Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

10 Tips For Raising Outdoors-Loving Kids

In Backpacking, Climbing, Family Adventures, Hiking, Paddling, Skiing, Skills   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   73 Comments

By Michael Lanza

As we neared Gunsight Pass in Glacier National Park, on the middle day of a three-day family backpacking trip, a man and woman in their fifties stopped to talk with us. They sized up our kids and smiled; Nate was nine and Alex was seven. “We’re impressed!” they told us. “We never had any luck trying to get our kids to backpack when they were young.” We chatted a bit and then headed off in opposite directions on the trail.

After they were out of earshot, Alex turned to me, wanting to clarify a point: “You didn’t get us to do this,” she told me. “We wanted to do it.” Her words, of course, warmed my heart. But her comment also spotlighted the biggest lesson for parents hoping to raise their kids to love the outdoors: Create experiences that make them eager to go out again the next time.

I’m no authority on how to raise kids to love the outdoors, and all kids are different. Offering advice to parents on how to raise their kids treads on dangerous ground—kind of like telling members of my extended Italian-American family how to make pasta sauce. But my wife and I have had good success so far. Our kids are now 12 and nine-and-a-half and look forward to our regular backpacking, paddling, skiing, and climbing adventures. They also have an impressive list of pretty hard-core trips on their wilderness CVs already, from sea kayaking in Alaska’s Glacier Bay and descending a technical slot canyon in Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park, to numerous backpacking trips in national parks like Zion, Olympic, and the Grand Canyon. (Click on Family Adventures in the top or left menus to see what we’ve done as a family, The Big Outside home page for more stories of backpacking, hiking, and other outdoors adventures, and my Book page to read about the year we spent taking wilderness adventures in national parks threatened by climate change.)

I think much of what we’ve learned could be helpful to most families, and it boils down to 10 basic rules.

 

1. Give Away Your Baby Stroller

As soon as your toddler can walk, give some friends that stroller and let your child walk everywhere you go, whether around town or on a trail. Sure, walking with a little one requires patience. But it turns children into strong hikers at a young age and gets them used to the idea that they will walk rather than be carried.

I preferred a child-carrier backpack to a stroller, even in urban settings, for those occasions when my kids needed a break from walking. It gives you exercise, is more convenient on stairs, and helps communicate to kids that our family carries packs—that we’re hikers.

 

Skillern Hot Springs, Smoky Mountains, Idaho

Skillern Hot Springs, Smoky Mountains, Idaho.

 

2. Don’t Give in to Frustration and Apathy

Let’s face it: Hiking, camping, or doing almost anything outdoors with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers is often more work than fun. Don’t get discouraged; take them out anyway. If you wait until they’re older you may find that your child isn’t interested. Introduce children to the outdoors while they’re very young and make it part of your family lifestyle, so that you nurture in them a long-term love for it.

 

Indian Tunnel, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

Indian Tunnel, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho.

3. Take Baby Steps

Don’t push your kids too hard. This one’s especially hard for parents who have always been very active, but pushing them risks creating a negative association with the outdoors. Start small, with short hikes, and work gradually up to longer outings. Think of it as pulling them along rather than pushing them. This also helps prevent the need to abandon plans, which is sometimes necessary (see tip #5) but can be disappointing for everyone involved.

What’s familiar and easy to you may seem scary and intimidating to a kid. Evaluate your child’s readiness for something new based not just on its physical difficulty, but how well your child handled previous experiences that presented comparable stress.

Example: When I considered taking my kids, at age nine and seven, sea kayaking and wilderness camping for five days in Glacier Bay, Alaska, I figured they were ready for it because they had done several backpacking trips, rock climbed, floated and camped on a wilderness river, and cross-country skied through snowstorms. They had managed stressful situations well and understood the need to follow instructions and that trips have uncomfortable moments. Despite how wet and raw it was, they loved Glacier Bay.

 

Grand Ronde River, Oregon

Campsite, rafting the Grand Ronde River, Oregon. Click on the photo to read about this trip.

4. Employ Bribery Strategically

Bring along motivators like their favorite candy bar to eat halfway through a hike and a favorite stuffed animal. Do things that create positive associations for kids, like giving them their own gear (headlamp, pack, walkie-talkie, etc.), and letting them be the hike leader or take charge pitching the tent.

Remember: What a child says now does not necessarily reflect how she will feel 20 minutes from now. I’ve been reminded time and time again that a seemingly tired kid is often just a hungry kid. They don’t have nearly the fat reserves and muscle mass of adults, so they need to rest and refuel more frequently, sometimes every hour. Look for warning signs: grumpiness, a slowing pace, growing quiet, or a faraway look. Remind them frequently to take a drink. A 10-minute rest and a fat chocolate bar can swing a kid’s attitude 180 degrees.

