By Katie Moosbrugger
Cabin fever is one thing we don’t handle well as a family. As much as we love to explore around our own town, we are always seeking an adventure elsewhere. One of our favorite things to do as a family is to go on a hike.
We are, by no means, professional hikers. Never were, and especially not now with kids. We simply just enjoy getting out, exploring, checking out beautiful scenery, experiencing natural wonders, and teaching our children to respect nature. And we take it easy, seriously. I’ve actually hiked through Stone Mountain with a two-month-old strapped in a Baby Bjorn on my belly, and we’ve taken my daughter at age two on trails at Pilot Mountain. Easy peasy is just fine for us (with kids, at least) and comfort, safety and simplicity are key to making sure everything goes smoothly. If this is your kind of outing, then keep reading for some tips and tricks I’ve discovered.
There are three things you should consider first before hitting the trails with kids. First, choose a trail that is easy to moderate (at least at first and until your children get used to hiking). Second, keep the mileage low (a one-to-two mile hike with little kids is a safe bet). And third, know your location – one that is easy to get to, kid-friendly, and with trails that start not too far from where you park the car.
These three tips are key and ones we broke right off the bat on our first outing with a 5-year-old and 2 1/2 year-old. We chose a trail at Pilot Mountain that seemed easy enough, but before we knew it we were over two miles into it without knowing where we were! Luckily we ran into the main road that takes you back to the top of the mountain, and my husband flagged down a car to “hitchhike” back to get our car. There was no way I was dragging the kids back up the trail! Like I said, I’m all about keeping it easy peasy.
Depending on the age of your children, it probably best to plan your trip for first thing in the morning when they have the most energy. Or, if you have a baby that naps in the afternoon and is small enough to carry, then plan your trip around that late day nap time so your baby can snooze while you hike.
This is probably a no-brainer, but plan on taking lots of short breaks (think photo opps if you remember your camera!) and pack plenty of drinks and snacks. We all know it’s not fun being around a hungry, tired kid and this can come quite often even on a leisurely hike. When you’re on a break, seek out some interesting plants or rocks for your kids. Teach them what poison ivy looks like! Choose a trail near a waterfall or stream and plan your stops accordingly. Look for interesting creatures and wildlife.
And while you’re hiking, don’t forget to make it fun. That shouldn’t be hard with kids who are always looking for new things and adventures. Help them out by creating a scavenger hunt. Sing songs. Play I-Spy. Identify things (maybe bring along a guide book or two that helps describe North Carolina trees, plants, flowers, and insects).
It’s so easy to get creative on the trails – you can even turn a lesson of good outdoor ethics into a game. Teach your children to respect nature and other hikers. Explore and touch but don’t destroy or take. Stay on the trails, don’t throw rocks, break tree branches, pick flowers, carve into tree bark, or write on rocks, and don’t litter.
When it comes to hiking safety, you can never be too safe with kids around. Always be vigilant as to what your child touches or puts close to – or inside – his mouth. Arming your child with a whistle is always a good idea, and instead of saying, “Stay where I can see you,” tell your child “Stay where You can see Me” – sometimes that makes more sense to a child. And depending on your location, time of day, and season, don’t forget to think about altitude, sunburns, bee stings and possible allergy threats.
Finally, gear makes all the difference! Don’t sport a Baby Bjorn on the trails like I did – get a decent child carrier for hikes. One with good suspension, a padded waist belt, padded shoulder straps and adjustment points.
Obviously make sure your kids are wearing good, comfortable shoes and are dressed appropriately for the weather.
And consider other gizmos you might not have otherwise, like camelbaks for extra water. They are comfortable to wear and your kids will love to drink from them!
So, get out and have fun and let us know what other fun tips and tricks you can share about hiking with the family!