When I think back on the first few years that I spent with my husband, an image that always comes to mind is hiking a mountain trail. In fact, T and I hiked and camped throughout our entire courtship (I was a cheap date), culminating with a marriage proposal atop a New Hampshire mountain many years ago. Back then, it was me, T and our beloved first baby — the 4 legged kind. The three of us covered a lot of ground back in the day.
Then we had kids. Everything changed. Serious hiking became a thing of the past other than the couple of times we strapped a baby to our backs (more accurately, T’s back) and did a few small hikes here or there.
Fast forward a couple of years and we started to take the boys on short hikes. No doubt, with a three year old, we still carried the ergo and let him get on daddy’s back for frequent piggy back rides, but even when our boys were as young as five and three, we realized quickly that we were (thank heavens) raising hikers.
These boys were pretty amazing on the mountain — finding creatures, discovering nature, learning about rocks and trees (all from their father, mind you; not mommy’s expertise). And, with no distractions, it became a special time when the four of us could talk to each other, sing and laugh. Now that my little one is five, we have moved up to more serious inclines, where the boys can scramble and do some real climbing. (If Grandma saw some of the inclines, she’d be less than pleased). This past week’s hike less than 2 hours from Brooklyn produced the lovely family photos displayed above and below.
Of course, with kids, its not all fun and laughing. There’s whining. There’s “my legs hurt.” There’s “I’m hungry.” There’s (my all time favorite) “I have to poop.” But even with the more than frequent rest-stops and snack-stops, hiking as a family is always a fun and meaningful adventure.
Do you want to raise a hiker? Here are 10 tips in no particular order:
- Start em’ young. Even if you have to wear baby for a few years, get them used to the experience.
- Make walking everywhere the norm. As soon as my little guy turned 4, his ass never touched the stroller again (the stroller then became a means to lug groceries). If you want your kids to walk a lot, and get used to walking a lot, then walk. A lot.
- Especially when they are young, hike with friends. The same kid who might whine up a mountain for 45 minutes when alone with mom and dad might very well race up that same mountain if a friend of his is hiking alongside him.
- Treats. Of course, bring tons of healthful and nourishing snacks, but it also helps to have a special treat for reaching the top or for after lunch — some reward for all the hard work. One time, I went so far as to call the trail the “gummy bear trail” (they were organic!) — and every few trees, I’d race ahead and “find” a gummy bear hidden behind the tree. My older son at the time was of course wise to my scheme, but it worked nonetheless.
- Get them involved. Show them the trail on the map and let them read it along the way. Let them help prepare snacks and water bottles. Let them be the leaders on the trail. Let them take pictures.
- Bring more water than you think you should bring.
- Play games and tell stories on the trail. ”Who can spot the most creatures” and “who can find the trail blaze” are two of our favorites.
- Good shoes. I’m not saying you need to go out and buy hiking shoes for your four year old (though if you’re hiking regularly, I think its a great idea) but, please, no crocs up that mountain.
- Safety first. No running on the trail. And make sure you go slowly on the way down. Over eager hikers have been known to tumble as the end approaches. Take your time.
- Take frequent rest stops, and enjoy the moment.