Extreme and Not-so-Extreme Dayhiking

By Scott Graham
  |  Gorp.com
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Extreme Kids Dayhiking
 (courtesy, Scott Graham)
The Basics
1. There's no easier way to begin exploring the outdoors with your kids than dayhiking.
2. When your kids clamor for more than just dayhiking—but you'd like to keep doing it with them—you can up the ante by taking them dayhiking in the form of geocaching, orienteering, nature-game playing, and trail running.
3. "Extreme" dayhiking in the form of off-trail and off-season hikes and explorations is another way to expand your opportunities to dayhike with your children as they grow older.

Dayhiking is the easiest activity you can tackle in the outdoors with your kids. You can hold their hands and explore the banks of a creek when they're toddlers, play chase with them in the forest when they're 2, and complete hikes of a mile or two with them when they're 3.

Until age 4 or so, children love the simple act of walking in the woods—an act that gets them comfortable in the outdoors and ready to tackle more active forms of outdoor play in years to come. Beyond age 4, however, most kids need some encouragement when it comes to dayhiking. One of the best forms of encouragement is simply to up the dayhiking ante with your kids by tackling other forms of hiking with them, including geocaching, orienteering, trail running, and snowshoeing.

The Dreaded Dayhike
When Taylor and Logan were little, they had no choice but to come with me when I ran errands around town as part of my at-home-dad duties. The boys quickly came to despise this chore nearly as much as I did (and still do). They refused to get in the car when I so much as mentioned what came to be known in our family as the "E" word.

As a defense mechanism, I came up with a new expression each time I faced running errands with the boys. Rather than "run errands," Taylor, Logan, and I "explored town." We went out to "forage" at the grocery store. We participated in "races," "endurance rallies," and "timed events" to see how many stores we could hit in an hour. We became "spies" casing the dentist's office and "barbarians" planning an assault on the hardware store.

The result? I still disliked running errands, but I got them done. And the boys enjoyed participating in these new adventures.

When the boys were old enough to begin hiking, they quickly learned to dislike the term "dayhiking" as much as they hated the term "errands." What Sue and I saw as a relaxing day in the woods, the boys saw as drudgery. And who could blame them? From the boys' perspective, dayhiking was a fancy word for forced march. They would much rather stay home and play in the yard than put one foot in front of the other over and over and over again. When Sue and I managed to drag the boys to a trailhead, they wanted to stay right there beside the car, playing basketball using wads of paper and the trailhead trash can as a basket.

Sue and I banished the term "dayhike" from our parenting lexicon as quickly as we had the term "errand." We no longer spoke with the boys of going out for a dayhike. Rather, we took them to "explore" a place they'd never visited. We went to "skip rocks" at a lake that just happened to be a mile's hike from where we parked. We went "bouldering" on rock faces that, likewise, were reached via hiking trails. We went on "reconnaissance missions" and "search-and-rescue efforts"—anything but dreaded dayhikes.

Our ploy worked. The boys had fun on our various excursions, and Sue and I had fun dayhiking with them.

First Hikes
In addition to coming up with camouflage descriptions for what really is dayhiking, you can tackle several activities in the outdoors with your kids that approximate dayhiking and that your kids will love. As detailed later in this chapter, those activities include geocaching, orienteering, trail running, and snowshoeing. You also can add spice to dayhikes with your kids by participating with them in nature-appreciation activities and games during your hikes.

Nature-appreciation activities can include virtually anything—nature-themed scavenger hunts, taking turns leading one another along a trail while blindfolded, or selecting natural objects along the way for use as clothing or play accessories. Such objects might include sticks for use as walking canes, tall grass stems as headdresses, or pinecones as baseballs.

Games can include verbal exercises like Progressive Storytelling, Twenty Questions, and I Spy, or physical activities such as Hide-and-Seek, or Relay (passing a stick backward from one hiker to another like runners passing a baton).

