Keep Kids Warm and Happy on Trail this Fall
With brisk temperatures, vivid color, and fascinating fungi, fall is a favorite season for many hiking families. From hot drinks to cozy layers, here's how you can ensure a pleasant outing for everyone this season.
Just because school is back in session doesn't mean you have to hang up your hiking boots. With brisk temperatures, vivid color, and fascinating fungi, fall is the favorite season for many hiking families. From hot drinks to cozy layers, here's how you can ensure a pleasant outing for everyone this season.
Pack a Thermos
There's nothing like a warm sip of cocoa with lunch on a crisp fall day. Bring something warm for the whole family and you'll have full, happy kids for the trip back to the car.
- Hot Cocoa: Make this with whole milk (or the milk substitute of your choice) for better flavor. Plus, the extra calories make it more filling.
- Soup: Brothy soups, or ones with large chunks of veggies and meat (if you're into that) work best in Thermoses. Noodles can break up and get stuck at the bottom, making it hard to clean later.
- Hot Water: Got picky eaters? Allergies? Have everyone bring the drink of their choice and fill the thermos with piping hot water. At lunch, everyone gets to enjoy their favorite beverage.
Pro Tip: Depending on the weather, it's a great idea to keep another thermos of warm stuff in the car for the ride home. A warm drink inside a cozy car is almost as good as one out on the trail.
Weather can change at a moment's notice at any time of year, but in fall you're exploring in colder temperatures all day long. Be sure to bring plenty of layers along. You don't need to buy a new wardrobe, but you'll need a few basics to keep kids (and yourself) safe and comfortable.
The biggest thing to remember: Avoid cotton when hiking in the rain: it's a poor insulator when wet, making you feel colder and increasing your risk of hypothermia. Look for synthetics (like fleece) or wool. Thrift stores are great places to find inexpensive pieces, particularly if your kids are still growing.
- Base layer: If you’re hiking in colder weather, wear long thermal underwear tops and/or bottoms.
- Warm, insulating layer: Do you have a fleece jacket? How about a comfy wool sweater? Both of these work great as a insulating layer that provides warmth if it gets chilly.
- Waterproof & wind-proof layer: This includes both rain/wind jackets and hiking or rain pants. The jacket will keep you warm and dry on windy ridges and rainy days, and the pants will keep you warm and protected from brush and mud. * Note that waterproof pieces are typically windproof, but windproof does not always equal waterproof.
- Socks: Hiking-specific socks offer more cushioning and breathbility than cotton tube socks. Plus if an errant footfall lands in a puddle, you're less likely to get blisters or chafing from wool socks.
Pro Tip: Pack a happy bag -- a set of dry clothes that stays in the car for when you get back from your adventure. If an unexpected rain shower comes through, this kit lives up to its name when you realize you have something dry to wear on the drive home.
Check the weather and roads
A carefully planned trip can get derailed with a poor forecast or unexpected road closure. Luckily, there's no shortage of good online sources for mountain weather and road conditions.
- For forecasts, try the National Weather Service's Mountain Forecast website. It gives detailed forecasts for both mountain passes and actual hiking destinations, and includes links to zone area forecasts for freezing/snow levels.
- Not headed into the mountains? Try noaa.gov for statewide weather reports.
- For road conditions, WSDOT has up-to-date mountain pass conditions, including cameras on five well-traveled routes. It is also wise to call ahead to the ranger station where you plan to hike to determine current conditions, especially the local roads where storms or fallen trees can shut off routes unexpectedly.
Pro Tip: Have a Destination B in your back pocket, just in case Mother Nature throws a curveball your way. If you are near somewhere with cell service, you can use WTA's Trailblazer App to find nearby trailheads.
Stay alert and surefooted
Even the sturdiest trails may sport slippery rocks and roots, particularly after the rains come. And as the weather gets cooler, ice may form on wet surfaces. Be sure that everyone in your group is aware of reduced traction.
- When hiking during or after very heavy rains, it's a good idea to use extra caution and watch your footing around any steep drainages, along hillsides, some shorelines and on snowfields. Drainages around recent fire activity can be particularly unstable to mud and debris flows. If you've got very young ones, consider finding another destination without these dangers.
- Rivers can also swell unexpectedly, even this late in the season, so make sure to carefully assess any creek or river crossings.
- If you see a landslide across a trail, let the land manager know. If you're not sure who the land manager is, check under the "Trailhead" information on our hiking guide.