At 7, our son can hike 20 mile days back to back and 25 mile days every third day. He is actively training and planning on being the youngest through hiker of the Pacific Crest Trail. He has already become the youngest end-to-end hiker of a few trails in our area. As his parents we are very proud of his big dreams and his accomplishments. However, it was never our goal. We began small with old growth logging protests and high-interest hikes in our area with the only point being one day wanting him to really long-distance backpack with his parents. These are the tricks and games we developed to get him excited about pounding miles, and in some ways, forgetting about being tired.
Since much of our hiking is integrated into our homeschool curriculum, we decided to hike the watercycle. It had much more impact to our son when he could watch the water travel from mountains to the coast as well as having him become intimately familiar with his own watershed.
To get to Yocum Ridge you have to follow the Sandy River all the way up Mt. Hood till you stand watching the glacier cleave into the void and become the river you just walked. Even as an adult, it hits you hard.
Elliot Glacier is the largest glacier in on Mt. Hood and the second largest in Oregon. From Cooper's Spur you can hike up the edge of the moraine and really get the physical sense of just how incredibly mammoth the ice really is.
SnowCamping the US
Playing in the snow of your watershed is an important part of letting kids have first had experience of what nature can give us. We can babble about all the other external benefits, but snow is what they remember.
Jules lived in Georgia before he fled to the Pacific NW. Every year we go back and visit family, get wonderful lessons in discrimination (blue mohawked children and dreadlocks don't happen often in rural, north Georgia) and have quite a bit of fun getting our y'alls in on the Appalachian Trail. Last year we decided to drive across the country and camp/hike some of the great National Forests of our nation. Seriously rad, people. You should do this with your children before they are too old to want to be seen with you and your knees or back don't work correctly anymore. (Our family is getting there fast!)
Long Beach, Washington
Long Beach is the cheap cousin to Canyon Beach and Astoria on the Oregon sides. It is a nice weigh station for lots of hiking around the area. It is also the place we learned about the Junior Ranger Program. If you are having trouble getting your kids excited about family travel (or just want something for them to do in the backseat without killing each other) the Junior Ranger Program is awesome.
Crater Lake National Park
This park is open year round and just plain inspiring. Not many people actively hike here and the rangers show frustration about how many people "just drive the loop" around the rim at the top. It means loads of off trail experiences where there is virtually no one.
Lassen National Volcanic Park
Lassen didn't treat us very well. After a lot of research, we are going to be going back to Lassen because the park is beautiful. It is also one of the few places on the planet where all 4 different types of volcano can be hiked up to and viewed intimately. I have since learned that the park is sectioned into 3 zones. Do not do the major drive through unless you want the tourist experience. The 2 back-country zones must be driven to in round about ways, but they can really have you taking your kids up to geysers, mud pots, cinder cones and awesomeness rather than viewing from behind glass or ropes.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia does an incredible job of educating people about the past mistakes of our nation when it comes to logging. They even include in the Junior Ranger pledge "I promise to not let the past be forgotten through better choices in the future." I was highly impressed that they didn't wash over this rather ugly and embarrassing moment, but rather chose to make it an example of how we can grow from errors.
Zion National Park
There is no where like this on the planet. Stop what you are doing right now and go. You might just wet yourself in awe.
Gila National Forest and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness
Beware of flash floods. They really happen in a flash and it is truly a flood. However, the yardstick by which we measure rain or crappy backpacking conditions will never, ever be the same.
There isn't much in Texas by way of woods, but lots of pools and God and cows.
Don't underestimate Arkansas. There wasn't any banjo music, or ticks, or eating of opossum; just a whole lot of purdy, purdy, (my southern nephew insists it is spelled this way) views!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Dude, there aren't words for how amazing this place is.
New Orleans is a National Park and its history is really cool. Though not exactly in the woods, it was neat. Before visiting I didn't realize just how very "American Dream" New Orleans is. Now it holds a special place for us.
Like or not, a lot of having successful fun outdoors has to do with having quality, well-fitting gear. We are not rich and have a child who grows like crazy while abusing things quite heavily. He's a kid; they do that. As such, we have done quite a bit to find ways of making gear cheaper, last longer, and take more beatings.
Gear at Goodwill
Most all of our gear comes from Goodwill. We are talking Smartwool, Ibex, Salomon, Sorel, Patagonia. Real gear, really cheap. Stop paying full price!
Making Kid's Boots Last Longer
Living on a lower middle class income (who wants to work when you could be outside?), we have found ways to make our son's gear last a lot longer. This way he can wear the heck out of it and not our wallet.
First Aid Kit
Our son is amazing at getting into weird situations which maim his body. He follows after his mother. For this reason, Jules has developed a lightweight (8 ounces) outdoor first aide kit which is designed for everything from a blister or cut to extreme trauma and sutures. It has come in very handy and we haven't had to frequent the emergency room since The Barracuda was a baby, though I have had to personal suture his head up a couple of times.
