hiking

Are We There Yet? Preparing for Your First Family Hike

Going on a family hike is a great way to pull your kids away from their screens and enjoy time together in nature. Whether you visit a local park with a trail system or you travel to a faraway destination to find new places to explore, there are plenty of places to hike and there are locations that are perfect for every family. 

Preparing for your first family hike can seem a bit tricky, especially if you are bringing small children along. Hiking with your kids is a great way to help them connect with nature at an early age, but it can be a bit scary. Rest assured, though, that with a little bit of careful planning, your first family hiking adventure will go off without a hitch. Keep reading for some helpful advice on preparing for your first family hike. 

Keep It Simple

Your first hike together as a family does not need to be anything elaborate. In fact, you should try to keep it as simple and enjoyable as possible. For kids, hiking is all about the experience. If that first experience isn’t a fun one, you’re going to have a hard time getting them to go out again. Choose a trail that is relatively simple and not too long. A loop that is relatively flat is a good choice. Try to find a destination with interesting features like a waterfall, lake or stream. Point out various animals and species of birds or try to identify the trees you encounter. Maintain a leisurely pace and make it all about having fun. 

Don’t be afraid to go slow. When you are hiking with your family, it should be all about the journey rather than the destination. If you don’t make it all the way to the end of your planned hike, it’s no big deal. Exploring is just as rewarding and letting your kids do it will help build their love of nature. 

Make Sure Everyone is Dressed Appropriately

There is no need to go out and buy a bunch of fancy hiking gear for your first trek, but it is important to make sure everyone is dressed appropriately. Check the weather before you head out and choose clothing that is suitable. On a mild spring or summer day, a lightweight t-shirt and a pair of comfy pants work well for laid-back hikes. If the temperature is cooler or you are going on a more strenuous hike, it is best to dress in layers

Expect to get dirty. A family hike is not the right time to wear that brand-new shirt or outfit your kids in their Sunday best. Basic t-shirts that you don’t mind getting dirty are a much better choice. Choose appropriate footwear for everyone. Even on a simple hike, flip-flops are not appropriate. Everyone should wear a pair of sneakers or boots that is comfortable and provides adequate support. Your kids may protest about wearing sneakers instead of flip-flops or sandals, but trust us, they will complain more if they wear the wrong shoes and end up with aching feet halfway through the hike! 

Pack the Right Gear

It is important to load up a backpack with some essentials. Anytime you are going on a hike, it’s smart to bring a basic first aid kit and a few emergency supplies, including a lighter/matches/fire starter, emergency shelter and water filter or chemical purification tablets.

You should apply sunscreen before you head out, but it’s also a good idea to bring some with you for touchups. Lip balm that provides SPF protection is a must, too. Bug spray should also be applied before you start your hike but bring the can with you to reapply. Look for a high-quality spray that is formulated to combat mosquitos as well as ticks. If your kids are young, look for a product that is safe for them. 

Bring enough water for everyone in the family. If you are going on a short hike, a bottle or two per person should be sufficient. It never hurts to bring extra, though, just in case you end up being out longer than anticipated.  Pack some high-protein snacks like jerky or energy bars. Of course, make sure you have snacks that your kids will actually eat, too. Stop for snacks frequently. Having frequent snacks instead of waiting for larger meals helps keep kids energized and can prevent them from getting tired and cranky. 

Don’t forget the fun items! We suggest a bluetooth speaker that is waterproof and can keep up with your kids energetic nature. Binoculars and a magnifying glass serve as the perfect tools for helping your kids make amazing discoveries along the trail. Don’t forget a camera to capture all those memories! 

Have Fun!

When it comes to getting your kids interested in hiking, making it fun is extremely important. Keep your kids motivated and make sure they are enjoying themselves by creating games they can enjoy on the trail. Come up with a scavenger hunt, identify different types of wildflowers or look for birds that are native to the area in which you are hiking. Engage with your kids and let them explore. Tell your kids how proud you are of them and how well they are hiking. Tell them they’re strong, fast and all around amazing. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that will help make your first hike an enjoyable one and make kids want to go out again. 

5 National Parks to Visit this Winter

National Parks are a wonder any time of the year, but some are even better suited during the winter months. We picked out 5 of our favorite National Parks to visit in the wintertime. Whether you’re an avid cross country skier or you want to find a place warm enough to hike and swim, there will be a National Park that fit your winter adventure needs. 

