IntroductionPerhaps you have heard such a phrase as “your climbing life is over when you have children”. Rest assured that is not the case. Most children love the outdoors and many are intrigued by exploration and challenging physical activity.
This article will discuss several issues and have several tips pertaining to hiking and climbing with children. All are from my own personal experience and since every child and parent is different, your experience may be far different.
Hiking and climbing with children can be a wonderful and exciting experience. It can also be frustrating at times, but is highly recommended.
How Far?This may be the most common question ask about when it comes to hiking and climbing with children. Simply put, that is totally up to the child.
Let me introduce Kessler. Kessler seems to be a born climber. By the time he was a few months old, he liked long rides in the backpack and was fine with camping. By the time he was seven months old, we took him on long plane rides across the world and he was being carried on multi day backpacks of over 70 kms (42 miles). By the time he was two years old, he was hiking 8 kms (5 miles) a day on his own and without being carried. Some of the things he did when three years old were, hiking off trail for 20 kms (12 miles) a day, climbing up to 4250 meters (~14,000 feet), some technical rock climbing, and many multi day backpacking trips. At age four, he is hiking up to 14 miles (23 kms) per day and has done some very challenging trips in some remote areas as well as now climbed one of the three most isolated 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. At this time, he has climbed 85 mountains, many of which are class three or more in difficulty.
So this should be expected, right? Well, sometimes. Shaylee is our daughter. Shaylee also liked to ride in the backpack. All was well for the first hour. After that, it didn’t work so well. Shaylee also hated long plane rides. Shaylee, when first turning two years old, could hike for short distances, but only for 2 kms (1 mile) before she wanted to be carried. Hiking and climbing with her along was completely different than it was with Kessler. It is still rewarding and always interesting, but a completely different experience. She still loves it, and loves to camp, but she also liked to be carried and play more along the way.
Things changed when she was two and a half. She is now four years old and hiking eight or nine miles a day on easy terrain. She just took a bit longer to get into it.
Other parents and children might not be so lucky. I believe that starting very young could be one of the key points, but a child should never be pushed on a hike and you have to let them set the pace.
I wrote the above to point out that every child is different, and you never know what to expect. How far a day you climb or hike should be up to the child. On one hand, don’t expect or force them into a specific itinerary, but on the other hand, don’t be afraid to take a child hiking and climbing, even on long trips.
There is no right or wrong distance for a hike or climb, and every child is different. Expect the unexpected.
How Hard?There isn’t too much to say here than wasn’t covered above. It is up to the child. However, one tip is to include hikes or climbs with at least some challenges. I have found that my children actually enjoy a more rugged hike with some interesting scrambles along the way even more than just a flat trail. Let the children challenge themselves a bit, but be safe.
As with any mountain, canyon, or route, the appropriate age for completing a route is whenever one is ready. Age is not important, experience is and safety is always the #1 priority.
How High?Although this is often asked, people should really be asking a doctor instead of someone off the street. Even doctors have vastly different opinions on the matter.
One thing for sure though, is that a child should e old enough to relate that something is wrong if they are not feeling well due to the altitude. Sometimes, this could be by crying, but if a child is crying at moderately high altitudes, I would descend immediately, because that may be a problem. Luckily we never had that problem.
When living for months at 2300 meters (7500 feet), we took out one year old to around 3900 meters (12,800 feet) a few times and didn’t notice anything different, but personally there is no way I would try something like that if we lived at sea level. As mentioned Kessler climbed to 4200 meters/~14,000 feet) at age three, and surpassed 4000 meters/~13,000 feet) several times (we currently live at 1920 meters/6300feet). At age 5 Kessler has been to 5500 meters/~18,000 feet, but only with lots of acclimatization and much careful monitoring (i.e. a pulse oxymeter).
Listen to your child. There is absolutely no reason to take an un-necessary risk of ascending higher if your child is not feeling well or crying. This should never be done. Just like adults, children need to acclimatize.
What Gear?It may sound silly, but the gear you take is the same as the gear you use only smaller. Anyway, a good backpack with a waistband is a must. We must met a poor couple trying to carry their child in a backpack that converts to a stroller. Pour souls; they were really hurting. Don’t do it. Get a pack with a waist band. Many packs have toy attachment loops as well, and these always help.
Don’t skimp on gear. Many manufactures (North Face is one) make gear for children. Make sure to get a high quality sleeping bag, rain jacket, etc, instead of the cheap and worthless ones. Buy the best boots you can find, especially on longer hikes. Snowshoes can be hard to find for younger children. I have had good luck with EMS, bad luck with Red Feather.
For rock climbing, finding gear for a child is difficult. Expect to make a harness out of webbing, because I haven’t been able to find any for young children. Crampons for young children seem to be non-existent at this time.
