The kids are home, there’s lots of energy, and Mom and Dad need some exercise. A great activity for the whole family is hiking. Austin has miles of family-friendly trails and no equipment is needed besides some decent shoes, comfortable clothes, and a portable water bottle. Here’s how you get started, according to Jeff Alt, a hiking expert and author of the book Get Your Kids Hiking! How to Start Them Young and Keep it Fun.
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. Bring a friend. Stop often and let your little one explore. Make your hike a routine your kids will look forward to.
Hike at your children’s pace and distance. Whatever they take interest in, stop and explore that bug, leaf, or rock, too. 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.
Psych the kids up with pictures, videos, and highlights of the places they will go and the things they’ll do. Use books, magazines, maps, and the Internet, especially park websites and videos showing the spectacular wildlife and locations they will see.
Hand out snacks and water as needed on the trail. Stop often for rests so kids can keep their energy up.
Let young children fill their adventure pack with a bug catcher, magnifying glass, binoculars, a camera, a map and compass, whistle, or flashlight. Encourage your little adventurers to take ownership and select a few items of their own, even if they’re not hiking related.
Play I Spy using the surroundings as you walk. Create your own scavenger hunt in search of animals, plants, and views; make up rhymes and sing songs as you hike. Bring along a plant and animal identification guide for older children. Let your social butterfly bring a friend; intrigue your computer-savvy children with high-tech hiking gadgets such as GPS, headlamps, flashlights, and pedometers. Use your GPS to take your kids on a geocaching adventure.
Utilizing the amazing services and resources offered by America’s parks, trails, and recreational systems and associations can help ensure that your family’s experience is enjoyable, memorable, and perhaps even life-changing.
Alt is an avid hiker who has traversed the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail and also the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife Beth; in fact, the two emerged from the church doors on their wedding day wearing backpacks. The Alts have also trekked across a 50-mile path of Ireland with their young daughter, and he took his son on his first hike at 8 weeks old. Alt is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA), and his hiking advice has been featured in numerous publications and media, including Scholastic Parent & Child, The Boston Globe, National Geographic Adventure, DiscoveryChannel.com, ESPN, Hallmark Channel, and National Public Radio. Alt also works as a speech language pathologist, and he and his family live—and hike—in Cincinnati, Ohio.