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Treks with kids should have a different pace, experts advise. (iStockphoto)
Treks with kids should have a different pace, experts advise. (iStockphoto)

6 ways to get your kids off the couch and onto hiking trails Add to ...

Sofa-attached kids might need greater inducements to pry them from their digital devices and hit the great outdoors.

The trick, says Jeff Alt – Cincinnati-based author of Get Your Kids Hiking – is to start them as young as possible. “Begin by walking to your favourite park or beach, stopping often to let them explore. The idea is to make your hike a routine your kids will look forward to.”

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Alt, who took his son on his first trek at eight weeks old, adds that children need good reasons to hit the trail. “Psych them up with pictures of the places they’ll be going. Use books, maps and the Internet – especially park websites and videos of the wildlife they might encounter,” he says.

Treks with kids should also have a different pace. “Let them lead and hike at their own speed – and always stop and explore that bug, leaf or rock with them. Getting to the destination is less important than making sure your kids have fun. If they enjoy themselves, they’ll want to go again.”

The right child-friendly equipment is also vital. Along with synthetic, wool or fleece clothing (layered for easy removal) plus age-appropriate backpacks with hydration hoses, Alt says correct footwear is key. “Until your kids are walking consistently on their own, fit them with comfortable, water-resistant shoes. Children three and older should have lightweight trail shoes or boots with sturdy soles.”

Along with suntan lotion, bug repellant, first-aid kits and favourite snacks, Alt also suggests giving your children some trek ownership by encouraging them to pack some goodies. “Let them fill their adventure pack with binoculars, camera, a bug catcher – and maybe some fun items not hiking-related.” Games like I Spy and scavenger hunts will also keep them busy en route, while older children often enjoy using GPS systems, he says.

Once you’re ready to roll, where should you go? Quick treks to neighbourhood nature reserves might pique their interest, but if you really want to create lifelong hoofers, consider heading to the Rockies, where falling in love with hiking is easy.

“There’s spectacular scenery for parents and a vast variety of small-scale natural wonders to keep kids engaged here,” says Kathy Copeland, an author based in Canmore, Alta., who, with her husband Craig, wrote Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies: The Opinionated Hiking Guide. From deep gorges and jaw-dropping alpine lakes to exciting wildlife sightings, the region can keep hikers of all ages enthralled.

Copeland has some handy recommendations for family-friendly Rockies’ hikes.

“From just outside Banff, ride the bus up to Sunshine Meadows where – if your timing is right – the kids can marvel at the psychedelic wildflowers. Most hikers-in-training can manage the 1.8-kilometre walk to Rock Isle Lake here and perhaps 45 minutes farther to Grizzly Lake.”

Like Alt, Copeland believes hiking with kids requires a different approach. “Recognize it’s more their hike than yours and don’t push them too far past their own motivation,” she says.

“For teenagers, choose a trail with several goals or layers of attraction. If they’ve had enough after 60 to 75 minutes, the family can turn around with everyone feeling they’ve achieved something and had a good experience together.”

OUR READERS’ ADVICE

Introduce the kids to geocaching, they will love hiking while searching for hidden caches. Meeri Stewart

My parents bribed me with candy bars for successfully completed hikes. Now I’m a junkie (hiking, not candy). @MrSimonLittle

Tell them it’s a long Easter Egg hunt. @remyscalza

Take lots of snacks, water and breaks. Make it a game. Broken-in but comfy hiking shoes are key. @karenkho

Start them young. They can’t resist if you’re in the “pack mule” phase (schlepping them around in baby carriers). @smallandhungry

Play the magician along the trails. They have to find their magic wand and gather ingredient for the potion. @Magabout

My mother bought beekeeper-ish hats to prevent bug bites on our faces. They were ugly but the bites were worse. @j2nelson

Make it fun and perhaps have a scavenger hunt (encourage a love of nature). @MichelleLKent

Get the kids involved with choosing and planning the hike. They’ll be far more engaged that way. @lisaJtoronto

Share with them the beauty of Mother Nature… and bring an amazing picnic! @sonyahwang

Try to avoid trails in ski areas during spring and early summer – many bugs due to the dampness. @advcardio

Make it an adventure. Plan for fun stops (perhaps even create a treasure map) and plan a picnic along the way. @candicebest

Follow John @johnleewriter

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