Hiking with Kids: Tip 1

Hiking with Kids Tip 1

When it comes to outdoor adventure, being single is glorious. You hit the road at sunrise, fire up Taylor Swift at top volume, pull into a coffee shop for chocolate donuts and a latte, and bam, before you know it, you're at the trailhead stretching those calves and making sure your bandana looks just right. You're a beast on the trail, passing people with a little nod and half smile, and without even so much as a rest break, you're at the summit for a few instagrams and then back down to your car and the city for a giant plate of nachos and a pint of beer before the clock strikes noon. 

Like we said, glorious. 

Things change considerably when you have kids. Outdoor adventures start to look a little...different. One day you wake up and realize you've traded in those sublime summits for bucket swingsets and your solid-shank boots for a double-wide sport stroller. Let's face it: the glory days are over. 

Zach, Ada, and Henry at the trailhead

Not true! Sure, hiking with kids can be a challenge, but we've learned that by following the advice and wisdom from all those brave parents who have gone before us, it is possible to have a successful outdoor adventure that's actually fun. In our first installment of Hiking with Kids, Tmber co-founder Nina Franey dishes out a few essentials that you need to know before you go.

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In her own words:

We had a baby this past February, rounding out our brood to an 8-year-old, 6-year-old…and a newborn.  Being the Tmber evangelist I am, I went into this past summer feeling like it was time to start ‘hiking the hike’, so to speak, as a family. Our family hikes post-kids had largely consisted of glorified urban walks – great in their own right – but not exactly the great outdoors I wanted our kids to know and love.

Nina with Eli at Franklin Falls

Thus, we began a weekly tour-de-force of the mountains and trails (just practically) out our backdoor. Every Monday, rain or shine, we piled into the car and hit the trail in a ritual we called Hiking Monday. Along the way, I learned a few things – little gems here and there that I wish I had known in advance. And so, if you are feeling the tug to get out and explore with the little people in your life, then you are in luck, as today these gems become yours to have and hold too.

Essential #1: Choose your trail wisely

Taking the time to do your research in advance pays big dividends. Proximity (a.k.a the duration of time your kids will be strapped in their carseats before reaching the trailhead), trail length, and destination are all critical factors in choosing a hike. Tmber (shameless plug here) makes this easy for you – you can pick your region, select ‘family-friendly’, and voila, a plethora of hikes are yours for the choosing.

 Another great resource is Joan Burton's guide book, Best Hikes with Kids. The book is full of great hiking trails and advice, and we used it often this past summer. 

Joan Burton and Tmber are two fantastic resources for hiking with kids

Here’s my two cents: a reasonable length (a couple of miles) and a great destination will guarantee success, especially the first time out (and believe me, you want success, or your first trail will also be laid to rest as your last trail). On our first hike, my kids worked hard, but the stunning waterfall at the end of the trail wowed them big time, making every switchback worth it.  

Essential #2: Motivate, at all costs

Per Joan Burton, I came armed with treats, which I doled out at rest points along the way to blatantly bribe tired little legs. M&m's, Skittles, and Lifesavers all work great for treats. 

M&m's make a great motivator

What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was how much verbal excitement I’d have to dole out too. I found myself transformed into a motivational speaker, encouraging the kids at every juncture, from the car ride to our turn-around point – and back again. Remaining positive, even if it meant masking my own tiredness, was key to keeping morale high.

If your kids are anything like mine, they will inevitably tire, or get bored, or feel frustrated. That’s when the evangelizing begins – directing their attention to the natural world around them or distracting them with stories and jokes will keep legs moving forward and spirits happy.

Happy hikers at Denny Creek near Seattle

You may find that having a theme song or two can be helpful.  We had our choice pre-funk music (think Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam) cranked up in the car on the way to the trailhead, as well as a few camp-songs-turned-trail-songs we liked to belt out along the trail.

Thanks to a little research in advance, m&m’s, and a whole lot of praise, our first hike was followed by many more great and memorable days together out on the trail. 

Looking for some more tips? Check out Nina's second installment on Hiking with Kids here.