You Can Hike With Children!
A little boy stops, bends over and picks up a very pretty red leaf. He stares at it for a while, then stretches out his hand towards me. “Look Momma, pretty leaf.” “Yes sweetheart, that it is a pretty leaf!” I reply. A few feet later, we stop again as another child exclaims excitedly, “Look, Mommy, Just look at that squirrel! It’s talking to us!!!!” In the meantime, a few quiet hikers are staring in disbelief. Hike with children? What kind of idea is that? Others are smiling and nodding their heads in approval. Such excitement! Such sweet devotion and love for all things nature. What a moment to capture with my children while they are still young and in love with everything outdoors.
My name is Amy. I have six children ranging in age from four to fourteen. I am just crazy enough to take them all six hiking at once. Even when the littlest were babies. I’m here to tell you that you can hike with children. It can be done and it can be done safely! The benefits are amazing. You will bond as a family. You will overcome crisis together. You will hear and see amazing parts of God’s creation together. You will learn together. You will fall in love with nature — together. Are you sensing my trend? I love being with my kids, learning and loving right along with them. I love seeing the world through their eyes. It keeps me young.
A hike with children can be a joy if you are prepared and excited. Children will sense your attitude and share in it so be ready with a good attitude. I take the following steps to ensure a successful hike.
If you don’t know where to start, try googling “Family Friendly Hikes in Long Beach” or wherever you live. Talk to friends about hiking trails. Ask the local park rangers. Use the Free Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder™ app on your smartphone. Check out the trails you want to hike by reading on-line. Are they child-friendly? What is the trail distance and difficulty? What are other hikers saying about the trail? What are the visitor center and park hours? What is the cost of parking or park entrance fees? What trail policies might affect your plans. For instance, do you plan to take a pet and are pets allowed? Are any educational rewards –such as Junior Ranger Badges — available? If so you will need pencils. What is the weather going to be like?
Sunscreen. Hats. Long Pants. Good Shoes. Layers. Maybe even these fun waders. Some or all of these clothing items might be necessary for a positive experience. If it is hot, take hats. If the sun is bright, wear sunscreen. Always, always make your children wear good walking shoes. You don’t need to go buy them expensive hiking shoes, but don’t ever let them wear flip flops on a hike. (Ask me how I know!) If you are starting out early in the morning, wear removable layers that can be stuffed in backpacks or tied around waists later. If you have a baby, invest in a good baby carrier to take hiking.
Hiking without water is just a bad idea. We usually take along waters for everyone and trail mix divided between two or three backpacks for adults and the children old enough to eat solids. (We hike with babies!)
Repeat Your Rules.
We have three rules for “public” hiking that my children have memorized. These rules are important for safety and polite sharing of the trail. We could add more rules, but I try to keep it really simple for the young ones.
- Stay on the Trail.
- Stay with Mom or Dad.
- Don’t Touch Anything Without Permission (especially plants).
These rules are repeated often. When we get in the car and are still sitting in the driveway, we go through the rules. When we arrive on location and are still sitting in the car we go over the rules again. Any time someone starts to break a rule on the trail, we stop and repeat the rules. Of course – rules are made to be broken. When you are “off-trail” hiking on private property – this all flies in the wind, because freedom. But when you are on public property and sharing public trails, courtesy is key.
Stop and Smell the Roses
If you are going to hike with children and you rush through the trail with the goal of getting to the end as quickly as you can — there is no point in taking your children. You can’t hike quickly with children anyway. You can’t enjoy hiking with children at an adult’s pace. Take your time and take the time to point out God’s creation as you hike. Stop to examine the perfectly formed spiderweb. Watch the bees swarming in the tree. Look at the dead rat laying on the trail. You will inspire a life-long love for nature in your children as they follow your example.
Hiking is something I love. Breathing fresh air, observing amazing sights and sounds, praising God for his creation, the challenge of the trail, the rewards at the top of the trail… these are all things that refresh me at my core. I want to share that love with my children.
You Can Do It!
I have six children and we have been taking our children hiking since my oldest was 6 months old. Sometimes hiking with children is difficult. It is really hard to keep a two-year-old from touching everything! Sometimes, the timing is just bad and you need to stop hiking and let everybody get their naps out. Sometimes it rains. But in general, with good planning, good supplies and a good attitude hiking can be a happy family memory for you and your children.