Where to Go-Top PicksAnywhere you want to go in a safe manner is the correct place to go. Anyway, there are some really special areas and destinations that no child could resist. Here are some of my top picks, and in order. These are only suggestions of places I have been.
1. Goblin Valley, Utah
No child in the world can resist Goblin Valley. If you want to get your child hooked on hiking and climbing, visit Goblin Valley. He or she will be asking you to go back over and over again. The valley is one huge playground, and my son claims it to be the best place (including non hiking and climbing areas) in the entire world. There are endless ravines, goblins, and rock towers and formations to explore. The only problem is getting the kids to want to go back to the car before dark. We tried telling them that the goblins come alive at night and they might get eaten if we didn’t go back to the campground, but it didn’t work. They just wanted to explore the valley more.
2. Arches National Park, Utah
The endless collection of arches and fins should keep any child interested for days. Like Goblin Valley, the place is a joy to explore, but in most places you are ask to stay on the trails. Still, it is one of the best places for hiking and climbing with children. Nearby Fisher Towers are also a must see for children. (Just don’t expect to climb the Titan with your three year old, no matter how many times he ask you).
3. Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica
As long as the weather is good, this is one of the best places to hike with children. There are many waterfalls, rivers, boiling springs, and mud pots to keep your child interested. Perhaps even more interesting for children is the wildlife. Rincon de la Vieja is just filled with wildlife, including noisy howler monkeys (and what child doesn’t like monkeys), capuchin monkeys, iguanas, coatis, birds, etc, etc. It would be hard to visit the area and not to see some of the local wildlife. Expect excited and happy children.
4. Easter Island, Chile
This is definitely a great place for hiking and climbing with the children. The weather is usually idea year round, and there are endless statues and archeological sites to visit and explore. There are also some really great, but easy volcanoes to climb, and the coast line provided great hiking and backpacking as well. Definitely a great trip for children, though few seem to take advantage of the opportunity.
5. Olympic National Park, Washington.
Bring the rain gear, but also the camera. This area has some really huge trees, a rugged coastline full of sea life, and mountains. Children love to hike along the ocean, and this is my favorite place to do so. Expect to spend much time inspecting the tidal pools. The huge trees in the Hoh Rainforest are also a treat and are among the largest in the world. There are also towering mountains as well, that are not too hard to see with a little luck with the weather, and by hiking some fairly easy trails.
6. Fiordlands and Mount Cook National Parks, New Zealand
They are really separate parks, but I couldn’t decide which one to pick. Mount Cook has many easy trails (and some challenging ones, including climbing!), and much to see such as mountain scenery, waterfalls, lakes, and glaciers. The campsites are also as ideal as it gets. Luckily most trails are in good condition.
Fiordlands National Park has many famous trails and great scenery, including mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and rainforest. Since there are huts on the popular trails, you don’t have to carry a tent, which makes long distance backpacking easier. Children enjoy the mischievous kea birds, an alpine parrot, though they can be a bit destructive to tents!
7. Mount Elgon , Uganda
If your child is older (eight years old or more), this would be a good introduction to exotic travel including backpacking and mountaineering. There is a village to pass through on the mountain along the way, and the people are eager to meet you in a friendly way. The mountains also has some nice forest full of blue monkeys, some nice bamboo forest, some great waterfalls, and some challenging, but not too dangerous sections to climb. There are also some nice hot springs in the crater of this volcano.
8. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
How many children don’t like volcanoes? The trails are good, and there is much to see. The hike across the Kilauea crater is interesting, as are all the rest of the trails. All trails in the park seem suitable for children. The campground is nice as well.
9. Chicago Basin, Colorado
This hike is great for children. The 1880's train ride to get to the trailhead is great, and the basin is full of wildflowers, mountaingoats, and marmots. There is also Twin Lakes and Columbine Pass. In shape children can climb one or more of the peaks. Windom and Jupiter are said to be easiest, but still have a bit of scambling.
What are You Waiting For?In the above section are just a few top picks of mine. The world is full of places to explore for you and your child, and there are many more areas than I listed, more that can ever be visited in a lifetime. What are you waiting for? Just do it.
Our Most Recent AdventuresI thought I would add this last section to outline some of out latest adventures, and will update it frequently. Also, if you have a trip report involving children, feel free to attach it to this article. Good luck, be safe, and have a great time with your child.
Kessler's Holy Cross climb
Kessler's and Shaylee's Dinosaur National Monument Trip
Kessler's and Shaylee's Canyonlands Trip
Kessler's Peru Trip
Kessler's trip to the Grand Canyon
Shaylee's and Kessler's trip to Arches National Park