 

City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho

City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho.

5. Tear Up Your Agenda

Whether hiking with kids or on a serious mountain climb, I think people often get into trouble simply because they focus too much on the destination, overlooking that it’s really about the journey. Don’t be so wedded to your agenda that you fail to see when it’s time to switch to Plan B.

Taking children outdoors, especially younger ones, does not always go according to plan. Adults hike for exercise, the views, and to get somewhere; young kids want to throw rocks in a creek. Let them. Explain to kids that there will be time for playing, but also a time for hiking. Encourage your teenager to invite along a friend. Find a balance that makes everyone happy, giving children some say without relinquishing all control.

 

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Slot canyon, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Click the photo to read about this trip.

6. Talk and Listen

Establish a rule up front: no whining. Tell your children they can talk about any situation they’re not happy with, but draw the line at complaining just to complain. Everyone will be happier.

At the same time, explain to your kids what you will be doing and what’s expected of them. Welcome their questions and address their concerns. Make sure they know that you won’t ask them to do anything they are not comfortable with, and that you will provide whatever help they need. Make them feel like they’re part of the decision-making process, so they have a sense of control over their own fate, which goes a long way toward relieving stress, no matter what your age.

 

7. Let Them Ask to Carry More

I never asked my kids to carry a daypack or a backpack, which makes a hike significantly harder; I waited until they told me they wanted to carry their own pack. If they perceive it as a chore imposed upon them, they might resist or resent it. If they perceive it as something an experienced, grown-up, strong hiker (like you) does, they will want to emulate you. This means you have to carry more weight until they’re ready to do it. But I always felt that our family’s overall enjoyment of an outdoor experience was more dependent on how happy my kids were than how hard I was working.

Once a child starts carrying a pack, follow the guideline (also useful for adults) of keeping pack weight to no more than 20 to 25 percent of body weight—and even less for a small child who’s new to carrying a pack. For someone who only weighs 50 pounds, a 10-pound pack can feel like an anvil. Give her a half- or one-liter bladder of water, a tiny toy or favorite stuffed animal, and maybe a couple of snacks, and you carry most of her clothing, gear, food, and water. As your child gets bigger, gauge his willingness to carry more: his own clothes, sleeping bag and pad, snacks, etc.

 

Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon

Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon. Click on the photo to read about this trip.

8. Kick Them Out of the House

Kids today often want to play indoors (where the electronics are); they say there’s “nothing to do outside.” Insist that they play outside—but also, give them the freedom to roam around within boundaries appropriate for their ages, so they can explore and not get bored. (Think about how far you wandered from your parents’ house as a kid; ignore irrational fears about your child’s safety.) When kids go outdoors to play, they will naturally be more physically active than when indoors.

Besides regular, unstructured outdoor play—critical to a child’s development, as author Richard Louv has so compellingly demonstrated—involve them in active, seasonal sports like soccer to maintain their fitness without them feeling like they’re “training.” It also helps if you get regular activity as a family: cross-country or downhill skiing, hiking on local trails, biking, even walking around town.

 

Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Lake 8522, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.

9. Work Your P.R.

Talk about upcoming trips with your kids—it gets them excited, builds anticipation, and sets up a positive experience. Engage them in the planning: Ask them what they want to do, within the trip parameters you have in mind.

Compliment kids when they do well and encourage them when they’re challenged. They crave your attention; shower them with it, especially positive reinforcement when they do something you like. Tell your kids they’re good hikers, skiers, climbers, paddlers, or cyclists, and they will take pride in being good at it. You will help them self-identify as a kid who likes the outdoors.

Remember also that kids look to their parents for a sense of how they should react to a stressful situation. Always show your kids that you are calm and in control, and they will probably remain calm, too.

 

Yosemite National Park, California

Vogelsang, Yosemite National Park, California.

10. Take Care of Yourself

Don’t be a martyr parent—it’s not good for anyone. Make sure you get your own outdoor recreation fix regularly. When children are young, getting outside for adult-scale exercise and activity often demands that spouses take turns—a big shift for couples who were used to doing things together. It also translates to more solo parenting. But it keeps you happier and in better shape for your adventures with your kids—which can demand a surprising amount of stamina. Plus, while those preschool years can seem eternal when you’re in the thick of it, they pass. Maintaining your own fitness is important for taking your kids on bigger adventures as they get older.

