Top Ten Family-Friendly Summit Hikes

Hiking is a great family pastime, to be sure, but the concept of "peak bagging" adds an exciting twist to these family strolls.
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Family Hiking
LITTLE FEET: Head to the hills and explore the outdoors with the family  (Photodisc)

Nothing matches the exhilaration of standing on a summit, wind whipping through your hair, the world spread out at your feet. And because there are plenty of "family-sized" peaks from the Atlantic to the Pacific that can be conquered in a matter of hours, rather than days, the entire family can enjoy this feeling together. First, some words of advice.

Where should we hike?
Reaching the top of a peak doesn't require a lot of equipment, expertise, or even physical fitness. All you need is the right destination. Start small and easy, with an objective that takes into account your family's age range and level of experience. It's a good idea to find a high point near home for "training," then branch out to the classic summits in your region. Tailor your goal to the size of your kids, but don't sell them short. Most three-year-old children can hike a mile or two, and pre-teens can easily triple that distance.

What equipment do we need?
For equipment, you'll need sturdy footwear with good tread (athletic shoes are usually fine), a lightweight jacket, a hat, and sun block. A small daypack for granola bars and water is handy for anything longer than a couple of miles. Children 50 pounds and above can carry a light, small pack with water, snacks, and a jacket. If you end up carrying all of the weight, consider it a handicap to equalize your longer stride.

Any other pointers?
Leave word with someone as to your route and destination. Check the weather report before you go, but always be prepared for cold or rainy weather. Minimize the risk of being caught in an afternoon squall by getting an early start. Remember that altitude can play a big factor; Hikes that start at higher elevations (over 6,000 feet) require more experience and some acclimatization. If you are traveling from sea level, give yourself a few days to acclimatize.

Pace yourself and drink plenty of water. Pay attention to signage and stay on the trail, as mountain terrain is unpredictable. On many peaks, falling or straying off the trail is not an option, and children should always be kept close. Lastly, stick to a pre-determined turn-around time when it looks like your goals are too ambitious for the day.

Peak bagging has given my children (ages six, six, and nine) a connection with geography and forged stronger bonds with friends and family who join us. Here are my picks for the top ten family-friendly summits across the United States. Some are definitely for older children who have hiked, so use your best judgment.

Published: 1 Sep 2009 | Last Updated: 11 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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