Tips for happy hiking with young kids

  • Mon Jun 11th, 2012 4:47pm
  • Life

By Jackson Holtz, Herald Writer

When Joan Burton was 8, her father took her and her younger sister on a hike, climbing about 2,000 feet to Melakwa Lake in the Cascade Mountains.

“My father praised us to the skies,” the 77-year-old writer said. “All these years later I remember thinking, ‘I can do this.’ He said so.”

The hike transformed Burton, who went on to write the classic “Best Hikes With Kids: Western Washington &The Cascades.”

“Instead of television and video games, you can give kids outdoor fun,” Burton said.

Hiking and camping with kids is a great way to help them learn to appreciate the region’s natural beauty. It’s also key to help kids associate active adventures with enjoyable, upbeat activities.

Unlike adults who can spend hours hiking through Snohomoish County’s abundant trails, kids need special preparation to help them have a good time in the woods, experts say.

It’s not about getting to a destination; a hike with kids is about being together and exploring the woods.

“One of the keys is to make sure it’s fun,” said Becca Polglase, the education manager for The Mountaineers.

Think short and small. Plan frequent stops to explore, snack and rest.

“When you stop for lunch, they enter their own little imaginary world and they explore,” Polglase said.

Carolyn Burkhart is the first woman to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone. Burkhart, who lives near Gig Harbor, also is famous for long-distance trekking with her kids. Her daughter turned 7 at Crater Lake in Oregon, having spent the previous two summers hiking the Pacific Crest Trail starting at the Canadian border.

Hiking as a family is a bonding experience, she said.

“It’s such a special time for the parent and child together,” she said.

When she hiked with her kids, she’d trail a rope with a knot on the end. She’d play mama elephant and baby elephant, with the child holding the rope like a trunk to a tail.

Of course, not every hike can cover miles of territory.

Orienting kids to get ready for longer adventures can start with simple walks to the store or school, Burton said.

Preparation can begin by testing equipment and meals at home, before setting off for an adventure.

“On the first day hike, test their stamina and speed,” Burton recommends. “You find out what you forgot and what you didn’t need.”

Parents also may find out which children are speedy or curious or have trouble on the trail.

A trick is to invite friends to come along.

Kids love to challenge each other, and having a hiking buddy also reduces whining, experts say.

The activity and fresh air helps the whole family, said Jennifer Aist, the author of “Babes in the Woods,” a guide to hiking with infants and toddlers.

About one in eight women suffer postpartum depression, she said. Getting outside, even just for a walk around the block, can help prevent the affliction.

Keep a bag packed by the door with everything a parent needs to go outside with a newborn, she said. Add water and snacks and families are ready to go.

“There’s a lot of value to be gained by getting outside,” she said.

Favorite area hikes

Deception Pass State Park

Boulder River

Big Four Ice Caves

• Independence Lake

• Boardman Lake

• Lime Kiln Trail

Jetty Island

Spencer Island


• Bring plenty of snacks.

• When starting, hike short distances and commit to traveling at a child’s pace.

• Let your kids invite a friend along. (Adults become boring. Peers are cool.)

• Let kids participate in hike-planning.

• Emphasize fun: Play games, look for treasure, try geocaching.

• Seriously, bring lots of snacks and stop often to let kids eat.

Source: REI