I am rather hardcore about my water. At home we filter rain water for all our consumption as a way to be carbon neutral and more eco-friendly. However, it was also prompted by learning some rather crazy information about what is in our water supply. If I'm not doing to drink chlorinated city water, I'm not going to put chlorine in my camp water. Here's a run down on our water filter and a few other varieties.
We are a long distance backpacking family. The Barracuda started hiking major miles off trail around 3.5 and carrying weight around 4. He has worked his way up to 20 mile days back to back and we can actually venture out safely to cover some serious terrain. This has been a goal of our family for a long time and we are thrilled he loves to be outdoors as much as possible.
Planning a Hike
Adequate planning can make a big difference between a stressful trip and one which is much more enjoyable. Everyone plans differently, but I outlined how I do it. This way allows me to be comfortable hiking with my son alone, as well as an entire family. Due to telecommuting and homeschooling we can venture out quite regularly.
This was the first through hike of a long distance trail for our son. The Barracuda and I soloed it (without Jules) as a way to not only give him the accomplishment of finishing an entire trail, but also as a way to really experience some history. Living in the area and homeschooling meant we could really have some first hand experiences of both the travels of Lewis and Clark, as well as the Oregon Trail. It was one of the best things I have ever done with my son.
The Timberline Trail
This trail goes around Mt. Hood and surveys much of the great tectonic activity of our area. From various vantage points you can see glaciers melting, watch the tectonic ridgelines change due to the rainshadow effect, and see the Cascades line up in a row on either side of you.
The Loowit Trail
Hiking around America's most famous (and still active) volcano was quite engaging. Since the mountain only blew off in one direction, you literally go from some of the most established old growth in Washington to complete destruction. This was another hike that The Barracuda and I soloed (no Jules) and it really put into perspective for me how wonderful personal time with my son is. It was quite a milestone for us and a fabulous learning experience.
I have recently been informed that at 6, The Barracuda is the youngest person to have completed this hike. I'm honestly surprised by this. It was spectacular and more families should do it.
The Three Sisters
There was possibly more geology on this hike than any others we have ever done. The Three Sisters are the only triplet mountains in the entire nation and contain more years of volcanism than many other places. Hiking The Big Loop around them provides you with a highly complex, first hand geology lesson which created wonder in the entire family.
The Pacific Crest Trail
Our son has formally declared his desire to be the youngest thru hiker of the Pacific Crest Trail (2,658 miles from Mexico to Canada). It will mean he and I beginning together at the Mexican Border on April 30th and meeting up with Jules and the dogs in July at the Oregon/California border to finish as a family in Canada somewhere in early September. Who knows if we will make it, but it is sure to be awesome!
MRE's and Our Food
I personally create all our backpacking food, other than Odwalla, Luna, or Clif bars. I have found that these so-called energy bars are the absolute best motivation for my son. Not sleep, or great views, or incredible feats, but energy bars. He gets to pick out bars from dozens of flavors. He gets to eat them like candy bars. They have fancy titles like chocolate nut brownie, iced oatmeal cookie, blueberry crisp, chocolate raspberry, and peanut butter cookie. Best of all, they are only given out after we break down camp or on extremely long days. He will focus really, really hard to get on the move quickly. I must admit, a chocolate peppermint Luna bar can make a hard day of hiking bearable. For the rest of our food, I insist that it is real food, without additives, and low both sodium and sugar. This means I personally dehydrate, portion and package it.
We create and package all our own meals when we hike in an attempt to eat real food. Having highly flavorful, extremely versatile flavorings really helps this.
Highly nutritious and dense foods are necessary when burning more calories than you could ever possibly eat. Potatoes are a great staple which are versatile enough to be used over and over in different ways.
This is a major protein source for us and is highly versatile. I use it when I make our MRE's and it stores really well. Mainly, it is a change in texture along with a powerhouse of calories. If our way doesn't work out for you due to your dehydrator (or whatever) search "hamburger rocks" for other versions online.
Creating Flavored Oatmeal
Oatmeal is our number one breakfast or quick lunch food. However, some variety is demanded in our family so that we are not eating plain oatmeal over and over. I do not want a food mutiny on my hands. For this reason, I dehydrate and combine multiple flavors of oatmeal to keep it tasty and interesting.
Dehydrated Tortilla Chicken Soup
With a high protein content, a pretty decent amount of vitamins snuck in there, and only 7 ingredients this is a great go-to backpacking food for our family. It is hearty, warm, and really tends to keep you going on the cold and rainy days.
Dehydrated Sweet Potatoes
My sneaky mom side loves to add dehydrated sweet potato powder to quite a bit of our backpacking food. It dramatically ups the vitamin content, adds some subtle sweetness, and makes the food heartier. If there is any left, it sits on the pantry shelf to go into our normal dinners, but that doesn't happen very often.