Perhaps most importantly: You inspire and provide a role model for your kids when you take—and talk about—your dayhikes, trail runs, bike rides, backcountry ski tours, river adventures, or mountain climbs with adults. Kids want to emulate their parents; they will perceive whatever you do as normal and fun and eventually ask you to bring them along. The best way to get them to love the outdoors is to set a good example.

NOTE: See all stories about our many outdoor adventures as a family by clicking on the Family Adventures category, and check out my story “Boy Trip, Girl Trip: Why I Take Father-Son and Father-Daughter Adventures,” my “10 Tips For Keeping Kids Happy and Safe Outdoors” and “My Top 10 Family Adventures.

I give talks and slideshow presentations about taking kids into the wilderness. Contact me at mlanza@thebigoutside.com.

I also wrote about taking our young kids on 11 wilderness adventures in national parks facing threats from climate change in my National Outdoor Book Awards-winning book, Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks, from Beacon Press.

 

Johns Hopkins Inlet, Glacier Bay, Alaska

Johns Hopkins Inlet, Glacier Bay, Alaska. Click on the photo to read about this trip.

73 Responses to 10 Tips For Raising Outdoors-Loving Kids

  1. Daniel   |  June 9, 2014 at 2:35 am

    What a great post! I was raised by parents who took me camping on a regular basis and I am so grateful for it. Looking forward to doing the same with my kids! Thanks for the tips Michael!

  2. hfamom   |  May 17, 2014 at 4:07 am

    Great stuff! Thank you!

    We’re getting a really late start! Our son is 14, he has autism and loves Earth science… we’ve done museums and science centers and children’s museums ad nauseam. So with the ups and downs of this past winter we started looking at outside options that would be interesting and educational and really fun… the Junior Rangers program for National Parks really caught my eye so on our already planned umpteenth visit to DC, we bought a National Parks pass and J earned 5 Junior Ranger badges. What a wonderful experience!

    Now we’re planning– with his help– a cross county trip (loosely following the Lewis and Clark trail to OR, down to UT and back to OH). We’ll be doing shorter day hikes and working on Jr. Ranger books throughout the trip… maybe next summer we’ll try a back country trek!

    • michaellanza   |  May 17, 2014 at 6:06 am

      It’s never too late, of course. Good for you. Your son will always remember these times.

  3. Mike   |  March 18, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Great article. My son and I are have started blogging our hikes at kidsandtrails.blogspot.com We’re having a blast and hopefully entertaining some folks with our stories. I particularly like the part about giving the stroller away. I’m probably guilty of ‘riding’ kids when they could be walking, purely for the convenience of it. We’re working on that. Thanks for the article. Looking forward to more.

  4. Hannah J @ Dreaming of Perfect   |  August 8, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    I loved this! Great advice. My son is 8 months old at the moment, and I know this will come in handy.

    I have a blog link-up on Fridays, called Free to Talk Friday, I hope you’ll come and join; I think my readers would enjoy this post. It will be open late tonight at dreamingofperfect.weebly.com

  5. healthlifestyleportal   |  August 6, 2013 at 6:22 am

    hello !!!!! i am a continue user of your site. thank to give so beautiful advice.. here i got so useful information and i want to say that the planning step can be viewed as a tedious exercise, especially by younger children. You should find ways to keep the children involved at each step in the planning process. Allow them to work through the calendar with you and discuss the factors such as weather and seasons. Let them look at the trail maps to understand distance and elevation. visit this also…. http://physictourism.com/category/adventure/backpacking/

  6. alex   |  June 14, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Hello! this was a great blog post. I have two boys, ages 8 and 4, and a lot of your points resonated with myself and my husband. I laughed out loud at number 1, because we joke in our house that the stroller was only used for carrying luggage through the airport. :) We’re fortunate in that we live in the PNW so we just have to step outside our front door for great hikes and outdoor adventures. And you are right, we have very specific mom adventures and dad adventures (in fact, the boys look forward to dad canoe camping trips and mom hiking trips!) Thank you, i’m definitely bookmarking your blog for further purusal! Do you mind if I link this to my blog? I plan on doing a post soon on outdoor play with your children, and I think this would be great.

    • MichaelALanza   |  June 17, 2013 at 6:41 am

      Hi Alex, thanks, I’m delighted that you enjoyed this article and want to link to it from your blog. You live in a beautiful part of the country, and one I plan to visit this summer with my family.

  7. Alana   |  May 19, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Pinning, printing, and passing this to my husband – such great advice!

