One of the best ways to make sure that no child is left indoors is by making hiking your family’s past-time. I can tell you that, based on four decades of experience from being a Scouting leader, kids love to hike.
It’s a fact that hiking with your kids is a really great way to get them connected to the outdoors. By starting at a young age, you can plant the “seeds” for a life-long activity that will bring to them great experiences, many chances to meet wonderful people and a very healthy level of physical activity (for both you and them).
But I also know that the thought of hitting the trails can be intimidating for the parent or other adult hike planner. But you should get over this because your children will learn to appreciate and enjoy nature while hiking. They will also likely figure out that they are the future generation that will, one day, have the responsibility for preserving and conserving the great outdoors. The good folks at The Wilderness Society have developed an easy-to-follow, 10-step plan to make sure that your upcoming hikes go smoothly and will help keep you on your kids’ good side:
1. Keep it easy and feature-friendly. When first starting out make sure that the hikes that you select aren’t too long or too strenuous. Picking a trail that has some features, such as a lake, stream, waterfall or some other feature will keep kids occupied and give them a goal to reach.
2. Time is your friend. Kids are natural explorers. They seem to want to pick up and touch everything. Try to give them as much time and as many opportunities to explore their backcountry world.
3. Be prepared. Don’t overdo it — otherwise you’ll need a pack mule. But a little preparation such as a small first aid kit, binoculars, camera, field guide and maybe even a magnifying glass for really up-close investigations will make the hike even more fun.
4. Dress for the weather. Layers, layers, layers are the way to go. A light rain jacket that can be easily packed is always welcome when the “liquid sunshine” comes down. Choose shoes based on the terrain that you’ll be hiking. Throw some extra shoes in the car. Based on my experience, there’s a 100 percent chance that your kids shoes will get wet while hiking.
5. Stop often. Hiking requires a lot of energy. While stopped you can parcel out a high-energy snack such as trail mix. Insist that the kids (and you) drink plenty of water.
6. Share leadership. The woods will provide many “teachable moments.” Kids (and just everybody else) love feeling like they are in charge. Rotate the hike leader. By letting the children lead the hike they will feel empowered. They will also learn valuable lessons while keeping a look out for trail markings and they will learn the great life-skill of looking out for their fellow human beings.
7. Have fun. Play trail games by looking for signs of wildlife such scat, bird holes in trees, fur or maybe count all of the wildflower species that you see. Organize a scavenger hunt where each person in your hiking party tries to find things are bumpy, smelly, small, big, living, wet and on and on as you hike along.
8. Be positive. Hiking up mountains is hard work. You can reinforce the good work that the kids are doing with a word of encouragement. Chances are, this will help you out, as well, as you huff and puff over hill and dale.
9. Leave No Trace. Our children are the future stewards of our public lands. Please take the time to teach them simple trail etiquette, such as: pack it in, pack it out, leave what you find, leave it better than you found it and basic back-country hygiene. For more information on Leave No Trace, please visit www.lnt.org.
10. Hike often. It’s a wonderful family tradition. One or two hikes a month would be a great goal. Kids love the sense of adventure and doing something new and different.
If this list has raised your level of pre-hike anxiety rather than alleviating your concerns, I have another idea. Why not go hiking with folks who really know what they’re doing? I just received a list of upcoming hikes from Paul Shaw, who is the outings guru for the local Sierra Club. Paul and his crew of hike leaders are real “mountain top” folks and they will do their best to insure that you and your family have great trail experiences. Here’s a list of just a few of the upcoming hikes that are being offered:
n Saturday, March 23: Switchback Railroad, Carbon County, 11 miles, moderate to strenuous. Hiking the environs of Jim Thorpe for a loop hike primarily on grades associated with the historic Mauch Chunk ‘gravity railroad’ system.
n Saturday, March 30: Loyalsock Trail, Sullivan County, 6.5 miles, easy to moderate. The hike goes from Sones Pond to Route 220 via the Haystacks.
n Sunday, April 7: Black Forest Trail, Lycoming County, 7 miles, moderate. This is a plateau-area hike from Pine Creek to the Susquehanna.
n Saturday, April 13: Tiadaghton State Forest, Lycoming County, 12.3 miles, strenuous to very strenuous. This hike incorporates parts of the Golden Eagle Trail and the Pine Creek Rail Trail and features seven excellent vistas.
n Sunday, April 14: Little Buffalo State Park, Perry County, 8 miles, moderate. This is a beautiful circuit hike around Holman Lake.
There are dozens more local hikes that are planned through the whole summer. To learn more about the Sierra Club’s local Otzinachson Chapter and their great outings program, please feel free to give Paul a call at 717-215-8339 or drop him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get more information at www.facebook.com/Otzinachson.
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