Fall Hikes with Kids

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If you’ve been following the blog or our Instgram feed for any length of time, then you know that we love a good hike. Just put us outside with a good pair of boots, a snack, and a hat, and we are ready to go!

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Some of my most memorable hikes have happened in the fall. Of course, the brisk weather and colorful foliage make for beautiful memories. But there’s also something about the shorter days anticipation of a long, cold winter indoors that makes the need to get outside even more urgent at this time of year.

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All of the photos in this post came from two quick hikes that we took this fall. One was in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area and the other was in Rocky Mountain National Park. But neither of these was our trek to the top of Deer Peak, I can’t wait to share photos from that adventure in a future post! Both of the hikes in this post happened on a whim, and they weren’t epic in their destinations, but I appreciated them both for getting us outside for a chunk of time and for giving us the time to enjoy the changing seasons.

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Living, and hiking, in the Rockies, it’s nice to be able to hit up some trails now knowing that in a few weeks they may be off limits. The availability of trails in this area greatly depends upon their elevation. The higher the trails, the more unpredictable their daily weather, but also the colder they are, and the heavier their snow. Once the snow falls, certain roads close, making it much more difficult to access trailheads. And in other cases, the trails themselves become impassable without serious ice and snow gear.

And speaking of gear, hiking in the fall is best done with a few layers. To really enjoy the hike, you want to be comfortable. This may mean that you’ll be chilly at the start of the hike, warmer once you get going, but then chilly again if you’re destination is a mountaintop… but then you’ll be chilly again on the way down as the hiking gets easier!

If you’re hiking with a kid in a pack, remember that they will always be a touch colder than you are. You could pile extra layers on them, or do what we do and tuck a lightweight but warm blanket into the pack with them. The blanket is awesome because then when they get out of the pack and warm up, you don’t have to keep track of the little items of clothing that they’ll be wanting to shed.

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When we go out on a hike, it’s almost always as a family, with our 4 and 2-year-olds in tow. Of course, these hikes would be a lot less enjoyable if our boys didn’t love the adventure, but we go often enough that they don’t think anything of a day out on the trails. If you haven’t done much hiking with your kids, start at their level. If they’re energetic and ready for a longer hike, awesome! If they’re more timid or unsure, start with a few smaller hikes and see what motivates them.

As you’ll see in these photos, sometimes our kids are hiking (or jumping, running, and skipping) down the trail and other times they’re being carried. It’s not always obvious, but sometimes they’re napping in the packs. On any given day we know that we may have to adjust our distance and pace to their moods and energy levels. Hopefully, what’s most apparent is that they are generally happy and enjoying themselves.

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Working from past experience, we have a good sense of how much hiking the kids can actually do. We often go out on short 2-3 mile hikes. Sometimes our 4yo will do the full hike on his own, other times, he’ll want a lift for some of the hike. Our 2yo still needs to be carried for the majority of these hikes, but he often also wants to walk for some portion of the hike (especially if everyone else is). Letting him walk slows our pace, but I’m not going to deny him the chance to work his muscles and balance over those rocky trails (plus, it’s a great boost for his can-do spirit!).

Kids are much better hikers on the way down than on the way up a mountain (surprise, surprise!), and so we plan accordingly. Last weekend we tackled a longer 6-mile roundtrip hike to a mountain peak. For that one, we started with both kids in packs for the hike up, but then let them both out for most of the descent. Knowing that there are times when both kids will have to be carried, we keep all other packing as light as possible.

There are a few other tricks that we keep up our sleeves when hiking with kids, and you’ll probably know best what’s most important to your kids. For example, we focus very little planning on their clothes. We know exactly what they are most comfortable in and we also know that they are relatively good-natured about cold/wet conditions (note that Alex is playing barefoot in a snow-melt stream in the photo below – and he’s as happy as could be!). So I don’t worry if we don’t have all of the accessories to keep them fully bundled because they don’t care. But your kids might get upset if they get too cold. Only you know. And don’t forget the tricks; socks make great mittens!

*See the comments for more discussion about packing and supplies.

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Even though we try to be the world’s lightest packers, we NEVER forget snacks and plenty of water. We are big on trail mix with chocolate chips. It makes all of the difference. During the colder months, we also like to surprise the boys with a small thermos of hot chocolate when we reach our destination…

Our other trick is to include a destination in the hike. It may be a lake, a stream, or a mountaintop. It’s nice to be able to tell them that you’re hiking to something. Once there, give them the time needed to explore, stretch their muscles, and enjoy the satisfaction of reaching their/your goal!
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No matter what, the best advice that we can give is to enjoy the ride hike! Quality time outside with family is never a bad thing. xo

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2 thoughts on “Fall Hikes with Kids

  1. Hi, Katie! It`s beautiful to see how family bond while having a good time in nature. You mentioned that you pack light for hikes and described what you pack for kids. What are you packing for big hikers?

    • Nigel,

      Great question, and something I’ll have to go back and add to the post. First a note (which also should be clarified in to the post), we consider these hikes to be short and not require too much equipment for the adults too. Depending upon the time of day we’ve either eaten lunch or breakfast before heading out, so we usually share the same snacks as the kids (a good trail mix, maybe a nut butter travel pack, etc.). We also have plenty of water for us. Everyone gets a layer of sunscreen before we head out (no matter the season). Then, when it comes to physical equipment for the adults – we’re wearing a hat on our heads, sturdy boots, an extra layer on top, and the backpacks with the kids (sometimes) in them. When our extra layers come off, we often add them to the kid backpacks as extra padding. We each also carry our smart phones in our pockets and then I often carry my point and shoot camera.

      That’s it! It doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t, but we’re also not that far from the car (3 miles at the most) and usually on trails that are frequented by other travelers. Before I had kids, I often hiked with a small day pack on my back, and now I’m wondering what I had it filled with?! Likely sunscreen, extra food, maybe a journal or field guide. It’s all great stuff, but when I ask myself how often I’d use it on a short hike, the answer was rarely. I do have the feeling that once we have kids that are always out of the pack, then we’ll go on longer hikes and the kids will be eating more, so I’m sure at that point I’ll rely on my day pack again and will sneak in those luxuries.

      We’re hoping to do some overnight hike-in camping with the boys in the coming year. It’ll be interesting to see what we pack for that, and what gets used. I’ll be sure to write a post about it!

      Happy hiking!
      -Katie

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