OUR CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE & GUIDE TO HIKING WITH KIDS
On our annual trip back to California this year, we decided the kids were old enough for a proper hiking trip and so we packed them up and headed to Bishop, part of the Inyo National Forest and surrounded by the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range. The town was named after Bishop Creek, which we could spot flowing rapidly along the road as we drove higher into the mountains towards our campsite.
July is hottest month of the year to visit this area, (with highs of nearly 50 C) but the dryness in some ways makes it bearable. Just stepping under the shade of a tree is enough to cool you off, and even the slightest breeze is refreshing. In the evenings, the temperature drops down just enough for a sweatshirt and s’mores over the campfire. We checked into the Creekside RV Park just in time to see the sun fade into a gorgeous burnt-orange haze over the craggy snow-capped peaks. After some warm tortilla soup, and a few rounds of charades around the campfire, we tucked ourselves in, ready for a day of hiking and adventure in the morning.
We drove out of the camp early towards the beginning of the trail head at South Lake, elevation 2977m. From there it was a steady and slow climb for approx. 3.2 km towards Long Lake on the well-known John Muir Trail. This trail is a great introduction to hiking for children. Most of it is easy to manage, with well worn segments that wrap around the cliffs, through the forest and steadily up the mountain. Our group consisted of 8 adults, all with varying levels of age and fitness and 4 kids, aged 8, 7, 4 and 2. Needless to say, we didn't go very fast, but that was fine. Everyone went at their own pace and stopped as we needed to along the way. We ended up taking a little over 2 hours to get to Long Lake, which was just the first of a series gorgeous lakes nestled between the peaks along the trail. It was a picture perfect backdrop for our simple but satisfying picnic surrounded by breathtaking mountains and patches of glistening snow on the ground around us.
OUR GUIDE TO HIKING WITH KIDS
Hiking with kids can be tricky and you should be prepared for delays and unexpected hiccups along the way. But if you can manage to do so, it is well worth the effort. It opens up a whole new world of adventure and exploration that you can do as a family. Here are some things you need to know before planning a hiking trip with kids:
Make sure you’ve researched the hiking options available in the area including the climate, distance and difficulty level. For the first few hikes, or if you have very small kids, it’s better to pick a trial that’s not too strenuous and has interesting features and sights along the way like waterfalls, meadows or lakes. Make sure you factor in your family’s ability and fitness level.
HAVE THE RIGHT GEAR
Unless you plan on hiking extensively there’s no need to get outfitted form head to toe in expensive gear, but you should have the essentials, such as GPS or a good old fashioned map so you know where you're going, sunscreen, first-aid supplies, headlamp or flashlight (although probably best to stick to daytime hikes with small children), knife, fire starter and water.
Additional gear for hiking with kids are:
Good shoes: preferably lightweight and durable all-terrain hiking shoes.
Wet wipes/ tissues: to wipe dirty hands or runny noses along the way.
Bug repellant: especially this trail with its extremely large and vicious mosquitos!
Safety whistles: for each kid to use in emergencies.
Hats & Extra Layers: to protect those sensitive faces from the harsh sun and to be prepared for temperature changes.
TAKE YOUR TIME
When hiking with kids, or doing anything for that matter, you need to allow plenty of time for them to go at their own pace and explore on their own terms. In our case Aiden loved to just plop down on the ground in the middle of the trail and start covering his legs with gravel. He did this multiple times on the way up and down. For him, this was part of the experience and we wanted him to be able to take his time to enjoy the wilderness in his own way.
Taking your time also means being prepared for the inevitable tiredness and crankiness. On this hike, both of the little ones in our group decided to take a nap along the way!
Planning for frequent pit-stops along the way will keep kids refreshed and hydrated. Make sure they drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. A variety of snacks on hand such as juice bags, dried fruit, nuts, and energy bars are a great way to make sure the little ones are energized and motivated to keep on going. It also is a chance to reapply bug repellant and sunscreen before setting off again.
Always research the potential dangers along the way including difficult terrain and wildlife. Keep a hand on young children in areas that may cause accidents like slippery waterfalls or steep cliff edges. Make sure they are in arms reach in other areas that are safer for them to explore on their own. Watch out for potentially dangerous wildlife or flora. In our case, this was active bear and rattlesnake country, so we made sure to stomp heavily in the grass to announce our arrival and also kept an eye out for poison oak.
MAKE IT FUN!
Turn it into a game so kids stay motivated and interested along the way. Kids love to feel in charge, and appointing one as the “leader” to walk ahead of the pack is a great way for them to feel confident and empowered. Challenge kids to find or spot things along the way, like wildflowers, acorns, or signs of wildlife is a great way for them to appreciate nature along the way! Make sure you keep telling the kids how awesome they are doing so they feel empowered and motivated to finish the hike.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Explain the importance of appreciating and helping to preserve nature. The “Pack it in, Pack it up” concept is one you’ll see frequently on signs at trail heads to remind everyone of leaving the area exactly how you found it. Encourage kids to pick up after themselves and dispose of trash responsibly by taking your own plastic bag and even picking up other trash you may find along the way. Instilling a sense of environmental responsibility an early age is a priceless gift to them and to the Earth!
HAPPY HIKING EVERYONE!
Love, The Bishops xx
Psst! Check out our California travel blog below!