Sunday, April 22, 2012

How long will day hike with kids take?

Just how long will your entire day hiking adventure with kids take?

To determine that, add three elements: drive time, walking time, and rest stops. Drive time usually is easy to figure out, though be aware that if heading into mountains, curvy and steep roads will force you to go slower. That means a longer drive time. For walking time, you’ll go much slower than you would if hiking on your own or with other adults. Kids on your back probably will increase your walk time by 25%; kids on foot will increase it by 50% until their late teens, when they’ll probably outpace you. Finally, set aside 10-15 minutes for each rest stop on the hike, stopping every half hour for toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary school aged-children and every hour for older children and teens. Of course, you may need to make more frequent stops, but don’t do any less.

This hike now must be positioned during certain hours of the day depending on your children’s habits. Most importantly, consider when your kids eat meals and take naps. You’re trying to squeeze hikes between these major daily events in a child’s life.

For infants, this is not such a big deal as the child can be fed during rest stops, and the rhythm of your walk likely will lull him to sleep. For toddlers eating solid meals and needing the comfort of a mattress, however, it’s a bit more complicated. You don’t want to arrive at the trailhead a half-hour before lunch time. This all becomes less of an issue as the children enter school; if the hike crosses meal time, simply plan a picnic lunch. Regardless of age, make sure kids have eaten a complete meal before heading out on the road.

You also want to get back to you vehicle before darkness falls. Children hiking at night is inadvisable, as the difficulty in seeing increases the chance of falling, of missing a turnoff in the trail and getting lost, and of keeping track of children. Many animals also hunt at night, so there is a greater chance of being bitten.

That being said, group night hikes, led by rangers and park docents, are a lot of fun and very educational – but the trails on such hikes usually are wide and well maintained, and you’re probably with a highly experienced hiker who knows the area extremely well.

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes.