We bought a camper last year, and have been doing more hiking at home, and away. We were going to a beautiful park with a fabulous hiking trail, but my kids just weren’t into it. So, we took them to another park, with a lake and bridges and hiked a trail. Again, lovely. But both girls complained they were tired, and bored. How can they be bored? The trails we took them to were interesting, serene and relaxing. We discovered it’s the serene and relaxing which bores them – – they want excitement. They want to climb on big boulders, jump over creeks, and scale the sides of mountains. Who knew a harder hike is what they were after. My friend Scott, who is an avid hiker, did tell me that kids need a reward for all that hiking – – like a waterfall or some kind of ta-da! He was right.
One weekend, my family was walking around a lake, and there were giant boulders. Both girls were so excited, climbing up rocks, and trying to maneuver up and down. Katelyn cited that “hike” as her favorite thing about the weekend. So, my husband and I decided to find a more challenging hike, and oh boy, did we. You know when the gift shop has a t-shirt bragging about completing a certain hike, it’s a doozy.
We climbed Sharp Top Mountain, at Peaks of Otter, Virginia. We actually lived about 30 minutes from there for several years, but didn’t think about hiking. They have other hikes available, one with a waterfall, and one which leads to an orchard with historical re-enactments I’m told. We wanted to go for the gold though — we were going to climb all the way up Sharp Top.
During the hike, to my utter amazement, Anna and Katelyn were running ahead of us, and when I say running, this isn’t flat, level ground. The whole way was up, up, up, and up some more. Keep in mind, these girls are usually complaining during our other hikes, – – our relatively flat, even hikes. They were excited about climbing the rocks, and listening to the stream flowing underneath the stones we were walking on. There were wildflowers, cliffs we had to watch while walking, paths we had to shimmy down backwards, and the views – – they were breathtaking. I’m not an expert hiker, but I learned a lot from trial and error. Here are my tips for hiking as a family.
Kids live and die by snacks, at least mine do. I’ve only seen my dog be more excited by the promise of a snack. Pack something light, and healthy. Make granola bars together in anticipation of your hike, and pack those. String cheese, trail mix, or nuts are also good choices. Obviously bring water or a sports drink. Tell your kids when you hit a certain point, you can stop and have a snack together while enjoying the views. Halfway point is good for the first one, and another one at the top or end.
Bring an extra pair of socks in case feet get wet, especially if you are hiking in chilly weather. In fact, if you are hiking in cold weather, maybe wear foot warmers. I have terrible circulation in my toes, and lose feeling in them quickly, so this is something I would wear on a lengthy hike in cold weather.
Buy your children a hiking backpack
No, their heavy school backpack won’t do. Kids need a light, hiking backpack so they can carry their own water, socks, snacks, and sweater if needed.
I never would have thought of tissues, but we were sniffling a lot while hiking, and I heard others lament their lack of tissues as well. I don’t know if it’s the altitude change, or what, but bring tissues.
Consider a walking stick
You should know, hiking downwards is much harder than climbing up. And, it’s hard on your toes. A hiking stick will give you balance.
Choose an exciting hike
Like I stated above, choose a hike that seems like an adventure, not a bird watching tour. Find out about the hike, and talk to your kids about it. We use You Tube to look up hikes others have recorded, and watch it together.
Hiking is great exercise, and a bonding experience. This year there is a program called Every Kid in a Park, where 4th graders and their families get in parks for free! If you don’t have a 4th grader, it’s not expensive to enter most parks, so gear up and get hiking!