Our family has always enjoyed hiking. Since the kids were toddlers, we took them exploring on trails and jumping in rivers, lakes, and streams all over Texas. As they’ve grown, the distances of our hikes have also grown. Over the last four years, we’ve chased popular trails all around the Western US, hiking through most of the National Parks. We even backpacked in the Sierra Nevadas for 3 nights, hiking about 8 miles each day.
There are so many benefits to hiking with your kids when they are small:
- Balance and coordination – Trails are not flat and predictable like sidewalks. While walking along trails is very natural for a kid, it’s not easy the first times if they’ve only walked on sidewalks. It takes another level of focus when hiking over roots, or *around* puddles or on rocks. I feel like it keeps both their minds and limbs sharp. Falling is never fun, but if they do, it’s best to just check their hands and scraped knees, compliment them, and send them on their way again. No biggie.
- Observation and appreciation – Kids naturally notice things. And nature affords countless opportunities to notice the intricacies and complexity of plants and animals. I loved it when our kids would pause to observe an insect or stop to listen for bird calls. It’s never a waste of time to take as long as a kid wants to really study something new on a trail.
- Inner Peace – I can’t say this without thinking of Kung Fu Panda! But get any hyperactive kid on a trail, and watch them gradually relax minute by minute. It’s fascinating for me to watch. The first few minutes are sometimes harried making sure you have everything you need for the hike and figuring out the way to go, but then……once everyone is in their groove, it’s like magic.You only have one task in front of you: walk. It makes everything in life simple. Your mind starts forgetting the silly distractions of regular life (for both adults and kids). And everyone just has to focus on each step in front of them, listening to the sounds of nature, and then, the best part, enjoying each other. There’s an inner peace that naturally occurs as you enter another world with trees and beauty and family/friends all around.
All that being said, hiking with tweens and teens is MUCH different! They have opinions. They have attitudes. They are unpredictable. They could have uber energy and want to blaze ahead independently or feel lazy and want to just lag behind moping. They have friends and other activities they’d usually prefer over a “boring walk” with family. They think they know what’s better.
But all those same benefits above are still why it’s just as important to take your older kids hiking, too!!! It’s just a little harder emotionally to make it all happen. But don’t let that stop you, parents! 😉
Our kids are now 15, 13, and 11. Over the last year, we hadn’t been pushing them as much to hike with us. Ultimately, we want them to choose it for themselves. They are always invited, but we’d rather not make it a “battle.” But yesterday was Mother’s Day, and I just wanted to do my favorite thing in the world (hike). Our kids were willing to oblige, so I took advantage of the gift.
While there was a slight bit of “hemming and hawing,” I just stayed upbeat and positive and patiently waited for them to just shed their subpar attitudes. One of my “tricks” is to make them go ahead of me. They get to lead and control the pace which always makes a difference. They get to notice things first like a beautiful waterfall or hoary marmot! We sometimes play games like “GOAT” or “I Spy” if they need it or I’ll mention something to look forward to at the end of the hike (like mochi ice cream from Whole Foods 🙂 ) Whatever works and helps them to embrace the hiking experience! Good snacks and plenty of water is always a must as well.
Yesterday, we hiked up about 1.4 miles to see Hanging Lake at the top of Glenwood Canyon. We walked up along a rushing stream which offered us countless waterfalls and photo opps. The evening sun was perfect for lighting and temperature. It really was gorgeous and serene.
And within 10-15 minutes I noticed that inner peace magic start to happen. We got lost in our thoughts and also appreciated the amazing scenery around us. We had great conversations about school and our summer ahead. And we just enjoyed each other, which is the best gift any parent could ask for. It will definitely be a memory to look back on as a family, and makes me so glad we made the effort to get them on trails with us!