3 Tips for A Short, Easy Hike With Kids

I hadn’t wanted to do an easy hike; I have a new book of trails in Boise that I’ve been itching to test out. It was a beautiful day, unexpectedly for February it was sunny and in the high 50s. I had great plans of tiring the boys out and getting them to bed sharp so I could catch up on some long distance wine chat with my best friend.

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When I started to get us ready, however, the boys were disappointed that we would have to go in the car first. ‘Can’t we just hike the local trail, the Shoshone loop?’ asked Red. This is one we did recently. It’s close and easy, and barely counts as a hike, as far as I’m concerned. But when I thought about it, I realized, why not? So we set off from our house, no driving required, which always pleases me!  We had a fantastic afternoon, hiking far further than I had suspected the boys, particularly Smalls, would manage, and I was so pleased we went with the easy, familiar trail.

It made me realize my goals for hiking are a bit different than theirs. And while it’s good to try new trails and experience new places, this walk made me appreciate the benefits of the short, easy hike somewhere well known. If you’re new to hiking, either at all, or now you have kids, take a look at these 3 reasons why I love a short, easy hike.

1. Try out new kit and new skills

Red has a new compass, which we attached to his hydration backpack so it would be available at all times. He got it in his stocking at Christmas, I suspect it is from the dollar store, although I don’t remember! With each step we took, he announced our direction and whether it had changed. We had to stop many times for him to examine it, spin around, and find out what happened to the compass. These are great skills to learn for the future, but it meant we were not travelling fast for the first 30 minutes or so! Luckily Smalls wanted to walk, and so everyone was moving at a glacial pace. If we had been on a new trail, I might have been concerned about how long it was taking, trying to calculate how long it would take to make it back. As we were on our local short walk, I was comfortable with the dawdling, knowing we could turn around if need be, or where we could take shortcuts to get home.

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We also brought binoculars, because you never know what you might see, even when you’re hiking less than a mile from your house! Smalls was particularly captivated by these and so we had to stop a lot for him to use them. Even when he held them the wrong way round, he oohed and aahed about what he could see. It was pretty cute!

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2. Investigate side trails

We picked some new routes, wandered around in the trails so close to our neighborhood, picked up essential treasured rocks and sticks.  Found a puddle and splashed rocks in it, even though it hasn’t rained in days.  It was really nice to let the boys pick out side trails, run up and down them, and use the compass and binoculars to figure out where we were.  We also used the REI app Hiking Project to check in to the trail we were on, and to help us identify other side trails we might want to try.  The boys loved spotting our house on the map, and following the dot as we moved along the trail. I loved that I could let them be in charge and say yes as often as possible to their requests.

3. Spend time finding new things

And once we were on the trail, a nice familiar one that they knew, we looked and spotted new things. We clambered around Castle Rock, or Eagle Rock, as it was called by Native Americans. We looked at it from all angles, wondering if it looked more like a Castle or an Eagle, talking about what people saw in their daily lives to make them think of these things.  Tracks baked into the mud.  We talked about the animals that made them {deer, dogs, rabbits, a mountain lion?!} and the importance of not making the trail wider by walking on it when it’s muddy.

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We had a great time, and I was so glad we did this and not a new trail.  I remember going into local woods as a kid, learning all the trails and paths, knowing intrinsically where the exits back into the village were, no matter how deep into the wood I went.  I want that for them.  I want them to know our local trails as intimately as they know their bodies.

I think we need that connection, that it is something that kids today don’t have the way we had, and even kids of my generation didn’t have as much as the generations before them.  To understand that we are part of a pulsating, living network, subsumed into something much bigger than us, we need to touch it and feel it and see it and live it. We need to experience it repeatedly, like the rings in a tree as it ages, radiating out into the world gradually over time.

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Do you take your kids on the same hikes or prefer to try new ones? I’ve always been one for trying something new, but after this recent walk I think we’re going to stick to our local hikes for a while and really get to know them and our neighborhood.

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