Hiking with Your Kids

I took my oldest son camping for the first time when he was a little over 2 years old. It was his reward for mastering the toilet and abandoning the diaper. We headed to the lake for a “guys only” campout and by the time our tent was up and the fire was built the heavens opened and rain poured down in torrents for hours. We headed to the covered pier to wait out the rain. I had a video camera and my little man with me and a six pack of root beer. To this day, that video is among my most prized of possessions. He was ecstatic just to be there and the root beer induced sugar high overpowered all of the rain that came that night until he finally collapsed in exhaustion in his miniature camping chair next to mine.

Through the years since then we have maintained a constant tradition of several campouts a year. Until last year that tradition included an isolated camping spot, a few other guys and my son working his marshmallow in the fire with medical precision. Sometimes I thought it was the pile of camping junk food that he looked forward to as much as the camping experience.


In the last year or so he has gotten to an age where the docile camping experience no longer sufficed. This coincided with my new found passion for hiking. The little man has been a trooper and loves the trails he gets to join me on. In March of this year we did the Butterfield Trail and a failed experiment with hammock camping. The next morning I got a picture of him as we headed back onto the trail, slingshot and knife strapped to his waist, hair still damp from the morning dew, eyes still sleepy, and a grin of contentment spread across his preteen face like a father dreams about.


It was a terrific experience and a terrific discovery in the evolution of our father/son campouts. There has not been a hike since that he has not asked to go on. While I insist on having a few to myself he’s my favorite travelling partner and I’m sure his brother and sister will be as well as they get older and can endure the trails better.


Recently, my son and I along with a group of other fathers and their sons headed back out onto the Butterfield Trail for a hike in and out campout. Gone were the days of all night sitting and relaxing around the campfire. Instead we exhausted every bit of daylight exploring outward from the camp, climbing cliffs and boulders, exploring newly discovered caves, climbing trees and of course grabbing a few snapshots in the process. What was just as fun as seeing the boys, all under age 13, enjoy themselves was watching the dads, including myself, get into the excitement and turn into little boys themselves. Every cave had to be challenged; every rock wall had to be tested.


I have written on this web site about why I like hiking so much and how it allows me the time and space to re-clarify within my own mind and heart what is important and how to manage life. These father/son hiking trips have appeared on my radar like a hidden secret that no one ever told me about. It’s not just bonding. It’s experiencing some life together, making some memories, solidifying the value of our relationship.


Father’s day is coming up this weekend. The weather is getting hotter but I encourage dads out there to take some time and head to the trail with your kids. There will definitely be obstacles to overcome but that is part of the point. There is no need to push an agenda. Just relax and enjoy some time together. Listen to them, watch them discover and enjoy the trail and feel yourself come alive when you discover this little secret of the hiking life.


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