Our family loves to hike, and we try to do so regularly. We live in the Pacific Northwest and weather doesn’t always cooperate, but we try to get out at least once every week. Personally I find hiking refreshing and invigorating ~ a way to refuel and nourish my soul. There is something so rewarding about the breathtaking view from the top of a summit or the hidden waterfall.
Not willing to wait until our children were "old enough", we figured out ways to take them along. Now ages 4 and 6, our daughters have hiked many miles in many states and know that when the weekend comes, it's time to hike.
This post is not meant to be prescriptive, but rather is an attempt to share with you what works for our family. My hope is that you will be inspired to get your own family outside and enjoy the great outdoors. Our only expertise in this area comes from getting out and doing it regularly.
Although our girls can handle longer hikes (5-8 miles), we didn’t start out that way. We also don't finish every hike we set out on. The important thing to remember is that it's a journey ~ and adventure ~ and there is no right way to do it.
Here are some steps our family takes to make our hiking experiences more enjoyable.
PLAN OR CHOOSE YOUR HIKE
We have two different hiking books for our area. We spend some time during the week choosing our weekend hiking destination. By knowing where we are going ahead of time, we are able to prepare ourselves for the drive there and back and the hike itself.
We happen to live in a rainy part of the country so we’ve invested in rain pants and rain coats. Each family member also has their own backpack. We carry water bottles, snacks, first aid items, hiking book or map, magnifying glasses, bug traps, hats, gloves and more. I try to remember to pack an extra set of clothes for the car. Often at the end of a hike we find ourselves muddy and wet. It's nice to be able to change into warm, dry clothes.
PACK SNACKS AND OTHER NECESSITIES….TAKE BREAKS
Depending on the time of day and the length of the hike, we often pack lunch. At the very least, we pack water and snacks. We have found chocolate very helpful in getting through longer hikes. If hiking with little ones, be prepared to rest regularly. We don’t have a set pattern for this, nor do we honor every request to rest. We do, however, try to respect the fact that our kids have shorter legs and need more rest than we do.
MAKE IT EDUCATIONAL
In an effort to make the most of these hiking adventures, we look for every possible opportunity to learn about the environment we are passing through. Often we take time to get a closer look and take pictures of what we see. Some examples of what we’ve encountered on our hikes include: slugs, salamanders, beetles, snakes, lizards, wildflowers, fungi and all sorts of plant life. We identify which plants are edible and could be used in survival situations. On one hike, we took photos of every mushroom and fungi we saw and attempted to identify them once we got home.
MAKE IT FUN AND GET CREATIVE
In an effort to minimize misadventures, we often have to get creative...even if it means pulling kids in sleds or creating makeshift carriers.
Sometimes we even take the time to built forts or temporary shelters in which we can rest for an extended period of time.
Another thing that has been extremely helpful is to connect with like-minded families. I have found great encouragement and inspiration from one family in particular – the Tougas family. Here are some links to some great posts that will offer you more insight into hiking with kids.