Backpacking with kids part 4: Tips for the trail

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As you take kids off the beaten path, your going to expect adventure, chaos and challenges.  Our three day trip was full of the unexpected, the difficult and the rewarding.  We had a great time, and learned some good lessons to pass on that will hopefully help you if you decide to take on backpacking with young kids.

Start of the trip

The trip was less mileage than we’ve previously done with the kids, but the trail ended up being more strenuous and threw in additional aspects that we hadn’t encountered before. So, we rolled with the punches and helped the kids to do the same.

We knew we were hiking in the mountains, but we encountered a few more hills than we had planned on.  One of the ways that we made it easier for Mason and to keep a relatively consistent pace was to let him be pulled along.  This helped when the trail got steep.  Also, it kept him from stopping every 5 seconds to pick up a new rock or stick.

One lesson learned – despite your best preparations, you can’t be prepared for everything.  The one thing we did not anticipate was the extent of the mosquitoes. There were more here than we had ever seen. Sure we had the bug spray and long sleeves, but quickly they became overwhelming. We questioned turning back a few times, but soon decided to just cut the first day short, set up the tent, hide from the bugs and reassess in the  morning. The goal became save the kids and mom instead of just go out for a nice hike.

So after avoiding the bugs outside, but attacking each other in the tent, the kids were ready for dinner.  Luckily one of our plans did go well, our dinner of burritos was awesome and by far the best of the trip.  Yes, it is true that most food tastes better in the back country, probably because you’re working hard and starving, but this meal was one to remember and was well worth the extra weight to have a flavorful meal.

The morning turned out to be alright and we had a nice breakfast with few mosquitoes bothering us, so we decided to keep going and not scrap the trip all together, which was a thought the previous night. Our destination was the lake we were originally planning to camp near. Along the way we took some snack breaks and enjoyed playing games with the kids.  One of Chloe’s favorite things was searching through the trail mix for the “tachlet tips” (chocolate chips)

The lake was beautiful and it had lilly pads all over it.  We spent a few hours here just playing and eating lunch.

The runoff and streams have been high here in Colorado, so there were still many portions of the trail that were muddy and required jumping or balancing on logs and rocks.  Mason became very adept at picking the dry spots to step on and avoid the large bogs.  He also balanced great on logs.  This made a great game for us to play along the way and kept us all entertained,especially if someone had a misstep into the mud.

The second night made the trip.  We got to our camp site near the next lake in the late afternoon.  The hiking wasn’t too bad and thankfully the mosquitoes didn’t really bother us.  This lake was a blast.  We explored for hours the surrounding area and were surprised that we didn’t see another person the whole time.  The first area was the cliffs on one side of the lake.

Having some extra time to just explore and enjoy the surroundings is good.  From our camp near the lake, we set off on a quest to find a way to the other side of the lake.  In one direction we ran into cliffs. There were a few big ledges that looked promising, but each one ended without a way to continue on.  There was one sketchy path that Andrew could climb, but it wasn’t kid friendly. Suprizingly, we did notice a secret trail right along the base of the cliffs.  This whole trip had a lot of fallen trees and some previous hikers have taken many of these downed trees and laid them at the base of the cliff, in and around the edge of the water to create a hidden pathway around the cliff. It was hidden by all of the grass surrounging the lake.  A few of the logs sunk , but overall it was a fun path.We’re actually walking on the logs in the lake in the picture below.

Then we went around the other side of the lake and found more rocks to play on and many small stream inlets that Mason had to jump over.

The scenery was great, the kids were tired and after dinner they went straight to bed.

The next day had some good scenery with a lot of cool rock formations to go through, waterfalls, beautiful meadows and good scenes of the surrounding mountains.

Unfortunately, we had one unexpected hill that was nearly a mile long and much steeper than we had anticipated.  This took a lot of energy out of us.  The one redeeming fact was that Mason kept imagining that he had different creature power suits (based on Wild Cratts) and they gave him the extra power he needed to make it to the top.

What happens when my kid needs to take a nap?  Kids can really sleep anywhere, but you can do a few things to make in more comfortable for them. For Chloe, she can fall asleep in the baby backpack fine, but her head will  bounce around, so one thing that we do is grab a long sleeve shirt or sweater and support the back of her head and put the two sleeves under the straps of the backpack in front of us.  It works smoothly and allows her to get a longer, much needed nap while we are on the go.

One of the funny things along the trail is that when you are anywhere 2 -3 miles in and you have little kids with you it surprises most people.  Well Mason took it one step further and would hide as other groups of hikers would approach.  Some hiding spots were in plain sight, but he got better as the trip went on and he completely surprised a few men. The flowers and undergrowth was as tall as us in many parts, completely hiding Mason from view, which is exactly what he was hoping for.  I don’t know what some of them were more surprised by, the kid growling at them or just seeing a kid this far from the trailhead.  It was classic to see the guys jump and Mason just laughing hysterically.

So what do you do when the kids start saying “I’m tired, I can’t walk any more”?  It’s similar to the proverbial “Are we there yet”, and if you’re three miles from either camp or car, you better have a few tricks up your sleeve to keep the kids going. Here are a few of the distractors and motivators that we used to make it enjoyable and not have a major meltdown of either the kids or mom (ok, dad can get frustrated too).  Make as many distractions as you can, usually pointing out new things:

  • Mushrooms – they were everywhere and we created a guessing game to see what color the next one would be and who could see it first.
  • Did you hear that???? – identifying sounds, hikers, upcoming streams, birds, etc.
  • If you make it over this next hill we’ll all get gummy bears!!!
  • We took regular breaks and snacks and let them run around without a destination.
  • Finding and using the perfect hiking stick
  • Songs – we were able to teach both Mason and Chloe a few songs during the trip
  • Catching lady bugs or butterflies or just watching bugs in general
  • Hiding and surpirzing others
  • Having a few select toys that they can play with along the way as a distraction, especially if they are in the baby carrier.
  • Then when we finally had to pull out all of the stops, it came to telling stories.  Don’t worry, with kids, almost any story can do, and the easiest ones if you don’t know any are doing your own synopsis of a Disney or other kid film. These stories kept Mason from stopping on the side of the trail a few times.

The other big lesson from the trip was that you are a guide on the trip.  Could you be responsible to take a group of people into this area or on this activity on your own?  Would you be comfortable working through different problems and situations when you are the one in charge.  There are lots of professional guides who take people whitewater rafting, rock climbing, etc. When you take your kids backpacking, you assume the role as a guide because the kids can do little if nothing for themselves, so you have to be able to do everything, even keep them happy.   We both felt that assessing your skill level in comparison to a guide is a good assessment tool of whether you are up to the challenge.

In total, our three day trip covered approximately 12 miles.  Our pace with the kids was just a little slower than we had anticipated at just under a mile an hour.  It was more difficult than we expected, but will be very memorable.

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

4 thoughts on “Backpacking with kids part 4: Tips for the trail”

  1. Disney movies – yeah, I’ve done that, including some the songs. We make other songs up, and go over our ABCs and 123s a lot as well. Another trick is to follow the leader, quacking like ducks and other creatures. And I am often asked if we took the ski area gondola or auto road if the mountain has one. I love that.


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