Hiking is a great way to build family values and provides parents an opportunity to teach important lessons about respect, nature, responsibility and life through exploration. Get the whole family exercising with an outdoor adventure. Even if you feel that you are not in shape, these nature walks are the perfect place to start building your stamina and your children’s.
These Bay Area trails have bathroom facilities, an information booth and are in shady forests. They are extremely easy with the added benefit of off-shoot trails for more fit and ambitious explorers.
Henry Cowell State Park; Felton, CAHighlight: Redwood Grove Loop is 0.8 miles. Many trees were hollowed out in a fire creating cool caves for kids to go inside. RoaringCampRailroad, at the trailhead, provides train rides to theSanta CruzBeach boardwalk.
Muir Woods National Monument; Mill Valley, CAHighlight: 1.5 mile loop, tree stump display shows how trees get wider with rings as they age.
The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park; Aptos, CAHighlight: Old-Growth Loop: Marcel’s Forest is less than 2 mi roundtrip from parking lot. The Advocate Tree, Fern Grotto andTwistedForest are all interesting sights to see.
The first two trails are stroller accessible, but I strongly encourage you to leave the stroller in the car. Put baby in a backpack or front carrier and get a little more out of these leisure walks. Any child who is too big for a back carrier should be walking. Resist the urge to carry slow or whining children. Take frequent breaks; there is plenty to look at (even an ant hill may leave a big impression). Don’t bribe children to exercise or go faster. We all need to exercise to be healthy, the way we need to shower to keep clean. We don’t exercise because there are toys, junk food or other incentives. Keep spirits and interest up by marching, having contests about who can find the widest tree trunk, spot a new bird or a new leaf shape. On our last hike we each pretended to be a different animals who lived in the forest.
Bring water, but don’t allow children to eat while hiking. These hikes are short enough to be completed between snack and meal times. It’s a very poor eating habit to graze and snack while doing something else, especially exercising. Use designated picnic tables near the parking lots so no crumbs or spills end up polluting our forests. Remember that you are in someone else’s home (animals and trees). Let children know that people food is not good for animals. Ask them what animals they think live here and what they eat.
Keep children on trails. They may not be able to understand soil erosion, but they can understand that stepping off the trail may be stomping an insect or an insect’s home. Leaves are how plants make their food that is why it’s not nice to pick them. Teach children about nature and they will come to appreciate and respect it.
If you feel you have a child who is more on the destructive side, who would want to pick, stomp or throw, this is a great opportunity to build empathy. Ask your child how they would feel if a bug destroyed their home or bedroom. When they do something destructive, be sure to express how sad you feel for the animals who live here. Buy your child a disposable camera so they can focus on taking pictures of things that interest them. Let them develop their own interest in nature, you can bring your own camera to photograph what you find interesting. Discuss.
Lead by example. These are truly some of the most gorgeous places on earth. Share with your children how beautiful you think they are. When my daughter sees garbage on trails we pick it up. We talk about how rude it is to put trash in someone else’s house and how it is our responsibility to keep the forest nice so animals have a place to live.
Physical fitness is a positive family value. Hiking creates memories, improves health and is the perfect time for bonding. Studies show that time spent in nature reduces stress levels and that experiences provide more lasting happiness than material items. Be sure to turn your cell phone off and appreciate the fresh air. On the way home discuss what everyone’s favorite part of the forest was.