Friday, June 15, 2018

Tips for Hiking with Kids

We constantly have hiking on the brain in our house. We watch the weather and plan possible hiking days well in advance. We always have our backpacks ready to go at a moment's notice, and we often are making lists of future hikes to try out. The whole state of Missouri is sprinkled with state parks, interesting geological features, and endless miles of trails that we can't wait to cover. The boys have been on the trail with us since they could walk on their own and we have never looked back. We started with small, easy trails, and the length of the trails have grown as the boys have. Our boys are always excited to hike. It's part of who they are now too, which makes us so happy.

There are some things we've learned along the way that make hiking more of an adventure and less of a stressful family outing. 

1.) Know your kids' limits.

Taking a rest on our hike at Ha Ha Tonka
Seriously. You will ruin hiking for them if you push them too hard. Even if it seems like your kids have the energy to hike a 10 miler, maybe they don't. Start with small trails so they can experience success. If the hike ends with them crying with fatigue, hunger, and pain, then that will be the last thing they remember. The worst case scenario is to hike 5 miles until they are completely spent, and then still have to hike 5 miles back. Remember that hiking miles are not the same as walking miles. The terrain, elevation, and obstacles will all impact their fatigue. Plan accordingly.

2.) Stop for Exploring

We play at the creek every. single. time. 
Always! This is so important for kids. While you might be intent in getting a good workout from your hike, kids see a trail differently. And in a good way! They are so much more inclined to notice all the small things on a trail. If they see a bug, they want to stop and examine it. If they see a fallen tree, they want to climb it. Many of the trails we hike go right by (or right through) creek beds. So that means we stop every single time to skip rocks, float leaves, get our feet wet and look for critters. If we were constantly on the move with the intent of finishing in x amount of time, then we would totally miss all those opportunities to explore.

3.) Let them Choose

Our kids know enough local trails that they request their favorites when they know we're planning a hike. I'll never forget the first time, Lex exclaimed, "Three Creeks?!? That's my favorite hiking place!" The fact that he had a favorite hiking spot made me so happy. Our kids love it when we let them pick a path on the trail too. When we come to a fork, we ask, "Which way should we go?" and let them decide. On one hike when Eli was really young, at every fork he repeated "This way looks promising" over and over again. Of course the grownups get the final say. If we know they're taking us on a path to a 10 mile loop at sunset, then of course we redirect them, but in general, some of our greatest discoveries on trails have been as a result of our kids' leading. 

4.) Snacks/Water
Need I say more? There is nothing that will get your kids moving again like a good snack picnic in the middle of the woods. As far as water goes, we all have our own hydration packs now and the boys love it. We don't have to stop every 1/2 mile for drinks because they can drink as they go AND the added bonus is that now they can hold their own snacks too! Our favorite snacks are nuts, granola bars, muffins, and fruit. On longer hikes, we've been known to also pack a sandwich. In most cases though, we make sure we're not hitting the trails starving, and that way, we just need something to boost our energy mid hike, instead of a full blown meal.

Perfect sized hydration packs. Even full, they aren't heavy. The boys love them.

5.) The Trail is Your Classroom 
Kids' curiosities are endless. When they ask questions, ask them what they think the answer might be. Allow them to speculate and make hypotheses. We often take pictures of things on the trail so we can google it when we come back if we don't know the answer right then. We use Missouri Department of Conservation website to learn a lot about plants and animals in our area. The identification guide is the best resource we have used when there's something we want to learn more about. The other thing we talk to our kids about quite a bit is conservation and environmental responsibility. We recently starting taking trash bags on our hikes so we could pick up litter along the way. We are so fortunate to have such beautiful trails in our area. We want to keep it that way!

The bridge that Eli built.

6.) And of course, Safety
I almost didn't include this one, because I assume it's a given, but I'm including it just to explain a few things we do on the trail to make sure everyone stays safe. We always, always carry a first aid pack with us. Actually, not always - the one single time we didn't have the first aid pack with us, Eli fell just 100 feet in the woods and needed some cleaning and a band aid. Back we trekked for the first aid kit that we should have had in the first place. Our first aid kit has all the basics: bandages, antihistamine, antibacterial cream, etc. etc.
We also have certain rules on the trail. First, you have to stay on the trail. There are times we go exploring off the trail if there are rocks to climb, or something like that. But where we hike, there are often dangerous cliffs on the sides of the trail and we don't want to take any chances. Another rule we have is that the boys have to be where we can see them. They love to run ahead, and we love to let them, but as long as they can hear us when we call them, and we can see where they are heading. As they get older, I'm sure they'll want more independence on the trail and we'll always adjust our rules as they mature.

Crossing a fallen tree running over a creek, at the mouth of a cave at Three Creeks, south entrance. 
Hiking is all about having fun while developing an appreciation for the great outdoors. I'm thankful for every single hike we complete. It's so good for the mind, body, and soul. The fact that we can do this activity as a family... well that's just an added bonus.

As always, happy hiking!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Okay Summer, Here We Go

Dear summer, I've missed you. 

I am ready for a full on relaxing couple of months. Bring on the grilling, the sprinkler, the Netflix marathons, the hot evenings at the ballpark. I'll take it all. We've been out of school for just over a week, but we made an unexpected trip to Ohio and just returned yesterday. And it has finally hit me that I can slow down a little bit. 

Because things have been slow here on the blog, I thought I'd catch you up on what we've been up to the last few weeks. 