Logan and I entertained ourselves on one high-country hike with a game we developed ourselves. Every few yards, Logan would run ahead of me up the trail and lie down in a patch of skunk cabbage while I waited with my eyes closed. When he was hidden, I headed up the trail looking for him while muttering, "Fee, fie, foe, fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman." If I passed Logan without spotting him—which, no surprise, happened nearly every time—he crept up the trail behind me and startled me with a yell and a leap on my back. We repeated this over and over again.

Although I didn't do as much hiking that day as I might have, I had more fun leapfrogging slowly along the trail with Logan than I've had on any other dayhike I can remember.

"Extreme" Dayhiking
One sunny, late-spring morning, Sue and I convinced Taylor and Logan to head out with us for a dayhike to the ruins of an abandoned silver mine high above timberline in the mountains north of Durango. We piqued the boys' interest by admitting the truth: We weren't sure we'd be able to make it to the mine because it was still early in the season, and we didn't know whether the route was clear or covered in snow.

We parked where the remains of a midwinter avalanche covered the road a mile before the trailhead. The boys led us over the avalanche debris and on to the end of the road. From there, Sue, the boys, and I had a great time simply trying to follow the trail, which required us to make our way over and around a series of steep snowfields that clung to depressions in the mountainside.

Snow clogged the trail where it switchbacked through a north-facing cliff band a half mile from the mine. We left the trail and worked our way to a stretch of the cliff that faced the sun. There, the rock face was free of snow, but not of snowmelt. Spotting one another, we climbed from slippery ledge to slippery ledge until we topped the face.

Above the cliff, we ran into a four-person crew setting the course for a Red Bull Adventure Race scheduled to pass along the trail in a few days. The leader of the course crew told the boys how impressed he was that they'd made it so far up the trail. The day before, he said, his crew had been stopped by the cliff band the boys had just climbed. He'd brought his crew in via a less arduous route today, he explained, carrying shovels to dig out the snow covering the trail through the band of cliffs.

Energized by the crew leader's praise, the boys took off ahead of Sue and me across the flat snowfields that lay between the cliff and the abandoned mine.

The challenge of trying to reach the mine through the snow that day made what really was nothing more than a simple dayhike into a terrific family adventure. This sort of "extreme" dayhiking with your kids can include virtually anything of your choosing that makes a challenge of what otherwise would be a normal hike. Other forms of "extreme" dayhiking include hiking off trail to a high point, traversing a ridgeline end to end, tracking game or following a game trail as far as possible, or (one of my favorites) attempting to follow a water course to its source.

How to Make Your Dayhike Fun for the Family
1. Call it anything but "hiking." Say you're taking your kids exploring, climbing, bouldering, or mountaineering—and be sure to include elements of those in your hike.

2. Include your kids in preparations. Have them study maps, help prepare food for the adventure, and pack their own daypacks. Such activities will get them excited about the trip.

3. Always have a goal so your kids will know what they're setting out to accomplish. A lake, creek, cliff face, giant boulder, or the top of something—a mountain, hill, ridge, or bluff—all work well.

4. Let your kids lead the way. Let them be "boss" and set the pace.

5. Use any means available to distract your kids from the task of placing one foot in front of the other:

i. Tell stories and play games.
ii. Supply them with cameras to use along the way.
iii. Have your kids tie stuffed animals to their packs and act as tour guides and caretakers for their animals.
iv. Allow your kids to carry their own treats, and assign them the task of deciding when to eat their treats. This will keep their minds surprisingly busy trying to determine whether to eat their favorite piece of candy at a particular trail junction or to save it until after lunch.
v. Have everyone predict when you'll arrive at your goal. Keep close track of distance traveled and time elapsed as the hike progresses. When you reach your goal, the person whose guess is closest to your arrival time wins an extra hunk of chocolate.

6. Do anything to get your kids started: crack jokes, sing songs, talk about future birthday parties. Once inertia is overcome, they'll generally settle in and have a great time.

7. Experiment with activities in the outdoors such as geocaching, orienteering, and trail running that equate to dayhiking for you, but are fun for your kids.

8. As your kids grow older, choose dayhikes that challenge them and you alike. Go "extreme" dayhiking.

Published: 27 Apr 2007 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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