A wilderness outing with young children can be frustrating for the experienced hiker, or it can give a parent a new perspective on nature and spark the child's interest in the outdoors.
"It's a different world to be hiking with children," said Susan Elderkin, communications director at the Washington Trails Association, a Seattle-based advocacy organization for hikers. "The first thing I learned was that I had to learn to adjust my own expectations."
Elderkin, who has two children, ages 4 and 7, was an avid hiker before motherhood. She said having children helped her learn to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
"For me, it's about teaching them to love the outside, and to want to do it again," Elderkin said. "You really have to pack some patience and flexibility."
Elderkin learned that her children weren't always interested in the "big views" at the end of a hike, but they did enjoy stopping along the way to examine tiny creatures such as butterflies or frogs, and they relished simple activities, such as being able to play in a waterfall or throw rocks in the river.
"I don't try to think about long or challenging hikes," Elderkin said. "I try to think about what ... is going to appeal to them. I try to avoid the trails with the big drops, and if I get into a situation like that with my kids, I keep them close. Don't be afraid to hold their hands."
Elderkin said it's wise to research a hike beforehand - either online, with a guide book or by calling a ranger station. She said parents also need to know that it's OK to turn back if everything goes south.
Elderkin said she stops often for what she calls "energy breaks," and packs food that she knows her children will enjoy. She cautions parents to keep their kids hydrated, especially in warmer weather, and to learn to "read their bodies" for signs of fatigue or disinterest.
"They're not necessarily going to tell you what's wrong," Elderkin said.
It's also important to dress in layers appropriate for the weather, and to pack a change of clothes - even extra shoes and socks - and to have a good first aid kit with an assortment of bandages, antibacterial cream, antiseptic lotion or towelettes and one or two instant ice packs.
HIKING WITH KIDS
--Children 2 to 4 years old can hike a half-mile to 3 miles on their own.
--Children 5 to 7 years old can hike for 1 to 3 hours a day, covering 3 to 4 miles over easy trails.
--Children 8 and 9 years old can hike a full day at an easy pace, covering 6 to 7 miles on variable trails.
SOURCE: WASHINGTON TRAILS ASSOCIATION