Hiking is a wonderful way to reconnect with your family. Not only are you getting exercise, you're also getting away from the distractions of TV and computers. It's satisfying to watch your children's eyes refocus on the world around them. But if the prospect of persuading your kids to walk anywhere, let alone in the wilderness, seems daunting, don't worry. These ideas can make the experience fun and low-stress.
Just remember, it's about the journey, not the destination. Relax and enjoy the slower pace that hiking with kids can bring.
Picking a route
You'll want to choose a hike that's challenging, but not too challenging: somewhere in between a trek to Machu Picchu and a trip to the mailbox. For tips on picking the right track, we asked Helen Olsson, author of "The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids."
For a rough idea of how long a trail to try, figure that a child can walk about a half mile for each year of age. So a 6-year-old should be able to handle a 3-mile trek. (Of course, you should take into account your child's disposition and energy level.)
Loop trails are more interesting than out-and-back trips, which have you retracing your steps on the way home.
For a group goal, set a destination to reach, such as an old cabin or a pond with a beaver lodge.
Consider the change in elevation (meaning, how steep the trail is). Two miles on a flat trail is easier to hike than a trail with a vertical gain of 500 feet. That said, many kids find uphill routes, with their opportunities to scramble up boulders, more engaging than flat trails.
What to bring
Bring or wear these essentials for a safe and happy hike, says Karthika Gupta, owner of the family adventure travel agency Memorable Jaunts.
Sturdy, supportive walking/hiking shoes
Track pants/waterproof pants or shorts. If there's any chance of rain, skip the jeans — denim is very uncomfortable when gets wet.
Light, rainproof jacket. Dress in layers; weather in the mountains and in forests tends to be much cooler than at lower elevations.
Daypack. (An everyday backpack is fine.)
Snacks, such as trail mix, granola bars and nuts. Individual portions are easier to dole out to hungry hikers.
Notebooks and pens so that kids can doodle what they see.
Water. A general rule of thumb is one 8-ounce bottle per person, but more is always better.
Small flashlight, especially if you're hiking near dusk.
Compass. It's a great educational tool and a good backup to cellphones and a GPS device.
Small first-aid kit containing bandages and antibiotic ointment (such as bacitracin) for any cuts or scrapes along the way.