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The greatest way to impart wonder and wanderlust in younger family members is to get them out on the trail. Hiking with kids can add a whole new layer of fun and excitement to your favorite activity. Let them lead the way, find walking sticks, toss rocks, ask questions and feel at home in nature. For older kids, it’s a necessary reboot—a way to unplug from devices and reconnect with the earth around them. Plus, fresh air is a mind-clearing miracle worker, aiding with sleep and overall feelings of contentment.
Give your kids the ultimate Colorado hiking experience. Here are a few tips to get you going:
Pick the right trail
Easy to moderate rated trails with lots of features (creeks, viewpoints, chipmunks) are perfect for smaller ones. Teens should be able to take on advanced trails. Be sure to research the trail conditions and terrain before you go and take a screenshot on your phone of the map and any turn-here, don’t miss this fork in the trail directions. Cell service often starts out great and diminishes the further back or up into the forest you travel. View local trails.
Set realistic expectations
Remember, their legs and lungs are shorter and smaller. They may have running stamina to ascend. Your job is to make sure they have the energy to descend without falling apart. When you are hiking with kids, plan extra break times and a slower pace.
Time it right
You know your child’s high and low points. Begin your hike when they’re rested, fed and excited. End before their usual naptime or melting point.
If you’re heading out to hike a 13er or 14er, be sure to summit by noon and begin hiking down before summer’s afternoon thunderstorms roll in. Pack a winter hat, gloves and rain jacket just in case. Weather changes are swift in the mountains.
Incorporate a game
Turn hiking with kids into a game. Youngsters love to have a job or a goal. Have them look for a certain wildflower, bird, water feature, bridge or tree. Pack fun prizes like stickers, keychain sunscreen and lip balms and toy flashlights or compasses to hand out to participants. Before you set out hiking with kids, have them help plan and pack for the hike, adding a level of importance and investment in the adventure.
Be a snack master
Maintain energy levels and plan for numerous pit stops on longer hikes to soak up the scenery and refuel. Pack healthy, portable snacks such as jerky, apples and oranges, nuts and trail mix, peanut butter chia energy bites and fruit leather. Wet-wipes, hand sanitizer and a large Ziplock baggie are smart cleanup carry-ons. Lighten your load by having school-age kids carry their own Camelbak of water and individual baggies of snacks
Fill your Pack
Pack twice the amount of water and sunscreen you think you’ll need. Powerful sun, elevation gain, thin air—thirst comes on quick. Hydration is key to happiness up here. A first aid kit is mandatory—even if it’s just a simple homemade stash of Neosporin, antiseptic, tweezers and bandages.
Start with tanks and shorts or breathable water-proof pants, high socks to protect against itchy plants and sturdy broken-in shoes to avoid blisters. Throw in a long-sleeve layer, pack a rain jacket and always wear a hat—scalp burns are no joke. Hiking poles, of course, help with balance.
Keep it light and fun
Don’t take yourselves or the plan too serious. Rather, focus on your children associating outdoor exploration with a positive, happy time. Leave the hike open to their interpretation and imaginations. One child might love sitting on rocks and watching the water go by. Another may be an ambitious straight-to-the-top trail runner. Embrace their differences and enjoy the journey! That’s what family time in the mountains is all about.