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Making Memories: Milestones on Trail

Milestones can be a fun way to track a child's growth towards independence, as they graduate from riding in a backpack to carrying their own load on a solo hiking trip. Get inspired by the real-life adventures of these families, and start planning your own!

Milestones can be a fun way to track a child's growth towards independence, as they graduate from riding in a backpack to carrying their own load on a solo hiking trip. WTA's hiking community has lots of traditions, from annual backpacking trips, to seasonal getaways, to monthly hikes. Several members of our community have recorded big moments in their children's lives in trip reports, on instagram, or just by sharing stories with us. Read some of their adventures for a little inspiration, then start planning your own!

Hitting the trail with baby

First diaper change on trail. Photo by Kerry Field.

The trick: Hiking with an infant

Real-life success story: Last year, just four weeks after giving birth to new baby Jack, Maura and Bobby headed to Heather Lake. They wanted an easy hike; one that would get Jack into the wilderness, that was also a nice transition for a new mother trying to ease back into hiking.

Tips for hiking with infants:

  • Ease into it. Start in a local park or on a short nature trail before committing to longer miles.
  • Have a plan for feedings and diaper changes. Infants are wonderfully portable and relatively light, but you'll have a better time if you think ahead to what you might want with you. There is no right system for every family, so it may take you some time to get it just right.
  • Cut yourself some slack. Having a baby is hardcore enough. You don't need to crush a summit to call yourself a hiking family. Don't stress about the stats—just enjoy getting outside together!

Hiking the whole trail

Looking south across the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Photo by Brian Koning

The trick: Getting a little one to hike under his own power

Real life success story: Trip reporter Psalm104 visited the Hummocks Trail at Mount St. Helens and found it to be a great hike for a two-year old, who was able to hike the whole thing himself.

Tips for encouraging toddlers to tackle a trail:

  • Pick the right trail. Set them up for that feeling of success by starting with a trail you know they can handle. Nature loops are usually designed with little legs in mind. Don't pick a trail where you'll worry about them too much—find a wide, flat stretch to let them test their legs on uneven trail surfaces.
  • Make it fun. Play games to keep them moving (MikeOnAHike has had some success with red light, green light). Encourage them to balance on logs, splash in a puddle, or keep their eyes peeled for squirrels. Distraction is your friend.
  • Don't be in too much of a hurry. Toddlers can move at the speed of light ... or like molasses. Either way, be patient with letting them go at their own pace. If they need to stop and inspect every bit of moss along the way, well, then you might just have a budding naturalist on your hands.

Carrying their own gear

Gold Creek Pond by ShawnaUW.

The trick: Sharing the load with your little one

Real-life success story: MikeOnAHike always has great tips for hiking with little ones, from newborns to toddlers (and we can't wait to read more as his kids grow up)!

Recently, he took his oldest to Wallace Falls, where she toted her own backpack for most of the hike.

Tips for encouraging kids to carry a pack:

  • Don't weigh them down. Start with an almost-empty pack while they get stronger and more used to carrying a load. The last thing you want is for them to feel dragged down by their new pack.
  • Fill it with fun. This isn't the time to load them down with the ten essentials. Encourage kids to wear their pack by filling it with things that are meaningful and feel important enough to lug around: a headlamp, an extra stash of favorite snacks or a plush animal friend. Throw in a magnifying glass, a coloring journal or a handheld magnifying glass for exploring.

Picking the trail and planning the route

Rattlesnake Lake by Kamertap Hurmali.

The trick: Keeping kids interested in the trip

Real-life success story: We've heard from various parents that this is a great way to get kids engaged--it gets them excited for their adventure and makes them feel they are part of the planning process.

SurvivingUrban and his son just got back from Eightmile Lake, a trip that his son helped plan.

Tips for involving your kids in research and planning:

  • Make planning interesting. While you may enjoy reading guidebooks and poring over maps for hours, that may not be the case for your kids. Pull together a list or collection of photos of the trip options that you would be okay with, and let them pick from the shortlist of choices.
  • Have them test the gear. Charge them with the final checklist or ask them to test key pieces of gear. Does the water pump work? How about the lighter?
  • Let them plan a meal or activity. Let them plan a picnic during a day hike, charge them with the evening entertainment or direct the setup of a night in camp. When you're grocery shopping, give them a $20 budget and have them shop for trail snacks or one meal.

Spending the night under the stars

Practice shelter building at Sunrise Camp. Photo by Christy Pelland.

The trick: Overnight camping with kids

Real-life success story: Emily's Dad swears by the Main Fork Dosewallips Trail as a good introductory campsite. With an established campsite and fire ring, it's a good place to teach kids about Leave No Trace and fire safety.

Plus with a flat, mile-long approach to Elkhorn Campground, it's an easy hike for almost anyone.

Tips for overnighting:

  • Practice a night in a tent. Involve your kids in setting up a tent in your backyard or living room, and then spend a night there together. It will psych up your new camper(s) and serve as a good dry run.
  • Car camping is a great place to start. You can always explore by foot after you've got camp set up. It also makes for an easy retreat if the weather goes south. Plus, you can pack a few extra luxuries, like hammocks, camp chairs or an extra tent.
  • Pick a camp or campground with a fun feature. A lake to splash in, a beach to play or an established fire ring for s'mores all make for fun first overnight memories.

Packing it in (and out)

Backpacking trips
Photos by miacomet7 (left) and EzButtercup (right).

The trick: First-time backpacking trip

Real-life success story: A first backpacking trip can come at any time of life. miacomet7 couldn't wait to share the outdoors with her family; she took her family to Killen Meadows at Mount Adams to "[introduce] my six year old and my husband to my 22-year passion for backpacking."

Meanwhile, EzButtercup took her son on his first backpacking trip at age 19. They had a delightful weekend on the Blue Lake-South Fork Toutle.

Tips for a first family backpacking trip

  • Make it a rite-of-passage. A first backpacking trip is a big deal. Turn it into a special way to celebrate a key birthday, coming-of-age moment or as a reward for a big accomplishment in school.
  • Create a tradition of togetherness. Whether you're coordinating the yearly trip of two close families or making it a special parent-child trip, use a first backpacking trip as the foundation for a lifetime of backpacking adventures.

Sharing the trail

Hiking at Rainier Hikingqueen
Photos by Hikingqueen.

The trick: Hiking with a range of ages and abilities

Real-life success story: Hikingqueen has shared her beloved Mount Rainier with more than a few friends, including her father-in-law's girlfriend's daughter. They visited Burroughs Mountain, where they reveled in gorgeous scenery and a new love for hiking started.

She also has recently introduced her mother to hiking at nearly 77. It's never too late to start hiking—the Skyline Loop makes a great starter hike for visitors of all ages.

Trip reporting on WTA

Adventurekid&hermom spent part of the winter writing trip reports of their adventures. Reading trip reports from a kid's perspective is fun and refreshing, and you can relive the trip together as you help them compose the report and upload photos.

We also encourage groups to send in their trip reports. Last summer, Bellevue TRACKS wrote some great ones about their summer adventure program, and we've seen reports from scout troops, too.

Share your experience the next time your hiking group heads out!