Blazing Trails: 5 Expert Tips to Get Kids Hiking

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Summer is quickly approaching and so is the perfect time of year for outdoor family adventures. Those of you used to climbing mountain peaks and heading out on multi-day backpacking adventures might be struggling to slow down the pace a bit now that you have little ones in tow. Still, making hikes fun and accessible to young kids now will pay off later when they are older and you are inching to conquer the Appalachian Trail. Here are some great tips from Bonnie Henderson, author of several hiking guides, including “Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon.”

Start Them Young
It’s never too early to take kids on a hike. Take little ones in backpacks and toddlers as soon as they can walk. Resist the urge to keep your early walker in the backpack the entire time on the trail: You can go farther, but children will get more out of the hike if they can experience it on the ground and set the pace. Make a point to take children between the ages of 4 and 6 out on the trail, before more passive activities (hello electronics!) take over their interests. By about 8, children in reasonable shape can go on pretty long hikes as long as they are motivated and interested. On that note …

Focus on the Journey, Not the Destination
It’s tempting for avid hikers to select long, steep trails that lead to a great goal — a panoramic mountain view, for example. But getting to the summit can be long and tiring for little ones – and for parents, dealing with reluctant little ones. Be sure to select hikes that are enjoyable along the way, or that have some sort of interesting feature – a waterfall, a creek crossing a decent vista – every half-mile or so.

Plan Accordingly
Hand-me-down shoes and sandals may be fine for around town, but children, just like adults, need well-fitting, sturdy shoes when hitting the trail. Wool socks are good idea if there’s a chance you might get wet or cold. It’s also a good idea to pack a rain jacket or a sweater in case the weather changes while on the trail. Make the hike a little special for kids by supplying them with some cool, new gear, like a special backpack stocked with snacks, a whistle that can be used in case the child becomes separated from the group and their own water bottle.

Make It Fun
The idea of rounding up kids, stocking a car full of gear and getting everyone on and off the trail before dark is enough to make even the most adventurous parent stay at home. That way it may be a bit easier on everyone to hike in a group. Bringing a friend along (for you and your kid) can make the experience more fun. Special snacks that aren’t offered often at home might be the carrot that gets your little ones to hop into the car.

Unplug and Tune In
Leave the electronics at home, or at the very least, allow them on the way to the trail but leave them in the car. Allowing kids to wear headphones on the trail robs them of the opportunity to fully experience nature – to take in the plant life, to hear the wildlife or the sound of a bubbling creek. Kids need and deserve time away from electronics.

A Great Portland Area Hike
Portlanders are lucky to live within driving distance of several beautiful and kid-friendly trails. Henderson recommends the waterfall hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. Try Latourell Falls, a 30-minute drive east of Portland on I-84. Take exit 28 at Bridal Veil, then drive about 3 miles west along the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway to the Guy. W. Talbot State Park.

— Tamara Miller

First photo credit: Tamara Miller; second photo credit: Creative Commons