    • Carrie Pekarek   |  June 12, 2013 at 11:41 am

      #3, Taking Baby Steps photo, the adult female looks like a family friend, Laura B. Could that be?

      • MichaelALanza   |  June 12, 2013 at 1:06 pm

        No, sorry, that’s a photo of my daughter at Craters of the Moon, taken a few years back.

  8. John   |  May 8, 2013 at 8:43 am

    A trick we’ve used to get our three kids out is to let them invite some of their friends on trips. We’ve done birthday parties on the trail and made some great adult friends after short hikes with parents.

  9. Jennifer Johnson   |  May 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Excellent article! I started taking my kids out when they were infants, and never stopped. You are right on about starting small and keeping it fun in the beginning. Now my kids are 10 and 7 and are able to do adult hikes. We still rest about every hour, and there are copious bribes and special treats we don’t get every day. Finding other kids to hike with has been super challenging, but now we know some adults who enjoy going with us occasionally – and they have dogs, which is almost as good as children! I also got a PLB and a smart phone that has GPS so I can call for help in case of emergency, so I feel more confident venturing farther from the city by myself. My kids have had a lot of fun time out in the wilderness, and crave it. They aren’t long-distance hikers like some other famous hiking kids, but they know they can access nature for their mental health, and I’m glad they still like to come with me. I do occasionally need to take my own trips without them, and that helps alleviate the frustrations that come with harder and slower kid trips. I’m looking forward to exploring your site more.

  10. CE   |  May 1, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    This is the best blog out there! I love reading all your post, but I keep coming back to this one. I’ve shared it a few times and found out about it from our Family Nature Group we camp and hike with regularly. I can only dream that we can aspire to become an outdoor family such as yours. I was so inspired by your writing and this post that I took my hand at it. Feel free to critique or suggest anything. I did link up to this post on there as well. The photos, locations, activities, gear, and family fun you write about is really wonderful and I hope that when they are older we can take off for a few months and travel as you did. Thanks for writing as you do. Here’s my post: http://homegrownurban.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-adventures-of-camping-with-kids.html

    • MichaelALanza   |  May 2, 2013 at 5:18 am

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy my blog. Good on you for your Family Nature Group and getting your kids outside. Thanks for sharing your own adventures through your blog, too.

  11. Tyler   |  April 30, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    This is a great article. We try to get our kids out as much as possible. I’m the guilty parent that tries to push our kids at times mostly for my own gain (the destination, not the journey). My wife is great with just allowing them to enjoy it. I’m going to take a lot from this and implement it.

    Question about your mention of doing a trip for yourself. You mentioned that you and your wife (especially when the kids are younger) take trips separate from each other because that’s just the way it is. Do you have a post about how you handle that? Do you keep track of each other’s trips to make sure it’s fair? Do you have a set amount of trips that you set aside for each other each year? What about duration of your solo trips away from family? This is always a hot debate at times between my wife and I and we could really use some tips.

    Thanks again. Looking forward to reading more.

    • MichaelALanza   |  May 1, 2013 at 8:54 am

      Hi Tyler, thanks for the nice words. To answer your questions, my wife and I don’t keep score on our own trips without family, we just strive to let one another go whenever it fits into our family schedule, and we both try to not be away too much. Those are personal decisions that only a couple can work out, and I’ve seen other couples struggle with it when they don’t see eye to eye about how much time away from family is reasonable. Our solution is to give the other person something he or she wants in exchange for your time, and each be willing to sacrifice. It gets easier as kids get older, too, and I think the kids enjoy the occasional change of pace of having just one parent around.

  12. Jay Bushey   |  March 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Michael,
    I would have loved this advice when my kids were younger but we learned through experience. We now know that my daughter (12) will complain mightily for the first mile of a backpack trip, then proceed to pull us up every hill afterwards! We have had a lot of great trips in the Sierras with them and they both love the outdoors.

    • MichaelALanza   |  March 13, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      Jay, sounds like your daughter is turning out pretty well. Congrats. Keep up the good parenting.

  13. NMCL   |  March 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    I have to agree my children were and still are outside people. They were raised in the North. Snow days were filled with sliding down a snowy hill, ice skating in the pond and ski-doos in the woods. Spring was the exploration of an awakening forest, summer swimming was a must in the nearest lake and ocean and fall was hiking and picking apples and pumpkins. My youngest loves the outdoors so much became a geologist for a career. My daughter has carried on the tradition to the grandchildren. Very happy and calm children.

