Happy Hikers At Any Age
“Go outside!” Being pushed out the door was my parent’s disciplinary action of choice. When my siblings and I got wild, mom shooed us out the door to run off our energy. We’d circle the house playing tag, leap in the grassy field like wild cats or climb trees. I relished the cool air, the crackle of frosty moss and the delightful pop of gall balls.
Today, this same therapy does wonders for my children and me. Many parents don’t have the acreage for impromptu laps around the house, but they can enjoy the outdoors in the Bay Area by hiking as a family. Not only is it good exercise, it gets the family out together in a calming setting.
“Since infancy, my oldest son has always calmed down when outdoors,” says Jennifer Koop Wagner of Mountain View. “Now, as a 2-year-old, I think he sometimes feels trapped in our small apartment that has so many rules, and having a big space to explore frees him.”
Koop Wagner discovered the benefits of hiking with her kids along with the group, Stroller Hikes, and now leads some of their walks. I founded this nonprofit group in 2006 when my first child was 4 months old. Hiking with a newborn could be intimidating, and other parents wanted to know where they could go with their kids. Over the years, Stroller Hikes has grown to include a website full of information, a volunteer staff and several events each week.
Many of our parents have found that a great time to start hiking is when their child is an infant. Babies, used to being confined and close to a parent since before birth, take to hiking like fish to water.
“My little tiny baby was perfectly happy to ride in a carrier for hour after hour of hikes, exploring beautiful scenery with the great company of other moms,” recalls Kristen McGuire-Husky of Mountain View. “Hiking with babies is very easy; just load them up in your carrier of choice and plan on stopping to nurse every couple of hours.”
Stroller Hikes families have hiked with kids as young as 2 days old and as old as 13 years. Most parents find that a soft carrier or a large-wheeled stroller is ideal for any trail, but there are plenty of paved trails in the area where any stroller will work. As the baby becomes a toddler, a framed backpack might be more comfortable. However, some families continue to use soft carriers such as Ergo; they work for most children until they are several years old, as long as they will sit still in them.
When McGuire-Husky’s daughter reached 18 months, she found she needed to change how they hiked. By bringing a toddler’s bike for Lillian to ride, she found she could move more quickly without the distractions that cropped up when Lillian walked.
Another option is to let the toddler fill the role of hike leader and slow the pace a bit. Stroller Hikes offers Toddler Treks, and my 4-year-old, Max, loves to lead the group; ultimately, many kids end up walking ahead of the adults, vying for the role of guide.
And not only is hiking fun, it’s educational, too. Hiking often leads kids to discover things they never would at home, something Amity Binkert of Redwood City found while hiking with her two boys at Skyline Ridge Open Space preserve. While climbing on rocks, one of them discovered Native American mortar holes in the bedrock.
“It was such a neat surprise to find them and share an impromptu history lesson with my kids after a fun time of exercise and play,” Binkert says.
Susan Mohr of Sunnyvale hiked with her children for decades and now hikes with her grandkids. She enjoyed observing her kids’ joy and wonder while they discovered new things.
“Most of all, they enjoyed having all of mom or dad’s attention, away from the telephone, computer and daily chores, just as we enjoyed spending time with them,” Mohr says.
When hiking, some families come to get a workout, some come to relax. A lot manage to do both. Getting together with your family and others outside can be so wonderful, away from timelines and technology. We move into nature, find a stick and a rock, look for footprints and flowers, and kick gall balls around like soccer balls.
Deborah Frazier is president and founder of Stroller Hikes.
For a Successful Family Hike
- Pick a time when everyone is fed and rested and the weather is mild.
- Pick a spot that meets your needs and abilities. Stroller Hikes’ comparison chart has information about terrain, shade, facilities and bike and dog-friendliness. (strollerhikes.com).
- Pack for a full experience. Bring a change of clothes and shoes, bandages and hand sanitizer.
- Bring snacks and water. A snack break is a great motivator; break halfway and at the trip’s end.
- Dress appropriately, with sunscreen and hats and jackets in case of cold or rain.
- Beware of hazards. Be able to identify poison oak and stay on trails to avoid ticks.
- Block out time for the hike, but don’t be too focused on a distance.
- Bring a friend along and tell a friend where and when you are going. You can find groups to hike with on StrollerHikes.com or join fee-based toddler groups like Tiny Treks at tinytreks.com.