With inactivity among kids being such a common theme these days, introducing them to the great outdoors from an early age can only be a good thing. And a great way of doing this is through day hikes. Although day hikes can be challenging, there are plenty of family friendly routes available and there are trails that are well-suited for novices. But as you might expect, when you’re taking small children on a trail, it will involve some additional planning. So, if you’re considering a day hike with the kids, here are some must-read tips.
The two main things to think about when planning a day hike are the length of the route and the distance. From experience, you’ll no doubt realize that children are not known for their patience – or for their love of long journeys. So, to avoid boredom and bad moods before you get to your destination, pick a trail or location that doesn’t involve a long journey, or one that has plenty of stop off points along the way. And pick a trail that is suitable for all family members. This will usually be a shorter route that is suitable for all abilities.
Know Your Route
The next part involves some research. Pick a location that has plenty of points of interest. This might be waterfalls, wildlife, natural landscapes, wild flowers, unusual landmarks or anything that your kids aren’t likely to see in their everyday lives. Encourage your child to pack a notepad, journal, camera or sketch pad so they can create a record of what they see while giving everyone an opportunity to take a rest break. Encourage children to ask questions and make their own observations too.
Also, make sure that the route is child-friendly. Little legs will get tired easily and kids tend to struggle with steep slopes: check ahead of time that there isn’t too many slopes or too much elevation. And get some idea of what the ground is like under foot as your child might struggle on uneven terrains. If the trail isn’t too far away, it’s a good idea to test it out first to see if it's suitable for younger children, or refer to the website.
As well as taking a phone, first aid kit, good healthy food, and plenty of water, go beyond the mere basics. Insect repellent, sunscreen, sunglasses, lip balm and regular and emergency medications are just some of the items that are easy to forget if you’re in a hurry. If you’re going on a designated trail, consult the website for lists of essential items. Create a checklist and tick everything off the night before.
Being prepared also means wearing the right clothes. Select lightweight but insulating clothing that allows flexibility for all the family; this usually means going with a layering system. Also, check the materials are water resistant, non-irritating and comfortable for wearing against the skin – this should reduce some of the common complaints along the way.
Be prepared for any weather too. The weather doesn’t always do what the forecasters say. And conditions can vary quite dramatically between the start of the hike and the end of it.
Give Your Child Some Responsibility
Depending on how old your child is, give them at least some responsibility for the trip. This might be carrying their own bag, picking some of the food to take, or choosing their own socks and shoes (with some advice from a parent on suitability). This will help them to feel like they are more involved in the planning, and in the day hike itself.
Beware Of Common Dangers
Your child should be encouraged to explore, but they should also be aware of the common dangers, which can vary depending on the location your hiking in and the time of year. For instance, Portland, Oregon and Washington are all known for ticks, and some areas are more prone to snakes or bears. Ahead of your day hike, check for common dangers on your planned route, and ensure your child is aware of how to act should they encounter any of them.
A day hike can be fun for all the family – and an excellent introduction to an active life for kids. However, without planning, what starts as a great day out could soon end abruptly. But with some attention, including packing the essentials, the right gear and clothing, there’s no reason why a good day shouldn’t be had by everyone involved.
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