  14. Brian Koz   |  March 12, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Excellent article, so many good ideas and great methodology. We have a second child coming soon(adopting) and we already have an eight year old who loves the outdoors, but I am definitely going to implement some new tricks this time around.
    Tight Lines,
    Koz
    http://www.truenorthtrout.com

  15. Dean Karnazes   |  March 8, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Great advice! Seems to be the way my parents raised me, but even I sometimes find it a struggle these days to raise my own kids this same way. Thanks for reinforcing the values I so believe in.

    • MichaelALanza   |  March 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm

      Thanks Dean. If my kids decide to run a marathon someday, I’ll send them to you for advice!

  16. Debbie Steinberg Kuntz   |  March 7, 2013 at 7:38 am

    Hi Michael, Love your blog and this post in particular. So important to get out regularly and not give in to occassional whines, or “I don’t feel like it.” Love how many cool adventures you’ve already done with your kids. We’re on the same path. Nice to find a kindred spirit : )

    • MichaelALanza   |  March 7, 2013 at 9:54 am

      Thanks Debbie. Nice to hear from like-minded families and parents.

  17. Christina   |  March 6, 2013 at 4:12 am

    Hi guys – so many of you have wonderful stories! Is there anyone reading with hints on how to get out with my 3 year-old-son when my partner isn’t interested? I love hiking and grew up doing a lot – nothing super-difficult, but plenty of weekend hikes, canoeing and sailing – as did my husband. The problem is that he says now that he knows how much work it is he doesn’t want to do it. My son and I have started trying to go once a week to local bush areas for an hour or so, and we both have a great time, but I don’t know how to transfer to longer and more adventurous holidays. A lot of the issues I’m aware of other people have raised, such as the difficulty of finding other people who are interested and how great it would be to have groups of children involved, not just he and I. I visited some local bushwalking groups a few years ago and was frightened off by how intense and hard-core they were – I doubt I could keep up on my own, let alone with a littlie!

    • MichaelALanza   |  March 7, 2013 at 9:56 am

      Christina, have you tried having a hear-to-heart conversation with your partner about how important this is to you? If that doesn’t work, perhaps the outdoors becomes a shared activity just between you and your child, which can be nice, too. I’ve hiked for years with my mom, even though my dad has only occasionally joined us.

  18. Megan V   |  March 5, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Hello, great story, love the tips. My only question is in the first photo you said it was taken in
    Skillern Hot Springs, Smoky Mountains, Idaho, but I know the smokey mountains are in Tennessee. Could you please clarify where this photo was taken?

    • MichaelALanza   |  March 7, 2013 at 9:57 am

      Hi Megan, there are Smoky Mountains in central Idaho, too. Not as well known, but very pretty. They are west and north of the Sun Valley and Ketchum area.

  19. Linda   |  March 5, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Excellent article! Followed the same ideas with my kids. Just two added thoughts. Make sure they have a good time on those first adventures, even if you have to change plans. Then as you go on more trips, you’re building a stockpile of good memories so when there’s a challenging one, they have all these other good memories to offset that one difficult trip. I have seen several kids whose parents took them out one time, turned out bad and they ended up giving up because the kid had such a bad experience. I start out small and sure-fire successful, especially on river trips where they can get scared,splashed,surprised, then build up from there.

    Also, when they are really not motivating to get up that hill, M&Ms placed on rocks, and tree stumps by an adult going ahead up the hill is a quick motivator for those little ones.

    • MichaelALanza   |  March 7, 2013 at 9:57 am

      Great suggestions, Linda.

  20. Susan Mullarkey   |  March 5, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Michael, would you mind telling us about the special camera lense you used for capturing these incredible photos?

    • MichaelALanza   |  March 7, 2013 at 10:00 am

      Susan, I shoot with a Nikon D09 and two lenses: a Nikkor 18-200 zoom and a Sigma 10-20 ultrawide zoom. I consider both indispensable, but I use the 10-20mm zoom more and more because I love the perspective and depth it lends to scenic and action photos.

  21. Susan Mullarkey   |  March 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Great tips, ideas, and fantastic trips Michael! But don’t forget to pack the safety net; a copy of “Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart” (Amazon) and a compass! Before you go, be sure to calibrate your compass for the declination at the location where you will be hiking. Go to: http://magnetic-declination.com We often camp and day-hike with the little guy. Now at age 5, he is very good with a map and knowing where he is; on the trail or in the city because he pays attention to the position of the sun and to landmarks to know direction. Day-hikes can be the most dangerous because hikers usually carry minimal supplies never expecting to spend the night outdoors. Would you know how to get rescued if the unexpected happened on the trail? Could you find your way if you didn’t know the trail? The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn’t need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and “Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart” (Amazon) makes learning how to use a compass easy. Felix! explains how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. Anyone wanting to feel more confident about orienting ourselves outdoors will enjoy learning from this book. To refresh our skills, we read thru this book with our kids before every hike – it’s only about 34 pages and illustrated. Felix! teaches the reader how to know where you are, what to pack for a day-hike, how and when to take breaks, trail ethics, what to do if you get lost or scared, how to get rescued, and survival packing (for the car and for the trail). Look for it on Amazon, “Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart.”

