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How To: Hiking With Kids

Hiking with kids? Start small, dream big.

Taking a child on a walk is better than Disneyland. Every fallen log, meandering steam, or low-angled boulder is a mini-adventure–to say nothing of waterfalls and wildlife. You can usually go to your local Parks and Recreation Office for a map of trails in and around your hometown. Or start with the nearest local, state, or national park and chat with a ranger to find out their “classic” hike. From there, hopefully the activity will become a life-long pursuit for everyone involved.

1. Start small. What differentiates a hike from a walk? Not much–although a hike generally connotes self-supported travel on unpaved terrain. Pick a nearby park or forest and find a loop hike (meaning you don’t go up and back on the same trail.) Look for one that lasts about an hour to start, and try to find one that’s easy to access and also one that you hike often, like the small butte that rises just outside of the town of Bend, Oregon. It’s about half an hour up and about 20 minutes down (just over a mile round-trip). You can start by taking kids in a burly stroller, then hand-in-hand. Next thing you know, the little ones will be racing to the top, and as they grow older, they’ll likely develop a positive relationship with the trail.

2. Dream Big. Anticipation is half the fun. Use your local walks as training for THE BIG EVENT. Is it the summit of a peak you see from your porch every morning? Or the top of a local ski hill in the summer? Or maybe a summer road trip through one of our majestic national parks? The important thing is pick something fun, use the anticipation to inspire training and enthusiasm, and then give it a try.

3. Bring a light daypack for each person on the trip packed with fun snacks, tasty cold drinks, and favorite deserts. Don’t forget a packet of hand wipes for after lunch (or post mud castle construction).

4. Bring along a bird book and pair of binoculars. Or better yet, a camera. Or a few light kids’ storybooks. Who doesn’t like a story about an outdoor setting IN an outdoor setting. Little House on the Prairie anyone?

5. Use the hike as a lesson on how to read (or make) a map. Most smart phones have compasses–and apps that include an altimeter, but better yet, buy an inexpensive compass at your local outdoor shop.

6. Encourage your kids to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes that won’t snag on bushes or limbs, and can get extremely dirty. One non-negotiable option is good footwear. Don’t scrimp when it comes to well-fitting walking shoes with rugged tread, a sticky rubber sole for traction, and supportive canvas or leather upper. Flip flops or gym sneakers will just cause foot problems and diminish your kid’s ability to climb, hike, and run.

7. Pack a small medicine kit. Sunblock and bug spray are a must. So are fun, colorful band-aids that take the sting out of a skinned knee.

8. Remember, the walk is about the kids and exploration. Gently pushing them beyond their comfort zone is a good thing, but sometimes quitting halfway to take advantage of a wildflower-covered field or sparkling swimming hole is the best way to engender enthusiasm.


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