For some, selecting a shorter or easier route for kids might be an easy decision. For me, it was not. My decision making went like this:
“This is our annual family backpacking trip and we need to hike the farthest to get to the best destination as possible. I’m sure the kids can handle ____ miles/day and carry ____ pounds of gear.”
It only took me one 3-day trip turned 2-day trip to learn my lesson.
We decided to hike Colchuck Lake, in the Central Cascades of Washington during Labor Day weekend. The hike itself is 4 miles to the lake with an elevation gain of 2300 feet. This is a beautiful region of the state. My kids were 2 and 4. My oldest could carry a small pack that contained his sleeping bag and my youngest could barely walk, it seemed. We started down the trail at noon. After, 6 long hours of little feet trying to climb up and over ridges, through boulder fields and countless switchbacks, we arrived at camp. The sun had gone down, the temps dropped to around 45 degrees. We set up tents in the dark while the kids cried about being cold and hungry. We became stressed as the trip seemed to be crumbling with sad kids. We all quickly ate dinner and jumped in our sleeping bags and fell asleep.
We awoke to a freezing morning, literally. It was 30 degrees and it had begun to snow in the mountains surrounding our campsite. We all stood around the Jetboil waiting on hot chocolate to warm up. The desire to go explore the area was almost gone. After we warmed up a little, we all went on a short hike around the lake. The kids were still cold and not too excited. On our way back to camp, we discussed the weather conditions and the fun factor. The decision was made by 10 am. to pack up all the gear and head back down to the car. The hike out was just as difficult as the hike in. The kids were tired from the day before. We arrived at the car around 5 pm and headed to a hotel.
While there is a lot more I learned from this trip that I’m not going to write about in this post, but here are some of the things I did learn:
- The kids were not nearly as excited as I was about getting to a cold lake in September.
- The kids spent all of their backpacking time walking instead of enjoying, experiencing, playing, exploring, digging, observing.
- The route was tough and tough was not the goal. Fun was the goal and I failed.
I have learned over time to tone down the hike. As an adult, I enjoy the challenge of getting to the destination, but kids enjoy the journey, the big rocks, tall trees, filtering water, running back and forth over bridges, splashing in creeks. Their “destination” is just hanging out with family in the outdoors.
The following year when the kids were 5 and 3, our annual backpacking route was two flat miles to the destination. This kids still talk about that trip and how much fun they had.