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Hiking with Children and Teens

June 18, 2019

Shaun Noon – Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail Facebook Group

Introducing the next generation to the wonders of the great outdoors

Did you know that the love for the great outdoors isn’t a trait we inherit? It is a learned behavior—one that needs to be fostered and encouraged. Taking children on a hike is the first step in helping them develop a life-long relationship with nature. Plus, it’s great way to bond as a family!

Recognized as one of the most popular outdoor activities in Pennsylvania, hiking can lead to countless adventures—from finding beautiful vistas and waterfalls to exploring wetlands and old growth forests. Also, spending time in nature improves mood and self-esteem.

When hiking with children and teens, remember it’s more about the journey than the destination. Below are a few tips for planning a successful hike. And just in case you find yourself wondering if it’s all worth it, the answer is definitely “yes!”

Keep it Simple.

Pick a short, interesting hike and allow lots of time. Look for a trail that has a unique feature—whether an overlook, historic site or waterfall—and set that as a goal to reach. Allow kids time to explore and investigate things along the way.

Make it Fun.

Let children help read the trail map and decide what trail to take. Talk about the length of the trail, how to use a compass (if needed) and how to recognize trail markers. Look for interesting plants and signs of animals. Give children a chance to take turns leading the hike and setting the pace. Use encouragement to keep your child moving. Hiking with other families can make it more fun, as well. HikeitBaby is a group that supports families with babies and young children to get outside and connect to nature. Visit their website at http://hikeitbaby.com/find-your-city to find a group near you.

Pack for Success.

Give each child a small pack with a healthy snack in it, as well as a water bottle and binoculars or hand lens. Check the weather beforehand and be sure to wear or pack the appropriate clothes. Consider dressing kids in bright, visible clothing so they can easily be spotted on the trail.

Play it Safe.

Be sure to stop for breaks and drink frequently. Plan your route beforehand to familiarize yourself with the trail’s length and features. Also, don’t forget to pack sun protection, first aid supplies and rain gear.

Teach Stewardship.

When on a hike, demonstrate the concept of “carry in, carry out” by making sure all trash is collected. Also teach children of all ages to observe wildlife from a distance, never pick plants and stay on the trail.

The Pennsylvania State Parks and State Forests Passport Provides Kid-Friendly Hikes!

The Passport includes maps, a history of the state’s park and forest system, a brief description and most memorable feature of each state park and forest, and additional resources and areas of interest, including kid-friendly hikes.

Participants can track their visits to our public lands by initialing their book or having it stamped at the park or forest office. The following are just a few examples of kid-friendly hikes found in the Passport:

  • The Deshong Trail at the Kerper Tract in Buchanan State Forest
  • Lakeside Trail in Cowans Gap State Park
  • The Henry Wood Trail at Jacobsburg
  • Environmental Education Center
  • The Tunnel Trail at Tuscarora State Forest

      Now that we’ve shared some of our trail tips with you, we’d love to hear from you!

Email us your tried-and-true tips for hiking with kids and favorite kid-friendly hikes in Pennsylvania state parks or forests. Plus, don’t forget to include pics!

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