  22. S Clark Wagner   |  March 5, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Thanks for the positive spin on what can be a real challenge for families. Our family took a big step this year in selling our very nice camper and committing to more backpacking. Our teenagers were more engaged, shared in tasks and pleasant to hang out with on backpacking and car camping trips than when we brought our camper. I think we underestimated what they were able and willing to do!

  23. Heather   |  March 1, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks so much for the tips! Our boys are 1.5 yrs and 1 month old, so we can start ‘em when they’re young! We’re looking forward to many fun adventures with our family and I want our boys to enjoy them as much as we do.

  24. Diane Mack   |  February 27, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    This makes me very happy – I will certainly share! It looks like I’ve followed most of your process with my boys (10 and 6) without even knowing it, and I have lots of new tips from you as well. As an added incentive, we’ve started geocaching too – everybody loves a good treasure hunt :) Thanks again!

  25. sasha   |  February 25, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Great stuff. I take my kids out often and they love being outside. I’m interested in learning how other single parents manage trips-I’d love to get farther afield than car camping (albeit in remote locations) but without a second adult (and expensive super-lightweight gear!) I don’t feel confident that I can actually pull it off.

    • Michael Lanza   |  February 26, 2013 at 4:53 am

      Sasha, good for you getting those kids out. You’re right, though, that it’s tough backpacking with kids before they’re capable of carrying much on their own, when the kids outnumber the adults, because you just can’t carry all the gear and food. Recruit an adult friend to help you, if you can. Even with two kids, my wife and I did a lot of dayhiking with them when they were preschoolers. But getting them on the trail will help excite them for backpacking and they’ll be able to carry their own clothing and sleeping bag/pad by age 9 or 10, and more very quickly as they get bigger.

  26. Malena   |  February 24, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Great tips. My own dad did a lot of this with myself and my 2 sisters when we were little. Our camping trips were often with my uncle and his 3 girls, so how could we not enjoy sleeping in a tent with our cousins and playing with flashlights!? On hikes, my dad always brought a package of peanut m&m’s on our hikes all over Washington state and the Columbia River Gorge. We would take breaks to eat “energy pills” and it seemed so cool and was such a treat. We loved to climb, so he would stop along the walk to let us explore or climb up a hill and would call us “mountain goats” and comment on how we were such great climbers. Of course, WA weather is sometimes very cold and rainy so I didn’t like all of our camping and hiking trips and never got into the skiing. However, today I still love and crave the outdoors and am thinking of doing the walk to Santiago (30 days of hiking)! I’m also trying to get my husband more into the outdoors and have taken him hiking, introduced him to kayaking, horseback riding, and he has experienced his first bonfire and smores. :)

  27. jeremiahshaw   |  February 23, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    well written article. at 2 yrs old, we have taken our son on numerous multi day backpacking trips, cycle touring trip, canoeing trips. he started out in an Ergo carrier on my front and is now being carried by mom in a Sherpani Carrier and I carry all of the gear. we give him as much time as he wants walking the trails on his own. We moved to New Zealand and backpacking trips are almost monthly. I will keep this article for encouragement to other parents. Thank!

  28. Bob Hazelton   |  February 20, 2013 at 6:54 am

    What a great way to alleviate NDD, Nature Deficit Disorder, in kids (& their parents).

    Another wonderful life activity to get your children involved in is Volunteering. Look for a volunteer group that works with the Forest Service, Park Service, BLM, Fish and Wildlife or a state/ county parks administration. They are always looking for volunteers and will welcome your kids when you’re there to supervise them and keep them safe. The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association has monthly clean-up events in a picnic area along a creek. The real small kids make and decorate a “Trash Monster” out of a paper bag and then walk around with Mom & Dad feeding the monster. Older kids pick up trash or help remove graffiti on the rocks along the creek.
    Work and play go hand in hand and it begins to instill a sense of pride and ownership of our public lands. With agency budgets being reduced each year we _need_ more people to help nurture and maintain the wonderful resources that belong to all of us.

    Thanks for a great article!

