Take A Summer Hike With Your Kids
Summer vacation season is upon us and with limited travel options during COVID-19, many families are opting to stay local and that means looking for fun outdoor activities close to home. If your children's reaction to hiking is: "Boring" ... "That’s just a really long walk" ... Well, it doesn't have to be that way. If you want your kids to enjoy hiking and the great outdoors, you just need to make it fun.
Hiking is in fact a great way to relax, connect with nature, and enjoy time with your family, outside of the home. Bringing your kids along can be rewarding for you and for them, but it can also add new challenges and concerns to your trip.
Here are some tips when planning a family hike this summer to make it safe and fun...
Find the Perfect Trail
Finding that perfect trail can be as easy as looking up trails online. In Ontario, we have many resources that give information on trails, the length, the difficulty, and more. It makes picking a hike simple and easy. Here they are:
Ontario Trails Map
Count Down to Adventure
Get kids excited with pictures, videos, and highlights of the trails they will go to and the things they will see. Use books, magazines, maps, and the Internet, especially park websites and videos showing the spectacular wildlife and locations they will see.
Take Advantage of Park Guides
Utilize the amazing services and resources offered by our parks, trail and recreational system, and associations. This will help ensure that the experience is enjoyable and memorable. Check if these are available during COVID-19; if not, use online resources.
First Time Out?
If it's your family's first hiking outing, find a park that's very close to home, in case it doesn't quite work out. Keep the hike easy and kid-friendly. For the first few times, select a hike trail that isn’t too long or too strenuous. And pick one with some fun features — like a lake, stream, waterfall or something else that will hold your kids' interest. Let your child experience what they are most excited about, even if it's something as simple as throwing rocks in a stream. If that's the case, then that is the experience for the day — there will always be a next time, to do something different.
Let the Kids Lead
Hike at your child’s pace and distance. Whatever your child takes interest in, stop and explore that bug, leaf or rock with them. Teach them about the animals, rocks, trees, and flowers. Getting to the destination is less important than making sure your kids have fun along the way. Make it so they will want to go again and again.
Plan Energy Re-fuelling Stops
Hiking requires a lot of energy. Energy-sapped kids often leads to cranky kids. Keep them happy and motivated by taking many small breaks to rest, and for fluids and food.
Play I Spy using your surroundings as you walk along. Create your own scavenger hunt in search of animals, plants, and views along the way. Pack along a plant and animal identification guide for your older child.
Bring Friends (Within your new Social Circle)
Sometimes an outing can be more fun when your kids have someone their own age to go on adventures with, and while you may feel like you're shepherding a small herd, it's actually easier. Who's in your new circle? Bring them along! If you're hiking with friends outside of your circle, just maintain a safe distance between everyone. Remember, large groups and gatherings are not permitted.
Get the Gear
Wear comfortable pants instead of shorts (to prevent ticks bites) and shirts that fit the weather. Comfortable running shoes or hiking boots are essential as would lighter clothing in layers (depending on the weather). Bring a light poncho just in case of rain. Wear a wide brim hat for sun protection.
Backpacks & their Contents
Get age and size appropriate backpacks that fit each hiker comfortably. Let young children fill their adventure pack with a bug catcher, magnifying glass, binoculars, a camera, a map and compass, safety whistle, or flashlight. Let your younger adventurer take ownership and pack a few items of his own; even if it’s not hiking related. Your backpack should include essentials such as water, snacks, wet naps, sunscreen, bug spray, and a small first-aid kit.
Be Respectful of Nature
Much is said about the importance of preserving nature and all living things. Teach your children about nature and animals who inhabit our planet and the need to preserve them for their generation as well as generation to come. Help kids remember to stay on designated trails and to not mar and mark areas which are to be left in their natural state. Do not disturb animal habitats. Dispose of garbage properly or bring it home.
No matter how hard you try not to get hurt, someone will surely get a small cut or scrape, so be sure to carry along a small first-aid kit with a few bandages and antiseptic.
Tick bites can be extremely serious and can potentially lead to diseases like Lyme disease. Just take a few precautions. Wear long pants and sleeves that are tight at the waist, wrists, ankles and neck if you're hiking in grassy or wooded areas. You can also treat your clothes and gear with a chemical repellent that contains picaridin or DEET. Choose dark, protective clothing — ticks are more likely to be attracted to light-coloured clothing. Watch where you step and avoid tick-infested areas. Common places to find ticks are in thick brush and grass, especially on hot, humid days. You can also easily pick up a tick when placing your backpack on the ground — even during a quick break, so inspect your gear. Make sure you constantly check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks. If you discover a feeding tick, use a safe removal method. Find more tips on the Health Canada page.
Trail Etiquette During COVID-19
Ontario Trails offers some recommendations when using hiking trails during COVID-19. While on the trail, you should always maintain your distance and avoid group interaction. Try to observe 'single file' activity only. Bring a mask for situations where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Be respectful of spaces that are closed and do not use those empty spaces — even though they may appear to be open. Observe all signage. If a park/trail is overcrowded or busy, go home and try to come back at another time. Find more helpful tips and info here from Ontario Trails.
Start a new family tradition and go hiking often. Kids love the sense of adventure and doing something new. With the wide range of trails, terrain and sights available for families in Ontario, there's no excuse not to. Kids spend good chunk of their time indoors during the week, so hiking on the weekend is a perfect getaway — be it in an urban park or wilderness area trail. Connecting with nature is an important aspect in your children's lives. Studies have shown that having a connection with nature makes kids healthier, happier, and perhaps even smarter and more creative. Being in nature relieves stress, improves physical health, and it's just plain fun!