to come.
Do you have your own hiking with kids tips and suggestions? I’d love to hear them!