Crunch go the leaves under your feet. Crisp is the air whispering across your cheeks. Awe inspiring is the low hung sun, peaking through the jeweled kaleidoscope of the autumn palette. Fall was made for family exploring and there’s no better way to immerse yourself in the beauty of this season then with a well-planned family hike.

WHAT? Wait a minute! You were picturing this peaceful fall day, and then I suggested you take your loud, raucous, whining, short-legged, tired-footed, totally starving, “carry me” imploring children on a hike. Yes, we’ve been on plenty of hikes like this. But we quickly learned that a little preparation goes a long way in helping us create the quintessential hike — the one in our minds eye, where we’re gleefully holding hands, skipping down the trail and singing as we wander through the woods and emerge from the shadows to witness a waterfall streaming rainbows in its full torrential glory.
We’ve taken many great (and not so great) family hikes across the country and so I want to share some tips to help you turn these low-cost nature adven­tures into cherished family experiences and bonding opportunities.

How to Hike

Lower your expectations

William Shakespeare has been credited with saying “Expectations are the root of all heartache” and as parents, we have found this to be true over and over again. By lowering your expectations, you’ll be lowering your opportunities for disappointment.

Slow down and let the kids lead

Remember, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Try to embrace the entire experience and don’t be in a race to get to the end. Remember, your kids are little, with little legs, so let them set the pace.

Keep your cool

Hiking is best done in cooler temps. If at all possible, plan to set off during the cool morning hours or considering rescheduling if it turns into one of those Indian summer days.

Go for maximum payoff with minimum exertion

When deciding which hikes to take, look for trails that provide a payoff (beautiful vista, waterfall, meadow) in the shortest hiking distance with limited elevation gain. As your family becomes more accustomed to hiking, you can look for longer distances, but in the beginning keep them short and sweet and picturesque.

Make it an adventure

Oddly enough, some kids don’t enjoy a walk through the woods like their over-scheduled parents do. If this is the case, it’s easy to add an element of adventure to every hike. Print out a nature scavenger hunt before you leave the house, or pack some adventure gear (like tweezers, a magnifying glass and binoculars) in junior’s backpack so you can identify flora and fauna along the way. You might want to download some geocaches to your GPS ahead of time (sometimes cell signal is weak on hiking trails) so you can do some real treasure hunting in the woods.

Pack for success

In a popular podcast episode of Roadschool Moms, “Preparing Your Family for Outside Adventures” (ultimateradioshow.com/10902), survivalist expert Gregory Davenport shares his packing success tips to keep your family safe while exploring the great outdoors. Basic preparation is the cornerstone of a successful family hike and for dealing with any unforeseen setbacks along the trail. From basic first aid to high protein snacks, this podcast will have you packing like a pro.

Plan on getting wet

Our family’s favorite hikes lead to some water feature. Sometimes it’s a hot spring, sometimes it’s a rope swing over a crisp mountain stream. Picnics along river banks and splashing in creeks are some of our favorite adventures, so we’re always sure to pack a change of clothes and some quick dry towels. This is especially fun on longer hikes as the water play provides us a break and energy for the walk back to the truck.

Go with Friends

If you have the opportunity, grab another adventurous family and set out together. Hiking with friends makes walking more enjoyable, and when conversation is flowing, the miles blur and the good times roll.
Keep at itDon’t be surprised if your first family hiking experience is a bust. Like all things, time and repe­tition makes it easier and more enjoyable. If family hiking is a goal, then keep at it, planning a family hike at least once a month.