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March 2010 cover image 12 Great State Park Walks

Skill Builder: The Family That Hikes Together

Tips on how to make a family hike fun for all.

By Bernadette Noll

In our now 12-plus years of parenting we have discovered that parenting outside is easier than parenting inside. When things start to get too crazy, our mantra is “go outside!” And sometimes that means us, the parents, as well.   

Outside, the noise level is definitely less of an issue. If there is food being eaten, there is no sweeping to be done, and cleaning up the table means merely brushing the crumbs off. Outside, there is no crowding, either — we can all find enough space.

For this reason, some of our best family outings are hikes. We have a few different regular hiking locations, all within different proximities to the house. One of the closer ones we call “church” for its grand climb to the top of a rocky hillside that feels very cathedral-like indeed. No matter where we go, though, there are a few essentials to keeping a family hike a friendly hike and making it pleasing for all.   

1. Start small. If you are just beginning your foray into _family hiking, be sure to start small. Take all your kids’ ages into consideration. Stay close to home. Set out on a short hike to ensure maximum happiness.

2. Bring snacks. If we are heading out on the trail with kids, no matter how far we are going, we always bring lots and lots of good snacks. High-protein snacks such as nuts are our staples. We like to pack fruit and something crunchy as well. In addition to the healthy snacks, we like to tuck away a little sweet treat for a reward at the end of a particularly arduous trail. It is not uncommon for one of us parents to call out a desired endpoint and announce the existence of the cookies/chocolate/lollipops hiding in our bag. “Let’s just get to the top of this steep hill and then we’ll pause and have a little treat,” has gotten us through the final steps to many a destination.

3. Allow time. No matter the distance or the location, allowing ourselves ample time to reach our destination is key. With four kids in tow, we need to leave a lot of time for looking at bugs, walking on logs, tiny footsteps and tired legs. In addition to a feeling of peace, we are amazed at what we see when we take the time to look at the trail through our children’s eyes. Our toddler will certainly see a lot more bugs than we will. Our tree climbers will see shapes and patterns and wildlife that we would never see from our vantage point. The luxury of time allows all of us to get what we need from a day on the trail.

4. B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Backpack). Parents often feel like Himalayan Sherpas, but as kids get older, there’s no need. Give each kid a small daypack with his or her own snack supply and water, and maybe a small sketchbook and pencil as well. Giving children some autonomy in this area provides them with a sense of ownership of the experience and lightens your load, too.

5. Go often. The more you go out on family hikes, the more you will want to continue the habit. And the more you hike, the more you will become willing and able hikers.

6. Turn off all electronics. This includes your phone. Who really needs to contact you anyway? Leave all other electronics behind as well — yours and the kids’. Turning off the electronics and tuning in to nature and each other will provide a family connection you’ve never experienced before.

Family hikes can truly be some of the most connected, contented times that families can spend together. Everyone is present and outside in the fresh air, experiencing the flora and fauna. What more can any family ask for?

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