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8 Tips For a Successful Summer Day Hike

Fresh air and adventure await on nearby trails!


Hiking with kids can help you slow down, take a deep breath, and share something you greatly love. It's a fun way to connect with your children, and inspires you to experience things through their eyes, whether pondering what it would feel like to be a slug or discerning interesting shapes in tree trunks. The chirping birds and the smell of damp, rich earth will transport your family to a place only nature can.

Here are some tips to prepare for a rewarding family day hike:


1.) Pick a hike with a destination. Reaching a waterfall or lake at the halfway point is more interesting and rewarding for kids. For younger children, pick a destination that isn't too far up on the trail in case you need to turn around. The Washington Trail Association offers the most comprehensive guide to hiking trails in Washington State; search under "Region" to find hikes in the area where you want to hike, use the  "Trail Features and Rating" filters to search for special features such as lakes and waterfalls, select "kid-friendly" and your preferred  "Miles/Elevation"  (Hint: a hike with 1500 foot elevation gain will be work for inexperienced hikers). 


2.) Pack plenty of water and snacks. Regular snack breaks give kids and energy boost, and make the hike less repetitive. We recommend sneaking some treats in with your healthy food—chocolate chips in trail mix is a perennial favorite.


3.) Err on the side of caution when packing gear. Pack spare clothes and shoes if the trail might be muddy or kids will be playing in a stream,  sunscreen and hats ( use sunscreen and hats even on overcast days) and bug repellent (light, long pants and long sleeves are also a good way to prevent bug bites). Be sure to put in some wet wipes for dirty hands, plastic bags to pack out your garbage, and a first-aid kit with Band-Aids and most importantly, a whistle on a necklace for each child. See "Hiking Safety Tips for Families" for advice on proper use of whistles. 


4.) Pick up a recreation pass. It's no fun to reach a trailhead and realize too late that you need a pass. Discover Passes ($10/day or $30/year) are good at State Parks and campgrounds. Forest Service Passes ($5/day, $30/year) are required on Forest Service lands. There may not always be somebody checking, but the money goes toward operating and maintaining our wonderful trails and campgrounds. Check the websites to find out where they are needed, and where to get them. Figuring out which  pass you need can be confusing, go here for an explanation of the different passes and permits. 


5.) Go at their pace. This may be the hardest tip to follow, but hikes are much more enjoyable when you accommodate for the little legs. Allow your kids to plop down in the dirt and explore—what could be better than seeing them in discovery mode?


6.) Make up a game. This could be anything from getting far enough ahead to hide and scare others, singing or making up songs, or adding up how many slugs you find on the trail. 


7.) Praise your little hikers. Motivate your children by commending their efforts, and helping them understand that they are conquering a mountain with their own strength. 


8.) Bring a magnifying glass. We credit the Washington Trails Association for this idea, which works wonders with kids. You'll have a blast checking out the patterns on beetle wings or the intricacies of moss.


To get you started we've put together a list of family day hikes within 90 minutes of Seattle.


Taryn Zier is a freelance writer based in Lake Forest Park and mother of two growing hikers. This article was originally published in 2010 and has since been updated.

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