Hiking With Children

What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren?” ~ Robert Pyle

According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average 8-to-18-year-old spends approximately seven and a half hours a day on some type of media device. That is nearly 53 hours a week. Add school, sleep, and any extracurricular activities and there isn’t a whole lot of time remaining for other activities. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, coined the term nature-deficit disorder which refers to a recent trend that children are losing touch with nature and as a result, experiencing a wide range of behavioral problems.

So how do you get your child to develop an outdoor connection? Expose them to the great outdoors while they are young. Even a short hike along a creek, across a rocky hillside, or under a towering forest of trees will help lay a foundation to the great outdoors. These simple experiences can introduce a child to the real world of an ant struggling to carry a dead bug, a chipmunk scurrying about a downed tree looking for food, or a soaring raptor floating across the skyline. Wonder and excitement for a child is usually found through experiencing rather than in a textbook.

Here are a few suggestions to lay a strong foundation for a good hiking experience:

  1. Engage the Senses of the Child – Feel the textures of a tree, wildflower or rock. Smell wildflowers and the needles of different conifers. Stop and look at the various colors of lichen on a boulder. Listen to the different melodies of songbirds.
  2. Encourage Curiosity – If they become sidetracked by a bug, let them follow their passion.
  3. Bring a Disposable Camera – Let them take pictures of things that interest them.
  4. Develop Cognitive Thinking – If you come to a stream crossing, rather than tell them how to cross, see if they can figure out the best route.
  5. Spark Their Imagination – Make your hike a themed journey. Try stick collecting, stream hopping, rock hunting, or identifying wildflower shapes and colors.

Regarding safety, provide your child with a safety whistle. Insure that children drink water often, and eat plenty of snacks. Discuss what actions should be taken if they get lost. Probably, the most important aspect of hiking with children is to stay positive and be generous with praise. Let go of hiking goals regarding distances and times, children care much more about the experience rather than how many miles they hiked.

In the hiking recommendation section of the book, you will find a list of hikes that are excellent choices to do with children. The hikes were selected for their physical features such as meadows, creek banks, and rock outcroppings, which usually appeal to children. Some families find that kids are more alert on a trail that leads along a creek. Others report that challenging trails – climbing over downed trees or fording many creeks – keep their kids interested in hiking.

Read the narrative of the hike to see if it contains the features your family is looking for. A trail rated strenuous may be easy and full of interest for the first mile or two, making that section a good choice for families. Most children, depending on their age, can  comfortably hike 1 to 3 miles roundtrip along gentle terrain.