Hiking is a three-season activity for our family. We burst onto the trails in the spring, when they’re still a mix of mud and snow, eagerly seeking every sign of new growth, grateful for the lack of bugs. Summer means overnight backpacking trips and choosing hikes for their cooling water breaks, whether river rambles or the shock of an icy dip in a glacial tarn. My favorite hiking season is the one just ending. Fall’s cooler, drier weather energizes us. We try new trails and return to family favorites, stringing together as many hikes as we can before winter settles in. By November, each time we step on a trail, I think, This could be the last hike of the year.
I know that some people hike around the calendar, prompted by inner urgings or a temperate climate. Here at the edges of the North Country, though, winter becomes hiking’s off-season. Lately I’ve come upon several ideas on how to use the off-season, all of them quite workable with children or with the entire family.
– Think like a gardener. In cold-weather places, gardeners put their gardens to bed for the winter, then turn to many months of productive dreaming over catalogues and books or simply in the quiet company of a fireplace. Hikers can do the same: Pull out guidebooks and maps; explore trails on paper and in your imaginations. Use catalogues to draw up gear lists — and wish lists.
– Create photo albums. Share photos, and memories, from previous hiking trips. Ask your children to tell you their version of the hike and you’re likely to learn more about them, and about the hike. If you return to certain hikes every year, consider taking annual photos at the same location. Children love to see the changes in themselves over time, and in a beloved environment, too.
– Map it. For big hiking projects, think about setting aside some wall space or a table for the project. Maps, for instance, can show your progress on multi-year goals on the Appalachian Trail and other long trails. When the 7-year-old son of friends decided he wanted to hike every one of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks, the family kept track of his summits in a logbook and also on a big wall map. Before he was done, the map bristled with multi-colored pins. A map can show you where you’ve been, and also — like planning to add sweet corn or pumpkins to your garden — give you new ground to cover.
“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.