Did your last family hike contain more moans and groans than oohs and ahhs? It’s OK, parents – we’ve all been there. You’re envisioning an idyllic afternoon of physical activity, educational enrichment, and maybe even a photo for that holiday card. Then reality sets in and you’re dealing with nonstop protests, multiple meltdowns, and a massive headache. It’s enough to make you hang up your pack and call it quits till they’re 18. But take heart! It doesn’t have to be this way. Your dream of enjoyable family hiking can be a reality. This guide will detail the tips and tricks for keeping kids happy and engaged while hiking, thus keeping you sane. Plus I’ve got the scoop on some of Boulder’s classic kid-friendly hikes (and one hidden gem). Onward!
When to go: You want to make this easy on yourself, so play it smart. There is no award for “Parent Who Overcame the Most Obstacles While Hiking With Their Kids.” Wait for a day when everyone’s feeling good and the weather is reasonably pleasant. Work around naps and pick a time of day when the kids are likely to be at their best. If you want to live the dream, your best chance is to start with optimal conditions.
What to pack: A short hike with kids will start feeling like an Everest Base Camp Trek if you don’t have the right supplies. Here’s a suggested list of items to keep everyone happy and safe out on the trails.
- Plenty of water
- Healthy snacks and one special treat (for motivating and bargaining)
- Fun “nature tools” like a magnifying glass, kid-sized binoculars, a small container for rocks & flowers, etc.
- A nature scavenger hunt or bingo (seasonal ones specific to Boulder can be found on OSMP’s kids’ pages)
- A notebook and pencil
- Waterproof outer-layers
- Basic first aid kit
- Trail map
- Fully-charged cell phone with cool nature apps like TreeBook and iBird Lite
Pro-tip: Go to the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage and check out their “Passport to Adventure” program that encourages kids to hike OSMP trails and earn badges!
What to do: Kids are naturally inquisitive and love to explore, but they’re not known for their patience or their attention spans. Here are my tested methods for keeping it fun and interesting out there.
- Research the trail ahead of time to get them excited about points of interest
- Show them the route on a map and let them plot your progress as you go
- Establish one main goal for every hike (to get to the summit, to observe wildlife, etc.)
- Encourage them to make observations by using their senses (What does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like? What does it smell like?)
- Use the nature tools and scavenger hunts to stave off boredom and distraction
- Use phone apps or books to identify plants and animals
- Let them take photos of things they want to remember
- Take frequent breaks that include rest, food, and water
- Set aside time during the hike or right after to record what they saw (older kids can do the writing themselves, and younger kids can add sketches to your writing)
Where to go: There are two things to keep in mind when choosing a trail for a family hike: (1) Focus on the cool factor. Go with trails that feature more than one type of ecosystem and at least one point of interest. Kids want to see something cool – giant boulders, a creek, an historical site, or an amazing view. (2) Keep it doable. Know their abilities and limits. You want them to feel successful on the hike so they’ll be excited to do it again in the future. With that in mind, here are some trail recommendations for family hikes in Boulder:
The Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail at NCARis a relatively flat .4 mile loop that’s perfect for the littlest hikers.
Why Your Kids Will Love It: This tiny trail offers big views of both mountains and plains, and it’s lined with interpretive signs about local weather and climate. Plus there are boulders for climbing and benches for snacking.
Red Rocks Trail at Settler’s Parkis a 1-mile loop that encircles the large sandstone formations at the western edge of town. There is one short but steep climb up to the rocks. This trail is ideal for ages 5 and up.
Why Your Kids Will Love It: The rocks are the main draw here. They’re great to look at, and even better to scramble on. You won’t want little ones to go too high – thankfully there’s a path right through the middle that offers kid-level scrambling fun. And the seasonal ditch is a great place to cool off on the way down.
South Boulder Creek Trail at Bobolink Trailis a 1.5-mile trail (between Baseline and South Boulder Roads) that runs along South Boulder Creek. It’s flat, wide, and great for all ages.
Why Your Kids Will Love It: The creek provides endless entertainment. Interpretive displays present information about the ecosystem. And the area is known for its wildlife, as well as its domestic animals (the trail is adjacent to farmland).
The Hidden Gem
Pines to Peaks Loop at Bald Mountainis a gentle 1.5-mile loop located 4 miles west of town in Sunshine Canyon. The loop is best for ages 5 and up. An out-and-back to the summit is only 0.7-miles total and would suit all ages.
Why Your Kids Will Love It: Bald Mountain looks more like a lump than a mountain, but it stands at an impressive 7,160 feet. As far as your kids are concerned, it’s a SUMMIT! And who doesn’t love some good old-fashioned peak bagging? So what if you only gain 200 feet in elevation from the parking lot? Your kids will be standing on top of a mountain, and that’s all that matters to them. The trail also offers stunning views of Indian Peaks Wilderness, a peaceful ponderosa pine forest, prickly pear cactus galore, and lots of lizards.
Parents, it’s in your hands now. Make the dream a reality with this nearly foolproof formula for successful family hikes. Pack a bag, grab the kids, and go get it! Happy trails, Boulderites!
Photo Credit: Alli Fronzaglia