Enjoying the great outdoors is one of America’s favorite summer activities, and the mountains are a perfect way to see a new place while getting in some exercise. There’s just something about being in the wide open, surrounded by trees and wildlife, exploring new territory that brings campers and hikers alike to parks and mountains around the country. Whether you are planning a week- long vacation or a short day hike, consider these tips when taking kids to the mountains.
Invariably, when I ask my kids “Who wants to go on a hike?” not one of them raises their hand or screams “Yes! I do!” That makes it a bit harder to get the little people onboard with mountain hiking, but I’m not going to give up that easily. The best approach I have found is to start small with walks around your neighborhood, then a nearby trail or walking path when they are ready to lengthen their stride. A great activity to try out when you start your walks is to play some games like I Spy, collecting rocks and twigs, and my personal favorite…counting steps- ages 3-6 love this. Children, in general, do not like the idea of walking without a purpose, so the best way to keep them entertained and involved is by making it fun. My advice is to start with an hour hike, then move to a flat mile or two hike, then do hikes that might be a little more steep. Don’t expect kids to want to hike steep trails at first. That can be very overwhelming for those little legs.
~Backpack Energy Bites are Perfect for Mountain Hiking~
When hiking with children, one of the biggest keys to success is to bring snacks- lots of snacks. Just when you think you have packed enough snacks, pack more. Trust me on this one; it will help keep them motivated and their little bodies need more sustainment than adults, roughly around 30% more calories. Here is a list of the things I like to bring when hiking:
· Granola bars, peanuts, yogurt covered raisins, trail mix, applesauce pouches, cut up fruit such as apples and oranges, fun size candy bars (great motivator), lightweight chips such as White Cheddar Cheetos, protein bars, dried apricots, peanut butter crackers and licorice bites
Also if you are in a high altitude-we hike at about 8500 ft- hydration is vital. In higher altitudes there is less oxygen in the air which makes breathing a little more difficult, therefore your body is working harder than it would at sea level. Make sure to bring plenty of water and electrolytes to keep everyone hydrated.
Preparation is Key
Are you new to the great outdoors? I have to be honest; I’m not an outdoorsy girl. I literally hate to camp. I would probably rather give birth sans drugs than camp. That might be a little dramatic, but you get the hint. However, once we started taking our kids to the mountains, we found that knowing what we were going to do and where we were going to go, made our trip so much easier. Don’t know where to start? Ask some local folks where some short, scenic hikes are located. Maybe find ones with something cool at the end like a waterfall, lookout point, caves, or even a big letter on the mountain. Let the kids invite a friend and then it magically becomes a little more fun. Also, if you can involve them in the planning and preparation, they will know what to expect. My kids love to come with me to the store to pick snacks or help me mix up a batch of granola bars.
Bringing Along Toddlers
Since my kids’ ages span 9 years, I find myself thinking of things that everyone can do. It usually ends up that my two year old gets packed along to do everything the big kids get to do, hiking not being an exception. I’ve actually found that she enjoys it more than my 11 year old sometimes. What is the key to our success? Hiking backpack! Seriously, Life Saver! I have been on many hikes with friends who insist that their toddler can walk the whole way. RED FLAG! RED FLAG! Until the age of 4, don’t expect your cute little babe to be able to hike for longer than 20-25 minutes. I have seen enough shoulder carries and piggyback rides to know that in the end, the parent will be the one who suffers. Just bring the backpack.
Enjoying the Wildlife
I live near the Wasatch Mountain range in Utah and have seen deer, moose, elk, wild turkeys, badgers, goats, and an array of little critters. When people come to visit, we often take them on hikes. Visitors are always worried about bear and other large animals-moose can be pretty intimidating. Here are a few simple rules to keep you safe while hiking:
· Make noise! Animals do not like to be snuck up on. Laugh, sing, wear a bell, if they know you are coming, they will find somewhere else to go. Your noise scares them into running away
· Stay on the designated trail. Going off the trail will lead you into their territory.
· Try to not hike before dawn or after dusk. Many animals are out and about at those times usually because it is cooler and quieter.
· Do not get in between mama and baby…like, ever. If you see a mama with some little ones you just turn and head the opposite way, I don’t even suggest turning around to look, just leave and go in a different direction.
· Do not feed the wildlife, even critters. Chances are they shouldn’t be eating it and you might make an unwelcome friend. Seagulls at the beach anyone?
Wildlife watching can be a safe and exciting activity, just make sure to do it at a safe distance and with common sense. The only thing I like to shoot with is my camera! Pictures are a great way to capture your hiking experiences. No go out there and have some fun!