On Mother's Day, I knew I wanted to do something outdoorsy with the boys, but it was supposed to be in the 90's that day, and I just couldn't think about going out for a hike. We've been wanting to take the boys to Finger Lakes State Park for a while, ever since someone told us about the water trails you can do by canoe or kayak. We decided to head out first thing in the morning so we could get out on the water before it got really hot. 

If you want the details on how it works, click here.  It cost us $10 total for 2 hours on the lake. We opted for a canoe that we could all fit in. Kayaks are a little bit more, and I think we'll probably do that next time. The whole set up was really easy to navigate, and the man who helped us at the park office was so nice and helpful. 

Here are the boys all excited before we got the boat in the water. 

And here they are terrified after the boat got in the water. They were seriously holding onto each other for dear life. We had to talk through all the scenarios of "what if the boat tips over" before they finally calmed down and relaxed a little bit. By the end, they were splashing water on us and moving all over the place (to the point where I was the one getting nervous about tipping over).

We had a fantastic day on the lake and will definitely be going back. We did it in about half of the time they estimate for the trail we took, so next time we know that we can slow down a little bit. 

The boys finished off the school year with a bang. In typical fashion, their last week was filled with park day, field day, and award ceremonies. Also ceremonial to the end of the year, we had the daily dump of the back pack with all the papers, folders, notebooks, and art projects that somehow lasted until the end of the year. I wish I had stacked up all the stuff I threw away before I actually threw it away - just so I had a visual of it. Of course I'm a sucker for anything they write or create, so there's a lot of systematic storing going on too. 

So Lex is on to third grade - a new building! And Eli will be big man on campus in the second grade at the Primary. I'm so, so proud of them both. They rocked this school year. 

On a particularly gorgeous evening, we took the boys to the driving range. We were the only ones there, which was really nice. 

Eli hit a few balls but lost interest pretty quickly. 

 Lex, on the other hand loved it, and worked really hard at it. And then he asked if he could take golf lessons. I guess we'll add golf to our year round rotation of soccer, baseball, and basketball. Why not?

 Later that evening, we had the season's first camp fire. The weather and the sky was perfect!

We also made the season's first s'mores AND saw the first fireflies of the year! There were just a few, but a good sign that they are coming soon.

Nothing like a burnt marshmallow sandwiched between graham crackers. 

Over Memorial Day weekend, the weather was scorching hot all weekend long. And yet I just couldn't resist getting outside. We headed to the trail at Turkey Creek. It's a really fun trail that I wrote about a while ago here.  There are markers throughout the trail that indicate types of trees and landscape features in the area.

We all brought shoes to walk in the creek. We got off the beaten bath and used the creek bed as a shortcut.

We saw tadpoles and frogs, pools of minnows, lots of squirrels, and even a swarm of butterflies! I've never seen anything like it. It was a great day to be out.

 We have already had plenty of adventures to start the season, but now that school is done, we cannot wait to have more! Happy Summer!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Back to Three Creeks

This particular trail is our family's favorite. We hike it multiple times a year, trying to hike it at least once each season. It was the first trail of the Three Creeks trail system that Jeremy and I ever hiked, and it was also the first trail that we hiked with the boys. Because of the steep drop to the creek, and the subsequent steep climb back up, we were so proud when our little boys completed the hike on their own two feet. The trail itself isn't much at all, probably less than a quarter mile. But the real fun is down at the creek where there are endless places to explore, endless rocks to climb, and endless places to wade and splash. 

Another milestone that happened on this trail was our puppy Kylo's first hike, back when he was just a few months old. (You can read about his first hike on this trail here. ) That first hiking trip with Kylo confirmed what we feared because of prior car trips. Kylo is unfortunately very prone to car sickness. Even short trips in town made him visibly uncomfortable. We were so bummed for Kylo, because we knew he would love hiking hiking adventures as much as we did. Fast forward almost a year, when we decided to give this trail another shot with Kylo. Not only did he do really, really well on the car ride, he absolutely loved the hike as much as we knew he would. The boys were so ecstatic (and who am I kidding, Jeremy and I were too). So off we went on our hiking adventure with Kylo. You have to look closely in the pictures, because he blends right in. 

Here is Lex on the descent.

Jeremy and Eli down below

The creek within sight!

 I never knew these little wild flowers were called "Spring Beauties" until the week before on our hike when an older couple stopped to chat and pointed them out to us. They are everywhere!

This is a fun exploring spot at the creek. A cave! Although we never go inside because we (I) are (am) scared of the creatures that might be inside. 

But it's still fun to get up close!

And I knew this balancing act was inevitable the second I saw this fallen tree.

And then on we moved. The creek held a lot more water on this day than on previous trips down here. Sometimes you can walk along the rocky shore the entire way without having to skip from side to side. Not today. In some spots, we had to make our own rock bridge!

To avoid getting completely wet on our journey down the creek, we headed into the not so worn path in the woods beside the creek. In a few more weeks, this trail will probably be too overgrown to see.


We had Kylo off his leash for the majority of the time, and he absolutely loved it. He's such a good dog and stayed close to us. He would watch us walk carefully over rocks through the creek, and then he would splash through the creek right beside us. But on our way back up to the trail, he was back on his leash, because lots of people bring their dogs on this trail, and it's also a horseback riding trail. Better safe than sorry. 

There's just something about this rocky creek bed that makes so inviting for exploration.

The bridge that Eli built.

And then we were on our way back up the steep climb (successfully completing my calf workout for the day)! The boys and Kylo were all exhausted. A hike well worth it!

 Funny breaks optional.

Yeah for yet another hike in the books!

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