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 showing off her brilliant foliage colors 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.
Jeff Alt, author of Get Your Kids Hiking (Beaufort Books publishers, 2013), offers great advice about how to make sure you and the kids have a great time outdoors this fall:
Before You Go
Plan Ahead: Make your backcountry trail and camping reservations early. Fall is one of the busiest times of year for many parks and some parks limit the number of hikers at shelters, campsites and on trails.
Check the Weather: Fall is an unpredictable time of year. 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.
Count Down to the Adventure: Psych the kids up with pictures, videos, and highlights of what they will see. Use books, magazines, maps and the Internet, especially park websites and videos showing the spectacular wildlife and location they will see.
Pack the Right Stuff
• Clothing: Bring clothing for cool, wet extreme conditions. Wear non-cotton synthetic, wool and fleece clothes and dress in layers. Wear multipurpose clothes like pants that zip off into shorts or shirts with role up sleeves. Pack a waterproof breathable rain parka. Pack fleece hat and gloves or a hat with a wide brim for sun protection. If you’re hiking outside National Park Boundaries, pack along some orange clothing and brush up on the local hunting season.
• Footwear: Make sure the kids are wearing trail shoes or boots with a sturdy sole. A Vibram sole with a waterproof breathable liner is preferred. Wear non-cotton, moisture wicking, synthetic or wool socks.
• Packs: Get age and size appropriate backpacks that fit each hiker comfortably with hydration hose capability.
• Trekking Poles: Get a pair of adjustable, collapsible poles with an ergonomically designed handle for each person.
• Fresh, Clean Water: You can get a hydration hose system for your pack or just use bottles. Disinfect wild water using hi-tech portable treatment water systems such as a UV wand or micro-straining filter.
• Communication: Bring a smart phone so you can take lots of pictures and if there’s connectivity, email to family or upload to your online blog or Facebook page. Carry a GPS unit to keep you located on the trail and for geocaching.
• Snacks and Water: Hand out needed extra energy and water as needed on the trail. Pack their favorite snacks and bring plenty of water. Stop often for a drink and a snack. 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.
• Pack Fun Items: Let young children fill their adventure pack with a magnifying glass, binoculars, a camera, a map and compass, whistle or flashlight.
• Other Must Haves: Pediatrician recommended suntan lotion. First aid kit that accommodates the whole group and first aid knowledge to go along with the kit. Bring a compass and map and brush up on how to use them. Learn how to make a shelter to keep you warm and dry. Keep matches and a lighter in a dry place and know how to make a fire to keep warm. Carry a whistle and a signal mirror in case you get lost. Pack a survival knife with a locking blade. Bring a headlamp flashlight, extra batteries, 50 feet of rope or twine and always have several feet of duct tape for that unexpected repair.
On the Trail
Let the Kids Lead: Hike at your child’s pace and distance. Whatever your child takes interest in, stop and explore that bug, leaf or rock with them. Tell them about 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 again and again.
Start at a Young Age: Ergonomically designed baby carriers make it easy and fun to carry your infant and toddler with you wherever you hike. Walk to your favorite park or beach. Bring a friend. Stop often and let your little one explore. Make your hike a routine your kids will look forward to.
Play Games and Bring a Friend: 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. Let your social butterfly bring a friend, with parental permission. 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.
Take Advantage of Park Activities and Guided Nature Experiences: Utilize and enjoy the amazing services and resources offered by our parks, trail and recreational system and associations. This will help ensure that the experience is enjoyable, memorable and even life-changing.
Written by Jeff Alt. More information is available at www.JeffAlt.com. Photos courtesy of John Mitchell.