Monday, May 12, 2014

Hiking with Munchkins - Taking Kids on the Trails

"Keep Movin' Nana"takes her granddaughter to Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah National Park

Trails and kids go together. There is something special about taking them on the trail that adds a whole different perspective to the adventure. For me as a hiker who is goal-oriented, I really needed a munchkin (as my hubby used to call the little ones) to help me see the bigger picture of the great outdoors. A butterfly on a bush and caterpillar crawling along the ground. That youthful joy when they race ahead to see the next great sight around the bend while you are still struggling to get there. Ah, to be young and full of curiosity! To be a child at heart. And it's good for the kids too, especially with the distraction of games on a tablet, cell phones, TV, etc. One needs to take their children outdoors to catch the big vision of the adventure and excitement the woods can provide.

That also means as a parent, getting ready to take their child exploring. One must prepare so it's a good experience for both you and them. We began our adventure when our son was very little, carrying him in a child carrier. Tough Travelers Kid carriers made the perfect carrier to keep him happy and us comfortable while we went on our trail adventures (there are other types out there too). We liked it as it had a place to put diapers and feeding supplies and also came with a sun shade and even foot stirrups when he was a toddler to rest his feet. 
Our son backpacks (literally) on Dad's back

As he got older, we began to take him on short day hikes carrying his little school backpack filled with some small supplies, mainly his plastic canteen with  water and some snacks (like Cheerios or raisins in a little plastic container). Of course those jaunts were very short trips filled with exploration, finding bugs, looking at a strange tree, or taking a trip to see a raging waterfall, which kids just love.

Eventually at age 10 we took him on his first weekend backpacking trip. We discovered a nice hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire on a trail to Franconia Falls. It was perfect, a little over two miles via fairly level terrain and great for the introductory hike. He had his little backpack this time, an external frame job that, I think, cost 50 cents at a yard sale.Not the best, but it served us for this jaunt. We went along the Lincoln Woods trail, found a campsite, then spent the afternoon sliding down the falls. On these kinds of trips we made sure we had kid friendly foods to eat, as food at the campsite is great fun. And had a fire to keep little ones interested (if campfires are permitted), along with the proverbial treat of s'mores (roasted marshmallows between graham crackers on a slab of Hershey's chocolate). As far as sleeping, our son did pretty good in tents, but occasionally would wake up in the middle of the night terrified, as he didn't know where he was. These little nightmares were eased with just some reassuring words. But usually he slept like a log, especially after a day of full activities.

Eventually this young boy we began in a baby carrier and did small backpacking trips with became a teen. He eventually went on the trip of all trips, completing a full hike of the Appalachian Trail at age 16 (turning 17 while in Maine). This he completed with me, his mother, on a trip that marked the highlight for both parent and child in the world of backpacking adventure.

Blissful and son Paul Bunyan completed a northbound of the Appalachian Trail n 2007

Looking back on it all, it did take planning for a little one in the woods. But the reward and patience in the  end will net an experience of a lifetime - for both them and for you.

Some resources for children and hiking are:  Hikes with Tykes - a Practical Guide to Hiking with Kids by Rob Bignell and Get Your Kids Hiking by Jeff Alt.

Also , check out young Buddy Backpacker who is now on his way to his second long distance hike on the PCT!

Last year he completed the entire Appalachian Trail at age 5! Pretty impressive.


Suzanne said...

I wish I would have started hiking when my children were younger. I took my youngest on her first hike 2 weeks ago..... surprisingly, she enjoyed it!

Lauralee Bliss said...

Nice thing is, they are never too old. Or too young. Ours went car camping at two weeks of age. :)

Chanda M. DeFoor said...

My husband and I have just started taking our two-year-old nephew on some trails. It's a tricky thing to keep his attention and not tire him out. I want him to LOVE it!