Summer Sunday: 6 Tips for Hiking with Young Kids

Summer Sunday: 6 Tips for Hiking with Young Kids

IMG_1044The mountains of Telluride beg visitors to play in them in the summer months. The endless trails lead those who are willing to follow up rocky peaks, across colorful meadows, and along clear rivers. But there can be one major obstacle for families who want to get on those trails—little people (aka their young children) who do not.

Let’s face it, the average four-year old does not wake up in the morning pleading to do the Sneffels Highline. But most young kids will hike, and enjoy it, if it’s fun. I’ve learned a lot through trial and error as well as by listening to other moms and childcare gurus like Wendy Brooks, the founder of Telluride Academy, to make hiking with little ones successful.

And, a few weeks ago, my 6-year old daughter completed her first Jud Wiebe. There was limited whining, we finished the trail, and we had a lot of fun.  Here are the lessons I learned from my daughter, other moms, and Brooks that can help make hiking, and playing, in the San Juan Mountains a family affair.

Forget about time: Since retiring as the Director of Telluride Academy ten or so years ago, Brooks has been running a small program for 4-year olds (as each of her grandchildren have turned four) called Camp Teenie. “The little kids can do the same things as the big kids, it just takes longer,” Brooks told me. To prove her point, that day, she had “hiked” with her group of three and four-year olds (including one of my daughters who won’t even walk from the car to our front door) to the waterfall in Town Park from Oak Street. It took them three hours. But they did make it to the falls —  then intelligently opted to take the Galloping Goose home.

Start small, and build: There are as many exciting hikes in Telluride for little ones as there are for adults. But, I don’t advise starting with the Jud Wiebe. Children build their endurance quickly, and if you start small, they will gain the confidence, stamina, and interest to hike longer, harder trails. Beginner excursions include hiking to the waterfall in Town Park, exploring on the Valley Floor, taking the Gondola and hiking down The Ridge Trail to the Mountain Village, hiking the Keystone Gorge Trail at Lawson Hill, hiking up Cornet Creek to the waterfall, and hiking Bear Creek.

Go somewhere: Unlike many adults, little ones are not hiking for exercise. They want to see something, or end up somewhere. Having a waterfall as a destination is exciting and motivating for kids to finish the hike. Or if you are going out the Valley Floor, you can cut out to the Shell Station General Store and keep your child motivated with the promise of ice cream. A cool destination or treat at the end will help keep them moving.

Bring snacks: When I hike or bike with adults, I never leave without bringing an energy bar and water.  And, if my kids agree to hike, I let them pack whatever snacks they want. Gummies? Sure! Chocolate? Of course! Let your kids help choose the treats they want to bring on the hike and stop and refuel before the whining starts. Kids also love to carry their own Camelbacks and drink the water through the tubes just like mom and dad. Having fun gear, snacks, and water makes them feel like they are going on a real adventure and adds to their incentive.

Embrace your child’s wonder: I’ve done the Jud Wiebe countless times, but I never noticed as much about the trail, the plants, the trees, and flowers as I did when I hiked it with my daughter. She touched the trees, collected the leaves, and literally smelled the IMG_1052flowers asking what each was called. I didn’t know. I gave her my camera and she took pictures of those she was interested in so we could look them up when we got home. The Nature Center at the top of Gondola also sells laminated cards that identify the common species of trees, flowers, birds and animals in the area. We have since bought some of the cards so we can look up what we see as we hike next time.

Play—no really, play: Kids will find intuitive playgrounds on a hike that parents will pass right by. After considering the safety issues, let them climb on the rocks, explore the creeks and do “art projects” in the mud. On the way down from the Wiebe, my daughter found a rock that acted as the perfect Adirondack chair. She climbed on to it, reclined into the rock slab that acted as back support and said, “Mom, I love nature.”  All of a sudden, our three-hour Wiebe didn’t seem so long.







1 Comment
  • Emily Shoff
    Posted at 15:46h, 15 July

    What great tips! And what a star Mollie is!! Nice job McTigue!!