A few weeks ago our 4 year-old avid hiker said to me, “I don’t think I like hiking. It’s just walking a long, long time.” My jaw dropped. He LOVES hiking. When my husband and I discussed it, we came to the realization that maybe we’ve been pushing him a bit too much on our recent hikes. For our next two hikes we selected what we would call “nature walks.” While it may be just a walk for grown-up hikers, it’s still a hike for someone under 4 feet tall! Especially for families just entering the hiking realm, it’s important to find a first hike that is extremely family-friendly in order to foster the love of hiking and the outdoors.
To find a family-friendly first hike in your area, look for a hike that:
· Has little to no elevation changes.
· Has limited direct sun exposure.
· Is less than three miles.
· Is paved and handicap accessible (there are usually a few of these at every national park, and make for great first hikes).
· Has nearby bathrooms (bonus if the bathrooms have changing tables).
· Plan to spend plenty of time on the trail, no matter the distance of the hike. Some of the best moments with children are the unexpected – stopping to watch a bug or noticing birds flying overhead when stopping for a snack.
· Make sure an adult can carry everything out that went in – including wiped out children. Hopefully it won’t get to the point any child is exhausted, but be prepared just in case!
· Read up online or at a Welcome Center when in a park. Plus, park rangers, staff, and volunteers have valuable insight that can make even the best hike more successful.
· Take a map! Even if it seems like a super easy hike, it’s always good to have a map.
· Check the weather and know the typical conditions of the area.
· Join your local Hike It Baby chapter! Your local chapter lead can easily answer any questions and hikes are always at the pace of the slowest hiker.
As with any hike, don’t forget to wear sunscreen, have on sturdy shoes, and carry plenty of water! Remember that hiking with children is all about the journey – not just the destination. Follow these tips, take your time, and enjoy!