Some of our greatest memories and best fights in our family have been on hiking trails. We’ve fallen, gotten back up, climbed to the top of waterfalls, fallen back down, cried, then cheered, complained, then leapt for joy when our journey took us to the highest peak of a mountain and we did what we thought was impossible.
Hiking is very important to our family. Rob and I hiked some intense trails before we had kids. Even when I was 5 months pregnant with Maddie, we took a trip out to Ouray, Colorado and hiked some of the most difficult, yet stunningly beautiful trails we have ever seen, teaching us the true meaning of “Mountains Majesty”. Standing completely along in front of the tallest snow capped mountain peak made me feel very small but incredibly centered. Hiking does that to you. It puts life in perspective in so many ways.
Once our tiny bundle of joy came 4 months after our Colorado trip, we didn’t simply hang up our hiking boots and stash our walking sticks in some dusty attic box. We left them out and added a baby backpack to our hiking ensemble–even spent the extra $35 for the umbrella top and side plastic flaps so she wouldn’t get wet if we hiked in the rain.
We still hiked some intense trails down in Tennessee with the little munchkin who was perfectly content to ride along on Daddy’s back for a few hours at a time. A few months later, and along came baby #2–who wasn’t so happy to ride on daddy’s back for very long. She wanted to be the walker even before she could crawl. Being pushed in strollers and put in back packs definitely was not her thing. We could not bare to hang up our walking boots, so we decided to find some tamer trails that wouldn’t require very long stretches of screaming coming from the baby back pack. We found many local trails that were two miles or less, and made those our day trip destinations for a while.
Now that our children are 12, 11, and 7, they are able to hike without being carried–although we still have to remind them of that. During the school year, we try very hard to keep our kids active in the great outdoors. Living in Northern Indiana, the terrain is not difficult, and many of the trails that our family loves wind through prairies, over foot bridges, through old growth forests, usually filled with lots of fun bugs and frogs, occasionally a snake or two. Once we saw a dead fox, it was so very sad, but something the girls will never forget.
You don’t have to be in great shape to start hiking. Just put one foot in front of the other. Enjoy the sunshine. Take in the beauty that is there just waiting to be discovered. I love to take walks like this with my children to see the world through their eyes. The tiniest pebble becomes a treasure when they pick it up and admire it from every angle. Dandelions are roses and the sun is magical.
I want my kids to grow up believing that the outdoors really are great. They can’t learn what it sounds like to be sung to by 100 frogs in a pond from TV. Sunsets and sunrises that stop your heart can’t be reproduced on camera, not matter what an amazing photographer you are.
Hiking Tips for Families with Kids
- Kids aren’t soldiers. If it’s cold, rainy, difficult terrain, they will be miserable and so will you. The weather doesn’t have to be perfect, but rainy and cold usually doesn’t go well with kids
- Hike where it is not crowded. Crowded trails can be dangerous when kids get off the path and slip into poison ivy or on slippery rocks (both have happened to our family)
- Bring a cell phone. You might get lost. It happens to the best of us.
- Bring enough water for everyone. Hiking without water, especially when it gets hot,makes everyone more tired and grouchy.
- Bring a camera. Most of our best family photos are out on some trail somewhere in nature.
- Let your children take the photos. You will be amazed at what they see on a trail that you don’t.
- Let your children off the leash. Let them explore where you normally wouldn’t go yourself. According to my kids, “That’s where the fun stuff is.”
- Great shoes are a necessity. Flip flops and most summer shoes won’t work. With flimsy shoes, the kids will get blisters and you’ll end up carrying them. Help them pick out sturdy tennis shoes for the trail. They will be happy hikers and so will you.
- Pick up a baby back pack or sling if you have a baby or small toddler,. We carried our babies in back packs until they were about 35 pounds.
- Talk it up. As you are hiking, make them believe they are doing the most fun, outrageous, exciting thing ever. They will start to believe you. Their love of nature will be a direct result of your attitude about it.
These are just a few of the things we have learned as a family of five that has learned to love to hike together. I hope you and yours will find many adventures out on the trail as well!
This article appeared in this month’s Family Magazine of Michiana. Online copy here