Tips for getting kids hiking out on the trails

WNC Parent

Wouldn’t it be great if your kids begged to go on hike instead of playing video games or going to the mall? There are ways to encourage their love for the outdoors and as they develop more of a comfort level in nature, you may find them coming up with new plans to head out a trail.

If you’re looking for a place to start, Jennifer Pharr Davis has some practical tips. She’s an avid hiker and has completed the Appalachian Trail three times. On her last trek in 2011, she clocked the fastest thru-hike on the AT finishing in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes.

But she says that’s old news. She’s most proud of her continuing efforts to keep her 2 1/2-year-old daughter engaged with the natural world.

“For the first two years of her life, we hiked in all 50 states,” said Davis. “We combined it with a book tour. For us, it was a statement that adventure doesn’t have to stop because you became a parent.”

As an avid hiker, she often had friends ask for help getting on the trails. In 2008, she developed Blue Ridge Hiking Co., thinking it might be a great part-time income, but it quickly exploded. She found a big need for her services especially among women, families and older adults.

Today, she and her husband, Brew, run the company full-time along with a part-time associate and 10 guides. They offer everything from a half-day guided hike to a weeklong overnight on the AT and everything in between. Some families want a guide to get started and set up on a backpacking trip, and then they continue on their own while the guide jumps off.

“The number one thing I advise is don’t try to bite off too much for your first hike,” said Davis. “Start close to home. Don’t go on a hike that’s too long for your kids.”

She also recommends bypassing the trails that lead to a long-distance view and settle for some where they pay-off is more consistent along the way.

“Kids aren’t as impressed by dramatic views as they are in the details of a water feature or a small stream where they can look for crawdads and salamanders,” said Davis. “It’s really fun to take them on hikes that pass old rock ruins. They get to explore and imagine what it was like 100 years ago.”

Another tip is to avoid having an agenda — “it’s not about making it to a certain point,” she says, but more about celebrating the experience.

In our area, she points to the N.C. Arboretum as an awesome place to get kids acclimated into outdoor activities, as well as the Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock.

“At the Arboretum, it’s well-graded with wide paths, and a lot of water features that are fun and relatively safe for kids,” said Davis. “The Carl Sandburg house is also one of our favorite day trips. We hike, pet the goats and go eat. It’s really a great one-day outing for families.”

She says it’s refreshing to see the woods through the eyes of her child as she watches her make new discoveries.

“I can just sit on the side of the trail and watch her engage and play,” said Davis. “At two-and-a-half years old she demands so much attention, but when she’s in the woods she can entertain herself easily by looking at the flowers and rocks and collecting acorns.”

Davis takes pride in her role to help others get outside.

“We live in one of the most amazing places to get outdoors,” she said, “Growing up here maybe I took it for granted, but now I have a real appreciation and a great realization of how much of this is free. It’s free quality family entertainment. There’s nothing better than going out on a hike.”