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Tyke-friendly Hikes

Avid hiker and outdoors writer Bob Julyan took his now-adult daughters hiking when they were kids. These days he enjoys spending time outdoors with his 3-year-old granddaughter, Olivia. Photo Credit - Photo Courtesy Of Bob Julyan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — EspaƱola social worker Melissa Rigg is an avid hiker who has climbed every high point in every mountain range in New Mexico. She has been taking her 13-year-old daughter, Alex Malhotra, with her on hikes since Alex was 6 months old.

“Some of our hikes together were unsuccessful,” says Rigg. “That’s part of the learning curve. I’ve definitely learned a lot about hiking with children through the years.”

Parents and grandparents who value their hiking experiences want young family members to enjoy hiking with them. One of Rigg’s lessons was to realize that children aren’t goal-oriented like adults.

Planning a good experience

Talk with children about what they can expect the trail to be like (difficulty, length), what plants and animals they might see along the way and possible hazards (such as snakes).

If children aren’t having fun on a hike, don’t blame them. It means that better planning needs to go into the next hike.

Set a realistic pace when hiking. Children often begin a hike with a surge of enthusiasm and energy that they can not sustain over a long period of time.

Kids can accidentally step on cactus or other prickly plants, so carry along a Swiss Army-type knife with a tweezer in it that can pull out cactus needles.

Children change and grow quickly and their abilities grow with them. Stay aware of these changes.

Source: Melissa Rigg and Bob Julyan


“Best Hikes with Children in New Mexico” by Bob Julyan

For ideas from REI that increase interest in the outdoors:

“Be prepared to pay the consequences if you’re goal-driven,” Rigg says. “You may be carrying your child all the way back from the hike if you go too far for them.”

Bob Julyan, author of the book, “Best Hikes with Children in New Mexico” (2004, Mountaineers Books), also thinks that adults are wise to let go of goals when hiking with children.

“Kids don’t tend to be destination-oriented,” says Julyan, who hiked with his two daughters while they were growing up and hikes now with his 3-year-old granddaughter. “Recently, I was hiking with my granddaughter, and after just a half a mile she wanted to stop and play in some water and climb on rocks. That’s as far as we went on the hike. Adults need to remember that kids are fascinated by bugs, animals and gross stuff. They like to play on rocks and in water. It’s important when hiking with kids to let them investigate an old log and watch a group of ants. Kids really love unstructured exploration.”

Bob Mosher,the outreach specialist at the REI store in Albuquerque, says that a good rule of thumb is to think about hiking one half of a mile for every year of a child’s age. A 4-year old, for example, might be able to handle a 2-mile round trip hike.

“Every child is different, so parents and grandparents have to judge for themselves,” he says. “And always be prepared to carry your child.”

To help keep a hike enjoyable, Mosher suggests taking short breaks after 15 or 20 minutes of hiking. “Allow time for play,” he says. “Explore the area where you’ve stopped. Look for ants. Bring bubbles along and play with them. Keep the experience fun.”

Well-timed snacks and good meals also are an important part of the hike.

“The amount and quantity of food you’ll take will depend on the length of the trip and the size of the party, but certain criteria apply to almost all choices: energy, nutrition, compactness, lightweight, resistance to rough handling and taste,” says Julyan. “This last is especially important when hiking with children. While adults readily will eat any gruesome glop in the name of good trail nutrition, children will rebel and often would rather starve first. Base your planning on family favorites that meet as many of the criteria above as possible. Some of the best trail foods I’ve found include raisins, dried apricots, carrot sticks, minimally sweetened cookies, non-salty gorp, virtually any fruit, graham crackers and nuts.”

Outfitting kids with appropriate footwear is essential, says Rigg. “If you do any scrambling up rocks, it’s worth it for your kids to be wearing good hiking boots,” she adds. “Better to spend the money on hiking boots even if they outgrow them six months later.”

Sporting goods stores like REI stock hiking boots for children as young as 3 years old.

Other equipment that children need are backpacks and water bottles. “The CamelBak hydration system is great for kids because they can drink whenever they’re thirsty without having to stop,” says Mosher. “It’s a good immediate water source.”

Julyan recommends including children in the decision-making process when planning a hike.

“While the ultimate responsibility for the trip planning and preparation rests with adults, the more children are involved, the greater their stake in the trip being a success,” he says. “You aren’t going to have fun if your child isn’t having fun.”