This year, our family observed Father’s Day the weekend after actual Father’s Day. June 17th was instead devoted to draining textbooks and chicken-scratch notes into my brain for my final exams the following week. So, my dad’s annually requested trip to our Maine house was taken a week later; on the first weekend of summer vacation.
Usually, when I go hiking, it’s just my dad and me (and now Zealand, my dog!). My family as a whole used to hike together more often, but as I’ve grown older and our hikes increased in intensity, my mom and younger sister have become less frequent hikers. However, for as long as I can remember, Father’s Day has been marked by a family hike. After a bit of bribery (with skittles) and downplaying the mileage to convince my sister, Ella (12 yrs), we decided to climb Mt. Monroe.
Our family hike brought me back in time to when Ella and I were little, running up and down the mountains with sticks we made into trekking poles, stuffing interesting rocks and wildflowers into our pockets, and poking at salamanders in the mud. We would skip and chase after the dog’s tail, trekking poles clanking against the rocks and trees. Ella and I weren’t always energized, and we did complain sometimes. However, when I look back at these times, I realize how much I cherish all of our adventures.
From the time when we were little girls marching across to peak of Mt. Major, to our first 4,000 footer at the ages of 11 and 8, to even today, my parents have always been fairly successful at keeping our minds occupied on a hike. When a young hiker’s mind is left unoccupied for too long, that child can easily slip into a mental state of frustration, exhaustion, and general crankiness. When I hike with just my dad, we are usually focused on the way up, and have conversations on the way down. When hiking with the family, it is essential to keep everyone’s minds busy to avoid reaching the “I can’t” mental state. Luckily, my dad invented some tricks and games to play to help the miles go by. Here are some tips and tricks to get YOUR kids hiking.
Top 5 Tricks to get your Kids to Hike
1. Skittles for Trail Markers
This is a classic game in my family. Before any family hike, we always make a pit stop at a convenience store to pick up a red bag of motivation. Any candy could work, but I would steer away from m&ms and chocolate that would melt. This game is great because it motivates kids to keep moving and investigate the trail ahead. After every five trail markers we spotted (the number would vary based upon the trail), my dad would reach into his pocket and pull out a skittle for each kid. We’d guess the color as he pulled it, and be rewarded with an extra skittle if we guessed right. Ella or I would sometimes hold on to streaks of four or five correctly guessed skittles in a row, complaining when the other received more candies, yet excited to reach the next few trail markers.
2. Skittle Sucking
Another skittle game we play is a family war of who could keep a skittle in their mouth the longest before it dissolved. In the final leg of our Mt. Monroe hike, Ella, my dad, and I played this game; though it now has become competitive and strategic. I stuck my skittle to my top braces and pulled back my lip to expose it to the air. Ella held hers between her teeth and breathed loudly, sucking air past it. We never found out my dad’s strategy; he’s kept it a secret.
3. “The Order Game”
The Order Game is another classic game that we have been playing for as long as I can remember. To keep our minds from dwelling on how many miles we have to go or exhaustion, my dad would pick a category and ask one of us this or that questions. For example, if the category was fruit, he would ask questions such as “watermelon or blueberries?” and “strawberries or blueberries?” Then based on the answers, he would create a list in the order from our favorites to least favorites. Although it exhausted him mentally to remember the list and add on to it with every question, it energized Ella and me.
4. Story Time
Ella and I would get caught up in the worlds of our stories and imagination as we hiked without realizing the miles that passed by. With story games, we were at the peak before we knew it. Taking turns adding a sentence or word to an ongoing story, we would build a ridiculous plot with insane twists and little-kid humor. I remember a story about the crazy adventures of a fish with legs… Sometimes, we would take turns telling a full story to the family all by ourselves (I recommend this one for the downhill because it is very difficult to talk for long periods of time when your heart is pounding on a steep uphill).
Have your kid explain something to you that they are really interested in as you hike. Ella and I have explained apps and games, an interesting topic learned about in school, complicated TV shows (such as Once Upon A Time), and beyond. For us, one explanation takes hours. On our Mt. Monroe hike, Ella explained everything from controls to strategy on Fortnite. Does my dad really listen? We don’t know for sure.
Another tip to keep your kids interested in hiking is to pick the right trails. Start with smaller, manageable trails for smaller kids. To keep the hike exciting, choose adventurous trails with blueberry bushes, waterfalls, or incredible views. Ella and I loved trails with rock scrambling or lots of bridges to cross. Geocaching and letterboxing (kind of like treasure hunts in nature) are other great ways to turn any hike into an adventure.
Some fun trail recommendations I have are: Mt. Albany in Maine (bring bags for hundreds of peak blueberries), Table Rock in Maine (great rock scrambling and climbing), Mt. Major in NH (amazing views of Lake Winnipesaukee), and Lockes Hill in NH (There are awesome chairs made out of rock and our family hid a letterbox there!).
Soon enough we had climbed our first 4k footer at ages 8 and 11.
Mt. Monroe knocked another 4k off our lists. The hike up was really interesting as it was partially made up of steep boulders to scramble over. We passed the AMC hut Lakes of the Clouds before our final push to the top. Although we had no view because of the clouds that enveloped us, it felt pretty cool to be up high in the Presidentials.