October 31, 2017

Tips for Hiking with Kids: Part 2 - Picking the Perfect Trail


Choose the Right Trail


Now that you've done you're homework, it's time to pick a trail for you and your child to hike together. These next 8 tips are all aimed at considering your kid when selecting which hike to take them on. Just as the great hike can ignite a new passion, a bad experience can make it an uphill battle to get them back out on the trail.

1. Find a Cool Destination
As much as we might say things like "Getting there is half the fun" or "it's about the journey, not the destination," it's important to remember that those tend to reflect a more mature perspective on hiking, as well as life in general.

For most kids, the primary reason to go hiking is to go somewhere cool to do something fun. It could be a pool they get to play in or a cave they get to explore, but they probably won't appreciate the beauty of a scenic vista, so find a hike that goes somewhere awesome.

2. Do Loop Hikes
Backtracking can feel boring, whereas there is some excitement in the unknown of treading a new trail. For that reason, it can be a good idea to find loop hikes instead of out-and-backs for young hikers.

Rather than battling the perception that you should be further than you are when they keep seeing familiar landmarks, you can let them explore the whole way out and back to the trailhead before they realize how far they've gone.

3. Do the Same Hikes
We know...we literally just said that hiking the same trail can be boring, but what is true for backtracking is not necessarily the case for different outings.

Any parent who has had to watch the same children's video for the 500th time knows that kids love repetition. While adults tend to appreciate the the stimulus of the new, children often enjoy the security and sense of accomplishment in being able to predict what's going to happen. That's why they can re-watch the same thing over and over, and it's why it can be fun for them to do the same hike again and again as well, especially if you prompt them to lead the way and point out interesting things along the way.

4. Trail Terrain
Is the hike you're planning to do super steep, rocky, and crazy overgrown? Or is it the exact opposite: flat as a pancake, straight as an arrow, and consistently so the whole way through?

Finding the right hike for a kid usually means striking a good balance with the kinds of terrain that the trail will cover. They should have ample opportunity to climb, play, and navigate tricky terrain so that hiking is distinguished from walking on a sidewalk through the park, but bushwhacking straight up the side of a mountain is going to be miserable for almost anyone, let alone your half-pint hiking partner.

5. Find an Appropriate Level Hike
There are lots of different hike rating systems out there, and they are not all created equally helpful. Finding the right level of difficulty for your youngsters will require a good understanding of how the system works and what your child is capable of.

As a general rule, under our system, children under 5 should stick to level 1 hikes, 5 to 7 years old is about right for level 2, and level 3 hikes and above tend to be best after the 8th birthday. If in doubt, it's always better to underestimate and do a lower level hike than to get them in over their heads.
If you'd like to read about how we developed our system, as well as our thoughts on the various other systems out there, you can check out this post.

6. Lower Expectations
It is incredibly easy to be overly optimistic about how a hike will go. In our experience, it is best to lower those expectations when hiking with other adults, and that holds doubly true when children are in tow.

Adults tend to cover around 2-3 miles of trail per hour, but you'd do well to plan on a 1 m.p.h. pace when hiking with a child. And even though 5 miles might not seem like all that much to you, tiny legs have to take a lot more strides in that distance, which can make it feel way longer for little hikers.

As with difficulty levels, it's probably best to underestimate what you'll accomplish together and end up pleasantly surprised if/when they are up for doing more than expected than the other way around.

7. Stay Close to Home
Especially if you're just getting started hiking with your child, you'll probably want to pick hikes that are as close to home as possible.

Sure, there might be an amazing hike two and a half hours away, but by the time they get there, the excitement of the day may well have worn off.

It would also be a major bummer if you had driven all of that way only to have to cut the trip short due to nasty blisters or bad weather that pops up during the hike.

8. Consider Their Interests
Just because you're hoping to spark a new interest doesn't mean that you have to pretend they don't have any others in the process.

Maybe your kid is fascinated by bugs and you can make finding as many insects as possible a key part of the hike. Or perhaps they like playing pretend and you can role play a fairy tale as you walk through the woods.

Whatever your child likes to do, weaving their interests into the hike can help them connect with the new activity.



What do you think?

We hope that you'll find our 8 tips for picking the right trail helpful, and we'd love to hear your thoughts on them as well. What things do you consider when selecting a trail to take your kids on? Did we leave something off that is worth mentioning? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.


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