Happy Trails

Tips for Hiking with Kids from Real Portland Parents

"Everything will be fine as long as you keep in mind that children have no forethought or self-preservation skills."

By Allison Jones With Kelly Clarke, Fiona McCann, Margaret Seiler, and Brian Barker July 28, 2015

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Image: Altanaka

In our August 2015 cover story, we explore 34 awesome hiking and biking trails crisscrossing our state (and Washington!) that are ready for your unplugging, boot-strapping, Wild-emulating day trips. We’ve got lava caves, we’ve got hobbit trails, and we’ve got wildflowers aplenty! And, best of all for adventurous parents with little ones in tow, most of them are family-friendly. In the spirit of service (in addition to the 3,000 miles our staff logged in the making of the list of trails) we've gathered pro tips from Portland Monthly's cadre of breeders to make outdoor excursions with the peanuts a little less whiney and hellish.

It's all about the snacks.

"Snacks, from dried cranberries to pretzels to half-melted string cheese, are essential when hiking with kids, because as soon as they hit dirt they become as ravenous as tiny wolves for some reason. As for water, it doesn’t matter. They will always complain that there is not enough/it’s in the wrong container/it tastes weird/it’s wet."

"Some kids would stop on every log and stump we pass for a snack break if they could, making for a hiking pace would be about a quarter-mile per hour. To keep things moving, set a limit on the number of snack breaks before starting out, or make sure the potential complainer has a watch and knows there won't be a snack stop more than once every 20 minutes."

"However many snacks you bring, they will be not enough, or they will be 'the wrong ones' or 'I WANT CHEESE!' Still, plan on a steady drip feed of snacks (nuts and dried fruit, fresh fruit, or sandwiches, depending on length of hike), including something high value (granola bar?) for bribery when your child sits down in the middle of the trail and refuses to ever stand up again."

Pack some spare clothes (and sunscreen).

"Tote along a complete change of clothes—undies included. When an adult sees a gross puddle of muddy water that even your dog would steer clear of, your brain says, “AVOID.”  Kids, at least my kid, see that puddle and their wee brains say 'OMIGOD IT’S THE BEAUTIFUL SWIMMING POOL THAT I’VE ALWAYS WANTED. JUMP. SPLASH. I MUST ROLL AROUND AND SMEAR THE MUD EVERYWHERE ON MY BODY, CREVICES INCLUDED LIKE A CRAZY PERSON. AIIIIEEEE.'" 

"Also: Sunscreen. Pack it. And use it."

Invest in good gear...

"For our younger kiddo, we have a hiking frame that is all kinds of awesome. Kinda like this. You can get them in consignment stores all over the place, and they really do help."

"On backpack carriers: Possibly the best nap-inducer ever created. On kids too big for carriers: They will want to be carried at some point. "

...but don't rest on your kid-toting laurels.

"If toting a small child in a backpack-style carrier, check periodically for falling footwear. Forest Park is a graveyard of sad, mateless booties and Crocs."

Account for treasure hunting and slow pacing.

"Bring a magnifying glass and a little container for 'treasures.' Every single time we even approach the wilderness I end up carting around a 1/2 pound of 'special rocks,' 'magic feathers,' 'light saber sticks,' and 'wizard moss,' that the child has collected along our hike. If these items are abandoned the quest will surely fail and/or world will end. Sometimes it’s just easier to go with it and watch them enjoy nature and carry all their trinkets."

"Along the trail, plan to stop and inspect every. little. bug. and. stick. in. nature. Don’t rush this. The hike is for them, not you."

"Lower your expectations. You may not get as far as you want. But they will be as amazed by the ant crawling across the road as you will by the most spectacular view. It’s a perspective thing!"

"Don’t have an 'objective' in mind, other than making it to the trailhead. That is a victory in and of itself. "

Bonus notes for dog parents:

"We always made sure in summer that wherever we went had some water feature that she could potentially plunge into in the case of overheating." 

"Our dog had a tough time with steeper elevations, particularly when she got arthritic in her old age, and even if you concede you could end up carrying a kid some of the way, you DO NOT WANT TO CARRY THE DOG."

Have your own suggestions for intrepid Portland parents? Share 'em in the comments!

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