Planning a Kid-Friendly Hike

Ideas & Advice
My Boys, with Kid-Sized Camelbak Hydration Packs from their Local EMS

Have you ever been out and seen a family with young kids happily tramping along the very same trail that you are proudly grinding your way up? I certainly have, and I’m always impressed. Sometimes I can’t decide if the kids are just superhuman, or if I’m perhaps not as rugged as I thought, but either way it’s still awesome. My admiration is for the children, of course, but even more so for the grown-ups who dare embark on such a seemingly difficult adventure. How do they do it? How do they possibly manage the logistics of bringing kids up a mountain while preventing tantrums, melt-downs and other variations of discontent? The answer is in the details.

Let me share with you three tips for helping to ensure a fun day with the kids- from my family to yours.

1. The Plans- Have 2:  Make two different plans for the same day. I don’t mean a plan A and a plan B, but rather, plan different variations of the same adventure and don’t commit to either one ahead of time. Be happy knowing both are fantastic. Of the two, decide only on the day of the hike, after observing the energy, morale and behavior of EVERY young person who will be joining you.

For example, suppose you want to bring the family for some hiking on Mt. Washington. You can plan a 2.4 mile trip up Tuckerman’s Ravine trail to the Hermit Lake Shelters. This is an ambitious trip, which is a wonderful esteem booster for the kids. The trail gains plenty of elevation, it’s covered in awesome boulders and the shelter destination is a great place to crash for a while before enjoying an easier descent back to the car.

Alternatively, you can plan a different trip to the same trail by visiting Crystal Cascade, which is one of New Hampshire’s premier waterfalls and is located just 0.3 miles from the trail head. Rather than continuing another two miles to the shelters, consider this short spur to the falls. A quick walk up some picturesque granite steps brings you to plenty of space for picnicking, exploring and relaxing by the backdrop of a gorgeous waterfall. It’s pretty hard to beat for a day out with kids.

Both trips start and end at the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center in Gorham, New Hampshire and both offer some time climbing a fabled trail up Mt. Washington. Either way, you can’t go wrong. The kids will be hiking up Tuck’s, learning more about you and themselves, and hopefully beginning a lifetime of outdoor adventures.

2. Prep Work- Body Charge:  Hedge the trip by starting the day before. If you know you’ll be hitting a trail tomorrow, maybe think about skipping the day’s karate lesson or soccer practice. Teach kids to rest their bodies as preparation for the next day’s serious workout. The more rested they are, the better they’ll feel. Certainly a big, kid-friendly supper and an earlier bedtime are in order. Have you ever hiked on an empty stomach, or exhausted from the day before? Not a good choice. Nothing helps more than giving a child the chance to fully charge their batteries, with combined rest and fuel.

3. Final Call- Are They Junk?: This is very real. If you wake up the morning of your trek and you find the kids are wasted-tired or extra grumpy, be prepared to abort altogether, even if you have to take the fall for it. As a parent or guardian, your gut has likely been trained to know when the day is going to be a good one or not. Listen to your gut. If you feel it’s going to be one of those days when everything is difficult, don’t plan to spend it on a mountain, away from restrooms, toys and television. After all, every hiker I know has those days when bumming around the house sounds better than hitting the trail. Remember, you’re hiking for fun, not because you have to.

For more tips on making outdoor trips fun for kids, check out my blog post: 12 Tips for Getting the Kids Outdoors.

Justin Chase

Justin "Cracky" Chase is the author of the online journal, Outdoors, By Cracky! Want to get outdoors in New England? Follow him!