Hiking with children, where to begin!
We all know exercise has tremendous value to both our physical and mental health. Getting outdoors, whatever the weather, not only revitalises us but has the natural benefit of releasing the feel-good hormones, endorphin, serotonin and dopamine. These are all good reasons to get your family hiking. And if you’re lucky enough to have beautiful scenery on your doorstep, that’s a definite plus!
Thankfully I am lucky to have the beautiful Cooley mountains, not entirely on my doorstep, but only a short drive away. Therefore the beauty of living in Ireland means a short drive in any direction will give you access to nature, whether its mountains, hills, rivers or sea.
The value of family hiking.
For my family hiking has been of tremendous value to us. We have made beautiful memories over the years. At times yes, there have been challenges, especially when the children were younger and the track may have been testing and difficult. One thing is for sure, at the end of these hikes, we all feel a sense of accomplishment, a satisfaction that few other activities would equal, that sense of being together, of encouraging each other to achieve our shared goal of getting to the top of that mountain!.
Hiking as a family is quality time together.
For us, spending time together without phones, iPad’s and the internet, has given us the gift of not only being in each other’s presence, but of quiet moments of conversation that we would never have had if we hadn’t pushed ourselves up the hills to try something different.
My advice to those who look past the mountains and hills close to where they live, try them out, go for it! With a little bit of research, you could be at the top of that mountain that you have been looking at for years. You could be there with your family, enjoying the scenery and the challenge, doing something together, making your memories!. I have a few tips for the novice hiker who wants to get up into those hills!
Nine great tips on getting your family hiking & outdoors
- Start with an easy looped trail – people are often put off by mountain routes, but interestingly many mountain routes start in forests. My advice is to start short and slow and gradually build on this. There are six national parklands in Ireland, and these are a wonderful resource with many short looped walks, perfect for the family who want to get out and about in nature. See www.npws.ie for further information.
- Research local walking trails and forest walks. Coillte – the Irish forestry organisation provides information on local walks with free trail maps to download. For more information see www.coillte.ie
- Make it fun. Walking with other family members or friends is a great way to make the walk interesting for children. Playing games to keep them occupied on the route such as ‘I spy with my little eye’ and ‘20 questions’ are great ways to distract and amuse children, and can be played by all the family as you walk. Hiking with friends who have children the same age as yours can work out well too.
- Geocaching- fun for the whole family! Treasure hunting with a difference. To play, all you need to do is download the geocaching app and a GPS device. This will allow you to locate carefully hidden containers with a small treasure called a geocache. The beauty of this game is that once you find the geocache, you return it for the next person to find. Anyone can play, you can even hide your own treasure for other people to locate. There are 808 geocaches around Louth. For more information, have a look at www.geocaching.com
- Bring a picnic– plenty of snacks and fluids to keep the children motivated and happy! Nothing like a picnic when you reach the summit or are halfway through the walk.
- Bring essential equipment such as a first aid box containing plasters, antiseptic cream, sterile water / wet wipes and tissues. A space blanket is handy to have and weighs nothing at all. Always prepare for the unexpected.
- Haversacks– encourage all members of the family to carry their water and snacks. As a result, this gives ownership and helps build confidence and responsibility in your child.
- Dress for the weather– Ensure that the children wear high vis. safety vests so that they be safe and be seen. Walking boots are a good investment and a waterproof/ showerproof jacket for any unexpected rain showers. I would also recommend always hiking with full arm and leg cover whatever the weather, but especially warm humid weather. This will cut down on insect bites/ midges and if walking off track, protect you from ticks. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/694158/PHE_Tick_Leaflet.pdf
- Leave no trace. Always be mindful that whatever you take with you on the trail, that you also remove, even when it comes to banana skins. This will ensure that you leave nothing behind. http://www.leavenotraceireland.org/
As well as the vast personal benefits of hiking with your family, there are enormous benefits to your child’s development. It increases physical activity, supports creativity and problem solving, teaches a lifelong skill, improves social relations, and enhances cognitive abilities. What is there not to like about hiking? The benefits are enormous, give it a go! This is the perfect time of the year to plan your walks as a family. So, go on, go for it and create your wonderful memories!