Happy hiking for the whole bunch
Author: Jeff Alt

With school back in session, kids are spending more sedentary time inside, in the classroom and at home on the computer. As much as kids need a good education, they also need movement, play and time outdoors. A fall hike with Mother Nature might be the perfect remedy. The bugs are gone, the temperatures are cooler, the air is clean and fall is one of the best seasons to be outside in the parks. Why not take one of those glorious long weekends and travel to another location for a trek with the family? Here’s how to make your fall hike with kids fun!

1. Before you go
Make your trail and camping reservations early. Fall is one of the busiest times of year for many parks, and some limit the number of hikers at shelters, campsites and on trails.
Fall is an unpredictable time of year. If you’re traveling far, mountainous regions may already have snow at the higher elevations and cold wet rain or sleet can take the fun out of your hike. Check with the park rangers and the park website for trail conditions. Dress for the weather! Be flexible in your plans to keep everyone safe.
Psych the kids up with pictures, videos and highlights of what they’ll see. Use books, magazines, maps and the Internet, especially park websites and videos, showing the wildlife and environment.

2. Pack the right stuff
Take this checklist when shopping so you’re sure to get all the bases covered:
• Bring clothing for cool, wet, extreme conditions, depending on where you’re headed. You might need non-cotton synthetic, wool and fleece clothes and it’s always good to dress in layers. Multipurpose clothes like pants that zip off into shorts or shirts with roll-up sleeves are helpful. Pack a waterproof, breathable rain parka. Consider if you’ll need a fleece hat and gloves or a hat with a wide brim for sun protection. Don’t forget to wear orange if you’re hiking outside national park boundaries and may encounter hunters; consider brushing up on the local hunting season.
• Make sure the kids are wearing trail shoes or boots with a sturdy sole. A Vibram sole with a waterproof breathable liner is great. Wear non-cotton, moisture wicking, synthetic or wool socks.
• Get age- and size-appropriate backpacks that fit each hiker comfortably – one with hydration hose capability is helpful.
• Take a hydration hose system for your pack or take along bottled water. Disinfect wild water using portable treatment water systems such as a UV wand or micro-straining filter.
• Bring a smart phone so you can take lots of pictures and check in with family back home. Carry a GPS unit to keep you located on the trail and for geocaching.
• Sunscreen, a first aid kit, a compass and map, matches and a lighter, a whistle and a signal mirror, survival knife with a locking blade, a headlamp, flashlight, extra batteries, 50 feet of rope or twine and duct tape are important extras to throw in your backpack.
• Pack your kids’ favorite snacks and bring plenty of water. Stop often for a drink and a bite to eat.

Pack along a stove and serve up some hot cocoa on the trail. Be sure to pack along the s’mores kit for evening time around the fire.
• Let young children fill their adventure pack with a magnifying glass, binoculars, a camera, a map and compass, whistle or flashlight. Let your little adventurer take ownership and pack a few items of his own, even if they’re not hiking-related.

3. Make it fun!
• Let the kids lead! Hike at your child’s pace and distance. Whatever interests your child, stop and explore that bug, leaf or rock with him. Describe the animals, rocks, trees and flowers. Getting to the destination is less important than making sure your kids have so much fun they will want to go hiking again and again.
• Ergonomically-designed baby carriers make it easy and fun to carry your infant or toddler with you wherever you hike. Start with a walk to your favorite park or lake. Bring a friend. Stop often and let your little one explore. Make your hike a routine your kids will look forward to enjoying.
• Play “I Spy” using your surroundings as you walk along. Create your own scavenger hunt in search of animals, plants and views along the way. Make up rhymes and sing songs as you walk. Pack along a plant and animal identification guide for your older child. Intrigue your computer savvy child with the high-tech hiking gadgets like GPS, headlamp flashlights and pedometers. Use your GPS and take your kids on a geocaching adventure.
• Utilize and enjoy the amazing services and resources offered by your parks, trail and recreational systems and associations. This will help ensure that the experience is enjoyable, memorable and even life-changing.

Jeff Alt is a travelling speaker, hiking expert and author. He has been hiking with his kids since they were infants.


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