Finally summer has arrived – sun and warmth reigns, trails surfaces run dry, green leaves and grass beckon. In short, it’s time to hit the trail, maybe for a day hike, maybe for an overnight campout.

Packing the gear and hoisting a backpack over the shoulders is a lot easier to think about than to do, however. After a long week at work, there are always enough chores around the house to keep you busy, and sometimes you just want to plop down in the sofa and relax.

Even if you get yourself motivated to go, the kids’ calls to instead go to the local water park may drown out your announcement that a family hike is planned this weekend.

What to do? Try some of these pre-hike activities with children to get them (and you!) excited about hitting the trail rather than the Wii console.

Kids on the Trail at Vasquez Rocks ©Rob Bignell

Watch videos

Beat your kids’ television addiction by using it as a tool against them: Watch videos, if available, of the area you plan to hike. Usually videos of national and state parks can be checked out from public libraries. The narration can be a bit dry, but sometimes the videotaped scenery is so spectacular, that kids want to go there and see it for themselves.

Make your own hiking gear

Children also can make their own hiking gear, such as a trekking pole. For materials, you’ll need

a stick, knife for carving wood, sandpaper, and wood finish. Start by walking with your children into your yard (if you have a lot of trees), or go to a nearby woods. Each child than can pick a stick that their hand fits nicely around and that comes up to their hips. At home, carve off bark and sand it. Then have children stain it with a brown or reddish-brown finish. They now have a hiking stick. Most children can’t wait to use it.

Make trail mix

Nothing wins the hearts and minds of kids as readily as food. Before going on hike, have kids help you make homemade trail mix, also known among backpackers as gorp. For ingredients, you’ll need a cup each of salted peanuts, raisins, and M&Ms. Mix the ingredients in a large bowl. Add other ingredients (sunflower seeds, cashews, granola) as you and your children desire. Portion out – and other than a quick sample for a taste test, don’t let kids eat the trail mix until you hit the trail!

Word finds

For older elementary school kids, word finds (also known as word searches or word puzzles) featuring hiking and nature terms are available online for free. These are great activities to keep kids busy while you go through the less interesting aspects of planning the hike and can spur discussion as they ask you what a word they’ve never heard before means. Type “hiking word searches” in a search engine for downloads.

Play dress up

Four- and five-year-olds love to play dress up. So why not dress up as a “hiker”? Explorer sets are available at a variety of toy stores or online fit outfit your child with such items as a fishing vest, canteen, binoculars, compass, and more. Your child almost certainly will want to use the cool new toys on the hiking trail this weekend.

On the trail ©Rob Bignell


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