|This is where our hike should have ended, playing in this pond|
One - hike with friends who have children around the same age(s) as yoursGive a child a friend to hike with and you are essentially giving them a superman cape. They will hike faster, longer, in better spirits, and have more fun. I almost guarantee it! Almost, because nothing is really guaranteed when it comes to children. I've seen my three year old walk up to 4km with friends on trails that really weren't all that interesting at times and then I've seen him refuse to walk more than 1km on trails that I thought would be fun when he was alone.
|Our lone little hiker|
Two - choose interesting trails with a varied terrainI know that for my child, any hike we do has to have at least a couple of the following features:
- Boulders to scramble around and over
- A creek to throw rocks in, wade in, or cross on bridges and boardwalks
- Stairs (it adds a challenge to the hike and therefore makes it interesting)
- Short hills for running down or powering up (again for a challenge)
- Narrow, windy paths (big, wide cross country ski trails or fire roads would be the worst scenario for a hike with small kids.)
|This was as interesting as our hike got|
Three - plan for free playtimeKids of any age aren't going to go for a long hike without stopping to play and explore. Walking in and of itself is not an adventure. Hike to a creek that the children can play in. Take a short walk to a waterfall the kids can explore. Climb up to a big open meadow where the tots can run around. If your child has friends along, it's even better.
|A lovely hike but viewpoints are more interesting to adults than kids|
Four - know when to start and finish your hikeBad times to start a hike:
- Right as your child is entering that cranky time of day and should be napping
- In the heat of the day
- When your child is hungry (bananas offer very quick energy for hiking if you want to have a picnic lunch on the trail and just need a pre-hike snack)
- When Mom or Dad are in a bad mood, sick, or otherwise under the weather (let the parent who is less than cheerful stay home or relax in the grass by the car and maybe just do a shorter hike - it'll be worth it!)
As for knowing when to finish your hike - often the smartest thing you can do is recognize the hike is not going well, turn around and just go back to the car. Stop for ice cream on the way home and try again another day.
|This may have been a good spot to say goodbye to our friends, turn around, and head back|
Our hike last weekend was a failure on so many levels. We joined a group hike with no walking children even remotely close to my child's age and were quickly walking by ourselves. We chose a trail with no interesting features other than one pretty viewpoint which meant more to us than our son. There was no free playtime allotted on our walk, and we started right after lunch. This meant that our son had a full belly but was cranky and tired. He hadn't slept on the way out to the mountains and really just needed a nap. To further complicate things, Dad was feeling slightly under the weather and wasn't exactly in the mood to deal with multiple tantrums on the trail, screaming, wailing and general whining. Then again, is anybody ever in the mood to deal with that? I know I wasn't!
Lesson learned - follow my guidelines above and hopefully next time we go out, we'll look a little more like an experienced outdoor family and less like a family out on their first-ever day hike.