  29. silvia   |  February 19, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    good article

    My 4 year old daughter sumitted Mt Whitney in a 3 day backpack, after hiking happily on her feet 20 miles of the 22 miles in 3 days. Yep, the trail was full of gummy worms that came up at just the right time, and chocolate and other goodies. We talked about the trip and trained for it months in advance. And she was excited. And after the trip, she was even more excited as people were taking pictures of her.

    But then,,, she was on top of Baldy at 10 months, and 2 years, San Gorgonio at 2, in a kayak at 10 months, on first backpack trip by 1, white water rafting at 2 etc.

    Her little sister was in a kayak at 1 month, and is a veteran camper, and backpacker ( on parent’s feet) at the age of 1 ….

    Our goal is to take other families with kids into the great outdoors… Check out the family oriented trips of Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Little Hikers.

    • MichaelALanza   |  February 20, 2013 at 5:33 am

      Good on you for that, Silvia. Your kids are fortunate.

    • kamila zagorski   |  February 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Silvia, my daughter had similar adventures since being a baby – hiking, biking, canoeing, backpacking before she could walk. But I think our kids are a huge minority, few and far between being raised that way, at least here where I live in PA. We can’t find families like us to join us, so my girl is always alone in the experience and I can see how big detriment that is. Only on few occasions there was another kid on a trail to keep her company and provide peer motivation. And it makes a huge difference. Last year, when she was 5, we hiked half way down Grand Canyon and back up, 7 miles total. On the last mile up she met a girl, few years older, befriended her and holding her hand raced that last mile! We were amazed.
      Yes, we can find groups who do some things with kids, but that is mostly: short walk in a park (not scaling mountains), camping on campgrounds (not backcountry), canoeing on small lakes (not multi-day trips in Everglades), gym-climbing versus rock-climbing, etc. We are seriously considering moving to the west coast for that single reason – to find other families like us and friends for our girl.
      I wonder if anyone would have any tips on how to solve that problem?

      • Bill Goldstein   |  February 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm

        Our family is in Charlotte, North Carolina… Home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame… and we have been to 43 of the 58, now 59, American National Parks. http://www.58before18.com/ We are out there…

      • Michael Lanza   |  February 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm

        Kamila, are there any local hiking clubs, or gear stores that sponsor family outdoor events, or chapters of national recreation or conservation groups that do the same?

  30. Erik Boles   |  February 19, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Amazingly well written article. You find bits and pieces here, but you always have to patch them together to get a method that works. These 10 steps encompass everything that works. My son (7) got to a point where he only wanted to play video games. We took them away. Eventually, organically, he started going outside more, this transitioned into him asking when we could go hiking next. I will be sharing this article for sure.

    • MichaelALanza   |  February 19, 2013 at 11:48 am

      Thanks Erik, for writing and sharing this. I hope you’ll subscribe to my email list, too. Keep in touch.

  31. Zeke   |  February 19, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Michael – This is awesome! As a father of 2 small boys (ages 2 and 4), I’m always looking for ways to be able to get them outside. Though Minnesota winter doesn’t always allow for this, your tips here are sure to get us on the right foot on warmer (that is, above 0!) days. Thanks so much. Totally subbing you.

    • MichaelALanza   |  February 19, 2013 at 10:41 am

      Thanks for the nice words, Zeke. You’re starting at a good age–get them excited now, rather than waiting until they’re older and harder to convince.

  32. Matt   |  February 17, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    I have seen a couple of your posts and am delighted to find others who share a belief in sharingy the wonder of the outdoors with their children. I am looking for a good 2-3 day outing with my kids backpacking. They are still backpack beginners, but we would like to go about 5-10 miles RT. We are based in SLC and want to do a spring outing in southern Utah. Any suggestions?

    • MichaelALanza   |  February 18, 2013 at 6:24 am

      Thanks for reading my stories, Matt. There are many good options for short trips in southern Utah. Hike in to Chesler Park in the Needles District of Canyonlands and explore around in there. Zion also offers a variety of possibilities; see my story about backpacking with my kids there, you’ll find good trip-planning information: http://thebigoutside.com/pilgrimage-across-zion-traversing-a-land-of-otherworldly-scenery/

    • Walter Melville   |  February 19, 2013 at 9:40 pm

      try Coyote Gulch in Escalante National Monument. I believe the trailhead is forty mile wash. the road to the trailhead a little so read the guide books and check with the ranger station

      • MichaelALanza   |  February 20, 2013 at 5:32 am

        Thanks Walter, that’s another good suggestion. I did it some years ago, before kids.

