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!

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