There’s so much we can teach our children in the great outdoors, from how to follow trail markers to what a woodpecker sounds like hammering away in the forest. But what are some things we need to make sure we know in order to keep our family safe? Below are some key bits of knowledge every parent should know about plants and animals when taking everyone out for a hike.
Tree Branches are Not Handrails. They’re also not revolving doors, so it’s best to keep hands off. When unsure of your footing, relying on a branch to keep you steady is never a good idea. They can easily break and may also have something on them (think ants or poisonous plants) that will cause you to become even more unsteady. When a branch is low-hanging or blocking the trail, proceed with caution and take care not to push it out of your way to only wack the person behind you. Don’t forget that children in back carriers are often a bit higher, so make sure the trail is clear and safe for them as well.
Berries are a No-No. While there are some wild berries that are safe to eat, never make an assumption that because a berry looks like something you’ve had before, it’s safe. To keep everyone’s digestive tract on track, the best thing to eat while hiking are only those snacks you bring yourself.
“Leaves of Three, Let it Be.” If you see three leaves on a single stem, it’s best to stay away. This is a common outdoor saying to remind people about poisonous plants like poison ivy and poison oak. However, there are also other plants you and your family should avoid. Instead of becoming a botanist, it’s best to simply put in place the “look-but-not-touch” rule.
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! While wild animals are often a concern of new hikers, our clawed furry friends are even more interested than you in keeping some distance. Check out a park’s website (or literature at a welcome desk/gate/trailhead) for animals common to the area and what you can do to keep safe. Something families are often already doing – making lots of noise – is a great way to avoid surprising animals. One of the most important things you can do is travel as a pack. Particularly with small children, it’s best to stick together and never let anyone fall behind or get too far ahead.
Snakes. Like other creatures in nature, snakes just want people to leave them alone. They’re typically not aggressive unless directly threatened (deliberately or by accident). To avoid accidentally disturbing a snake, don’t step where you can’t see, look around when sitting down, and exercise caution when picking up anything off the ground. Snakes love to sunbathe, often in the middle of a trail, so being alert and observant to what’s ahead can often help to avoid trouble.
Mosquitos and Ticks. While not plants or animals, mosquitos and ticks are far more common of a headache when hiking. Be sure to have on repellent and avoid wearing attractive scents like perfume or cologne. Sounds like common sense, but it’s easy to forget you put on perfume yesterday… and then put off that shower for after today’s hike. Keeping exposed skin to a minimum can also help (lightweight long sleeves and pants, as well as non-ankle socks). After the hike, do a full body tick check on everyone. For children, make sure to check in any little fold (backs of knees, belly button, under arms) that would be a cozy hiding place for the pest.
Now that you know all of the above, what you teach your family can be as simple as the following: stick to the middle of the trail, look-but-not-touch, and pay attention. After all, the whole reason we’re all out hiking is to spend time together and observe nature. Keeping these things in mind can help keep everyone safe, happy, and motivated to go on the next hike!
Felicia Kemp is a wife, mother of two boys, lawyer, travel lover, foodie, and family blogger who recently started a hiking blog, Family Trail Time: A Mama’s Hiking Guide, after friends started using her family blog as a hiking resource. She is a member of Hike It Baby Sacramento and will be a regular Hike it Baby blog contributor so look out for her pieces!