|hiking in Palo Duro Canyon|
Fall is our favorite time to hike. After spending the latter half of the summer cooped up to escape the heat, the reprieve of autumn has us outside pretty much constantly. Hiking is one of our most favorite things to do as a family. We have hiked with the kids since they were babies, carrying them on our backs or up on daddy's shoulders. We have hiked on city trails, up mountain sides, and down to the creek. If a day isn't quite going the way we'd like, all it takes are the words "let's go for a hike" to cheer everyone up!
Hiking with children is different than hiking with a group of friends. I prefer to hike with children because the pace is nice and slow and gives me lots of time to check out the surroundings. Children are such keen observers and are happy to stand quietly to hear the rabbit rustling in the brush or to get down low to check out a tiny troop of ants busy at work. In order for us to have the best time we can, we have taught our children some hiking rules to follow. This gives us all a peace of mind and allows us to enjoy our time together even more so.
The one thing we always give our children when we set out for some day hiking, or the minute we get to a camp ground for a weekend stay, is a set of whistles. We let them try out the whistle while we are setting up camp, getting all of their whistles out. After they have had some fun time with the whistle we remind them of the purpose. If they wander away, see a snake or feel lost, we tell them to blow out 3 short whistles. We practice a couple of times together so they know the drill. We have found that when they are playing with their whistles (who can resist?), they tend to blow long whistles. The shorter blows take more effort and concentration.
2. Stay with the group!
We are sticklers on this. While we are out hiking we want them to stay close by and on the marked trail. The time will come when they are older and can venture out a bit on their own, but for now, we prefer them close by.
3. Hug a tree!
Even though we try to keep everyone close, the time comes when one will run up ahead of us and shoot around a bend out of our eyesight. We have taught our children that if they get away from us to stop where they are and hug a tree! They are to stay put hugging on that tree and blowing on their whistle until we find them. This is something we practice before we start out, and when we get to the trail head. "Quick! Hug a tree!".
4. Everyone carries their own water and snack.
This is difficult for smaller children, but it can be done. We want our children to carry their own water and snack just in case they get lost and are apart from us for a long time. While we would never anticipate them truly getting lost, it DOES happen. It is better to be safe. Currently we use water bottles and small backpacks, but I would love to invest in a small CamelBak for each member of our family. (note: I don't always do this for short hikes. But if we are going out for a few miles, I do try to have everyone carry their own pack.)
Remember that hiking is about the experience! It is not about getting to the destination. If the area is safe, take time to go off trail a bit as a family. See what's at the top of that hill- together.
If you want happy hikers, be prepared to take lots of stops along the way. And be sure that they know that you don't mind the break! Sighing or rushing can make them feel guilty and not enjoy the moment. Push and encourage to go on when necessary: "Let's see if we can make it to that waterfall!", but know when enough is enough. Trust me!
I think this list could go on. There are ways to make hikes fun for those they may be a bit reluctant (like letter boxing), and there are ways to challenge your family to press on farther. But this is a good beginning. Because really, hiking should be about being together experiencing the beauty of nature. If things seem too "ruley" it's not going to be any fun- for anybody. Up front training and gentle reminders can keep everyone in good spirits along the trail and make for a memorable hike.
If you are new to hiking and would like more details about what to pack in your own backpack, or the gear to carry along, please ask away!
If you are experienced in hiking with children, what are some tips you'd like to add?