I bought a framed baby carrier backpack shortly after seeing my first baby’s’ heartbeat on the ultrasound screen. I had practically been raised on my parents back while they hiked and I wanted my kids to know the feeling of falling asleep to back-and-forth rocking while I hiked.
Soon enough the kids outgrew that backpack and started hiking alongside (or in front or behind) of my husband and I. Rain, sun, snow, wind or mud, my family hikes. Our hikes aren’t long, they aren’t always dramatic and they aren’t always happy, but I truly believe that walking together outside brings our family together in a special way.
What I’ve learned hiking with kids:
Always be prepared – preferably with snacks. Nothing will turn a happy hiking afternoon into a crying slog faster than realizing you are a mile or two away from snacks and water with a tired, hungry or thirsty kiddo. A granola bar given at just the right breaking point is better than birthday cake.
Don’t be afraid of weather. Some of our best hikes have been after we’ve asked ourselves “is it too cold/rainy/windy to hike?” Then we’ve put on our coats, hats, boots, and gloves and went out anyway. The trails are usually pretty empty and we’ve found that the weather wasn’t as bad as we worried it would be. Besides, once you start walking you usually warm up.
You may not get to the destination, so enjoy the journey. We’ve set out with a specific waterfall, overlook or point in mind only to be turned back by skinned knees, wet pants or the threat of overtired kids. Did we make it to every destination? Nope. Did we still enjoy the hikes? Yep. We threw rocks in every pond, raced sticks under every bridge, jumped off large rocks and walked the length of fallen trees. Hiking with kids is a temperamental business so I just try to enjoy the good moments.
Speed is for the freeway. I’ve christened my son “the world’s slowest hiker.” He is the youngest and the smallest in the family and his preferred speed is ‘unhurried.’ I’ve spent entire hikes trying to hurry him along, but that’s not fun for anyone. When I adjust myself to his pace I notice the things that he observes. I pay attention to bugs, wildflowers, birds and interesting rock formations. There are a time and place for hustle and bustle and the hiking trail doesn’t have to be one of them.
Walking together means talking together. We’ve had some of our best conversations while hiking. My kids love to hear me tell stories about what they were like as babies, my life when I was a kid, how I met their dad and other things that just don’t come up in our regular conversation. They also tell me stories. Sometimes the stories are from their imaginations, but sometimes it’s about experiences at school and with friends that I hadn’t heard before. We are more patient and open with each other without the distractions of home and screens.
Keep going! Some of our hikes are beautiful memory-making experiences where we sing, laugh and take pictures for Instagram. Some are just tantrums in the forest. We never let a bad hiking experience keep us from the next outing.
A few weeks ago my family hiked four miles along a river, pausing to let my children climb rocks and pose triumphantly at the top. We finished our hike just the right amount of tired, relaxed and satisfied. As we walked we spotted hawks, made up stories and made plans for an eight-mile-hike this summer. When I asked my kids if they thought that they could hike eight miles over the course of a day, with plenty of stops for food, they replied an enthusiastic “yes!” All of the wet, tired, crying hikes lead us to today, where we are confident that we can put one foot in front of the other, through the woods, and enjoy it together.