    • Gordon   |  February 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      Ashdown Gorge (near Cedar City) is a great one… you follow the edge of Cedar Breaks for the first half and end up in a non-technical slot canyon for the rest of it. About 10 miles total and most of it is downhill (It does require a car shuttle). Most dayhike it, but there are decent camp spots about half way down (we camped). Not very well known or crowded…. My two daughters (ages 8 and 10 at the time) loved it. Additional details: http://www.utahtrails.com/backcountry%20pages/ashdown.html

  33. Rebecca J Henry   |  February 17, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    That was motivating. Thank you!

  34. OurBoler   |  February 13, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Great article!!

  35. Rebecca   |  February 12, 2013 at 7:50 am

    Excellent article!! I wish I was your kid! Seriously, though, while my family hasn’t done the variety of adventures that yours has, I can’t imagine a life without the outdoors. Our children are 8 years apart, so we had a big change/challenge going back to having a little one, but we’ve started back small and love it. Thank you for taking the time to write this article and for your excellent advice.

    • MichaelALanza   |  February 12, 2013 at 8:00 am

      Thanks Rebecca. Age split between kids definitely affects things, even the two and a half years between my kids. Sometimes I do things individually with each kid, sometimes we’re all together. Thanks for commenting.

  36. Nathan   |  February 2, 2013 at 3:26 am

    Great article. I mentioned it on our blog as we anticipate the birth of our first. Appreciate the inspiration and wisdom.

    • MichaelALanza   |  February 2, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      Thanks Nathan, much appreciated.

  37. SquiggleMum   |  January 19, 2013 at 3:12 am

    So much great advice in this post! Love it. I do have a slightly different perspective on #7 though. We have had our kids carry their own small daypack since quite young. They only have water, a snack and maybe a raincoat in it. The main reason is for safety. If (somehow) they managed to wander off, slip down a cliff edge, or any other scary situation – at the very least they would have water with them.

    • MichaelALanza   |  February 18, 2013 at 6:21 am

      Agreed, SquiggleMum. We’ve always done the same, having our kids carry a small daypack. When I referred to carrying “weight,” I meant a backpack. Thanks for pointing that out.

  38. Russ Bishop (@RussBishopPhoto)   |  January 19, 2013 at 12:54 am

    Great article and advice! They grow up too fast to miss this opportunity to instill a passion that will last a lifetime.

  39. Kamila Zagorski   |  January 18, 2013 at 12:02 am

    Michael, I have to say that most of your advice is dead on what I always tell others on that topic :). I have only one thing to add, which you’ve mentioned in one sentence, but I think it’s very important – ‘go small but often’. Besides few big trips/ adventures a year we try to do something every week (or more) just to spend as much time outdoors as possible as a family. If we have only an hour or two we’ll go to nearby park to roam the trails (snowshoe in winter), half a day – small hike or bike rails-to-trails (x-country). When my girl was baby and toddler we would do a lot of camping with small hikes, just to get her used to the idea that outdoors = lots of fun! Great for that age were also biking with a trailer and canoeing, because it wouldn’t make her tired.

    • MichaelALanza   |  January 18, 2013 at 12:07 am

      Hi Kamila, that’s a smart, specific suggestion to add and I agree completely. We also try to get out with out kids at least every week. Frequency is important. Thanks for writing.

  40. Shana Campbell   |  January 17, 2013 at 4:21 am

    Oh my goodness was I thrilled to come across this! (Thank you Julia Grant!) I was thinking 12 and 9 & 1/2 – how the heck did that happen! I couldn’t see them do anything BUT follow in your footsteps. Great blog, Mike. :D

    • MichaelALanza   |  January 17, 2013 at 5:21 am

      Thanks Shana, hope you and Scott are well.

  41. Kay Hummel   |  January 16, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Wonderful tips! Our family also benefitted from story-telling, especially during long final day packouts. My husband was the pied-piper with 3 kids stomping on his heels to hear his version of the Wizzard of Oz on one very long trek out of Goat Creek, Sawtooth NF. The time vanished! As kids got older, we turned it into group made-upstories, with each person creating a section of story, then handing it off to the next at a crazy or exciting juncture.

    • MichaelALanza   |  January 16, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      Good advice, Kay. We also play a “story game,” where we each take turns adding onto the narrative of a made-up story as we hike. Really keeps the kids engaged.

  42. MichaelALanza   |  January 16, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Thanks for the nice words and sharing this, Greg.

  43. Greg Vaughn   |  January 16, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Great advice, Michael. I wish I’d done more of those things with my kids when they were young. My wife has a childcare business and I’m recommending that she forward a link to this post to all of her clients.

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