Friday, 15 June 2012

Hiking with Kids: 7 Steps To Make Hiking Fun for Kids

This is boring. How much farther? Can we go back to the car?

When I first tried to introduce my two boys, then 5 and 10, to hiking, I heard those statements a lot. And let's be honest: walking through the trees, usually uphill, can be boring. I seldom hike on trails that don't get above the treeline, and the sooner those trails get into the alpine the better. When picking mountains or ridges to ascend, I look for ones that don't have long approaches through the trees. I'll drive for 1.75 hours to the Highwood Pass, home of Canada's highest highway, or 2.5 hours to the Icefields Parkway, both of which typically have shorter approach trails, to save a half hour or more of trudging through the trees.

Click here for kids hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and other areas of the Canadian Rockies. 

Climbing a big grey rock half up the trail to Sparrowhawk Tarns
So what can you do to make hiking fun for kids? Here are some suggestions:
On a big grey rock overlooking the Spray Lakes
  1. Make hiking fun by making hiking fun--Pick a destination with something fun to do, like climbing on boulders or throwing rocks in a lake. This weekend I'm leading a kids hike halfway up Burns Ridge in Kananaskis. Last weekend, while scrambling the ridge with adults I found fossilized clams in a bunch of boulders. With the kids, we'll hike to just above the treeline, drop our packs, and start fossil hunting.
  2. Don't call it hiking--Once you've picked your destination, say a boulder field they can play around on, tell them you're going to play around on some big rocks. Or that it's a fossil hunting expedition, not a hike halfway up a ridge.
  3. Go at the kids' pace--Let them mosey, dawdle and do what kids do. If they stop to look at a rotting log, let them. Nothing will turn them against hiking like continually pushing them to go faster or stop taking so many stops.
  4. Take an interest in the things they take an interest in--Say the words "Wow," "Cool" and "Neat" a lot when they point stuff out. You want them to engage in your love of the great outdoors, the least you can do is engage in their curiosity and encourage their sense of wonder.
  5. Take other kids with you--This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give you. It was a hard learned lesson, no matter how simple or how obvious it now seems. I've seen kids go from "I'm tired. I can't go any further" a mere five minutes from the parking lot, to running down the trail with a new-found friend within 10 seconds of meeting each other. I lead kid's hikes for the Calgary Outdoor Recreation Association, so I have a constant supply of hiking buddies for my kids. If you aren't up to leading group hikes, join a group that has kid's hikes or bring one or two of your kids' friends.
  6. Go for ice cream--I call it the post-hike bribe, and in the beginning it was one of the main attractions for my kids. They knew that if they humored me and made it to wherever I said we were going, we'd stop for an ice cream cone on the way home. Now that they have the mountain bug, they still want the ice cream but it's not the end of the world if we don't have time.
  7. Stay off their backs--Kids get cuts and scrapes and bruises. It's in their job description. At least it used to be. These days, us parents seem to spend more time worrying about keeping our kids safe than in teaching them how to be safe. Part of learning how not to get cuts and scrapes and bruises is getting them. So let them. Try not to tell them how to do everything, or to be careful of this or to watch our for that. Unless what they're doing could end in tragedy, let them do their thing and be kids. Nothing is more fun than that feeling of being free to have fun. If your kids come away from the mountains having felt that, I guarantee they'll want to keep going back.

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