Kids playing in a sunflower meadow

Kids playing in a sunflower meadow on the Grand Mesa National Forest 

Fresh air, exercise, family bonding, and exploring nature are just some of the benefits of hiking with your children.

If you are at all uneasy about this family outing, here are a few tips and tricks that will help you have fun and ensure your kids will want to go again and again.

For the kick-off hike, pick an easy and interesting trail, go slow, and be enthused — it’s contagious! A destination hike can motivate kids to keep going to reach an endpoint — an overlook, cave, rock art, or waterfall. When you reach that point, have lunch, a special treat, or a fun activity like an energizing jump into a swimming hole. Also, at the end of your hike, have a good refreshing treat waiting in the cooler. Plan lots of stops to observe and play.

The best kid-friendly hikes usually involve scrambling over rocks or boulders, wading through shallow creeks, or walking around a lake. Your kids can practice skipping stones, discovering aquatic bugs under wet rocks, naming wildflowers, or spying fish darting about. Definitely have dry socks and shoes at the car.

Glance off-trail and look around often. A shiny object can get a curious child off course — that’s a good thing! Observation is a great skill, and improves with practice. The more you look, the more things you will see. Point out a lizard scurrying in the shade of a rock, a strange sound in the forest, the soft feel of moss on a log, the earthy scents of a decomposing log. Guide your children’s interaction with nature and try to appeal to all their senses.

A hike can combine the best parts of being in nature — freedom, adventure and discovery. Take breaks often. Pick a boulder or a log to rest, enjoy the view, and have a snack — the best part of a hike. Pack lots of light snacks, like nuts, protein bars, and fruit. Surprise your kids with a few unexpected incentives to keep them going like Skittles, gummy worms, or Smarties. Take more water than you think your family will drink and drink it often.

Remain upbeat through the meltdowns and whines. Your kids will feed off of your energy, but be flexible. Change your plans if things are not working out. Remember that you are trying to introduce your family to a nature outing; they won’t want to go again if they aren’t having fun. When boredom sets in, distraction is the name of the game, and there are lots of trail games to keep everyone occupied and hiking. Your family is also having fun together!

Here are a few to keep in mind.

•Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt? Make a list of items everyone has to find such as four different shades of green, something smooth, rough, or wet; something blue; an animal track or animal sign; something made by humans.

•Guess the animal: Take turns thinking of an animal; everyone asks questions to figure out what that animal is.

•I Spy: You pick something along the trail and give hints until kids guess it.

•A fistful of sounds: With a minute of silence and eyes closed, each person tallies all the sounds they hear using their fingers. After a minute, eyes open, and everyone sees who has heard the most sounds.

Let them talk — ask questions about their favorite animal, place, food, or game. Share stories. Enjoy this priceless bonding time. Life is busy; but when you are unplugged and surrounded by nature, this is a perfect time to just let your kids talk while you listen. They will love this undivided attention from you, and what they have to say may surprise you!

Some additional trail tips:

•Keep a simple first aid kit in your pack.

•Dress in layers, and have rain gear for everyone.

•Keep track of the time; make stops, but keep moving so you can get to your destination.

•Know before you go. Check the trail and weather conditions. Cancel your plans if the weather is not working in your favor.

For more outdoor safety tips, trail game ideas, and hiking trails, visit the Friends of Youth and Nature website: (www.friendsofyouthandnature.org). FOYAN is a non-profit that promotes opportunities for youth and families to go outside, experience outdoor activities and explore nature.

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