Parents have good intentions when it comes to planning family weekend activities. You consider the movies or a visit to one of our fine local museums – but you end up settling for a trip to the mall. It's close and convenient, and you can knock off two birds with one stone: shopping and family time. But have you thought of replacing your family trip to the mall with a family hike at a nearby park?
The warming weather and coming spring days make for a great time to explore the great outdoors and connect with Mother Nature. Your kids will love exploring trails and searching for wildlife and wildflowers. Getting dirty is an added treat!
There are many different ways to enjoy a hiking excursion. A simple stroll, a healthy stride or an exploration game, such as "I Spy," or scavenger or treasure hunts are all possibilities in the world of hiking. For some extra adventure, geocaching and letterboxing are activities perfectly suited for tromping through the wilderness. In fact, they are some of the hottest trends in hiking, turning an ordinary hike into a daylong adventure.
Letterboxing is an activity especially suited for families who wish to engage in some outside fitness. It's a blend of treasure hunting and detective work, set outdoors.
Letterboxing involves a set of clues to decipher. The message leads to a box hidden somewhere outside – perhaps in the woods or at a nature trail or in a nearby park. Inside the box, there will be a stamp, notebook and possibly other discoveries. Participants mark both their own notebook and the box's logbook with the enclosed stamp. The box thus reveals a record of all its visitors, and the letterbox hunters keep track of all the boxes they've found. It's a great activity to connect your kids to a fun hiking experience!
Similar to letterboxing but with a high-tech twist, geocaching is a game of finding a "geocache" (a hidden container) – with the help of a GPS device. It's a game played throughout the world. You simply log into a website like Geocaching.com and, providing a ZIP code, set off to seek a geocache nearby. Often, players must traverse parks, woods, streams and other terrain to uncover the geocache's whereabouts. There are a number of ways to play the game, but using the outdoors as a backdrop is an ideal blend of hiking, exercise and adventure.
If your family hasn't attempted a hiking trip to the wilderness, plan a shorter outing for your first excursion. Depending on the age of your kids, you can venture out for two hours to a full day. The key is prep – and some planning.
First, decide where you want to hike and learn about the terrain.
A quick search online can reveal local nature trails (Hiking Michigan is a nice starting point) or Huron-Clinton Metroparks that are perfect for hiking. Often, you'll learn about seasonal activities, family-friendly trails and even some printable trail maps. Many parks also have rangers who can provide additional information on the best trails and sights of the park.
Planning for your first outing will have a direct correlation to your enjoyment! So, you'll want to have proper shoes, clothing and other gear, including bug repellant, sunscreen, a spare set of car keys, fully charged cell phone, map and other useful resources. Make sure to bring snacks and water to keep your family energized and hydrated, too.
Of course, whenever you're communing with nature, there's a chance that an accident may happen. Until parents have some first aid know-how, it's best to take hikes closer to home.
It's also a good idea to have a little knowledge about plants and animals that you may encounter – and which should be avoided. With the right information, hikers can avoid blisters, rashes, sunburns, bites and other injuries that may not only put a damper on the day's outing but also discourage any future hiking excursions.
You'll also want to know where restrooms or outhouses are located. And have a plan in case of bathroom emergencies.
And finally, dress your kids in brightly colored clothing so that if they get lost, the vegetation won't easily camouflage them.
Making the trek
One great idea for families just starting to hike is to works towards a specific landmark. If you have a worthwhile destination – like a historic site, a special bend in the river, a lovely hilltop or vista – your family will enjoy a feeling of accomplishment once you get there. But be sure to keep your goals reasonable, especially in light of your children's ages and capabilities.
Beyond some simple preparation, there are no rules about hiking with your family, other than to have fun and enjoy your outdoor adventure. But, being in tune with your kids' energy level, enthusiasm and mindset will help make the day fun.
Once you graduate from day-hiking trips, there are longer outings that provide inexpensive but enjoyable ways to experience nature. Longer hiking trips take many shapes and forms, suitable for families with any type of disposition or proclivity.
There are also volunteer vacations that combine hiking with volunteering. "As Americans grow more concerned about the health of their finances as well as the health of their environment, Volunteer Vacations are a great, inexpensive way to see the country while doing something good for the earth and for the soul," says Gregory Miller, American Hiking Society president.
Trips vary from easy to strenuous and many require no prior experience, while some are especially catered to families who can enjoy volunteer projects and cabin stays or more physically challenging hikes to base camps with backpacks. Typical trips last one week, during which volunteers ages 18-80 work on trails, get to know their fellow crewmates and enjoy campfires, outdoor cooking and exploring in their downtime. Learn more at the American Hiking Society.
Most kids love being outdoors, and any type of hike through woods and trails is likely to satisfy most curiosities. But hiking also involves precious family time – not to mention group exercise.
So whether it's a two-hour jaunt in the woods or a weeklong camping excursion, consider hiking when planning your next family activity. With some ingenuity and a little bit of preparation, you're likely to find a new hobby that offers many different experiences and can lead to future adventures with nature.