Are you looking for a few other parks to visit? Check out these five must-see State Parks.

5 National Parks to Visit This Winter

All parks are subject to closures and limited access due to winter weather conditions and COVID-19 precautions. Please check for updates on National Park websites before planning your visit. 

1.   Big Bend National Park 

Instagram: @bigbendnps

Location: Texas

Best Time to Visit: October – April

Winter Temperatures: 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Hiking or Camping

The winter is the best time of year to visit Big Bend National Park in Texas, making it the busiest time of year as well. Spring and Fall can also be great times to head into the park, but high Summer temperatures make it dangerous to hike and camp.

Big Bend is widely known for its camping, hiking, and backcountry backpacking. No matter your skill level or desire for adventure, there will be a trail that you and your family can enjoy. Most winter nights, even during the coldest months, will reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it perfect for gathering around a cozy campfire and using a bluetooth speaker to sing along to campfire tunes.

If hiking isn’t your favorite activity, Big Bend also offers a wide variety of educational Ranger programs, a few scenic drives, and a must-see Fossil Discovery Exhibit

Learn more on the Big Bend National Park website.

2. Dry Tortugas National Park 

Location: Florida

Best Time to Visit: November – April 

Winter Temperatures: 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Bird Watching or Scuba Diving

The Dry Tortugas are just off the coast of Key West Florida, and it is a stunning location for any water lover to visit. From snorkeling, diving, fishing, boating, kayaking, and swimming, there is much to be explored in Dry Tortugas National Park. 

While the park can be visited at any time of year, it is essential to note the activities you would most like to participate in will vary from winter to summer. The Dry Tortugas essentially has two seasons: winter and summer. The winter is known for sporadic cold fronts, high winds, and choppy waters. This makes it more challenging to view ocean wildlife when snorkeling and can be unsafe for inexperienced boaters. 

However, the wintertime is the best time of year for bird watchers and tourists looking for fewer crowds. High winds tend to be more consistent from October to January, so if you’re looking for fewer people and still want to enjoy some snorkeling, February may be the best option. 

Be sure to plan your trip to the Dry Tortugas well in advance, as it is only accessible by boat or seaplane. 

Learn more on the Dry Tortugas National Park website.

3. Saguaro National Park 

Location: Arizona

Best Time to Visit: October – April

Winter Temperatures: 40-70 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Hiking 

Located in southern Arizona near Tuscon, Saguaro National Park is a wonderland for nature and hiking enthusiasts to enjoy. Like much of southern Arizona, the winter is the best and busiest time to enjoy outdoor activities. Saguaro National Park is well known for its hiking, and of course, the density of Saguaro cacti spread around the park and surrounding areas. 

Beyond incredible desert vistas while hiking or backpacking and the diverse flora and fauna, visitors can also enjoy the natural history by visiting area petroglyphs. 

If you’d like to camp in the park, make reservations early as camping spots fill up fast. You can make reservations as early as two months in advance. Be advised that hours and accessibility may differ due to COVID-19. 

Finally, a must mention for any trip in the Arizona desert is to take some time to view the sunset. Although sunsets are spectacular in most outdoor spaces, the sunsets seem richer due to the landscape’s natural warm coloring.

Learn more on the Saguaro National Park website.

4. Bryce Canyon National Park 

Instagram: @brycecanyonnps_gov

Location: Utah

Best Time to Visit: May – September

Winter Temperatures: 10-40 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Snowshoeing or Cross-country Skiing 

Although the winter is not deemed the “best” time of year to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, there is plenty to do for winter adventurers. If you are a lover of all things snowshoeing and cross country skiing, Bryce Canyon is a must-see park to put on your list. 

The winter is the least traveled by humans in the park, making it optimal for wildlife viewing and stunning nature photography. If you plan a visit to the park, don’t fret that daylight hours are shorter either, because the night skies in Bryce are an unforgettable sight. Study up on your winter constellations before you come, and enjoy a snowy night hike amongst the stars. 

Learn more on the Bryce Canyon National Park website.

5. Acadia National Park 

Location: Maine

Best Time to Visit: August – October

Winter Temperatures: 10-35 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Cross-Country Skiing 

The last park on our list is a bit further north in Maine. Acadia National Park is well known for its Fall colors, making Autumn the most popular season to visit. Still, if cross country skiing is a favorite activity of yours, then this is one of the best places to go this winter. 

Acadia’s backcountry ski trails are hard to beat since there are around 45 miles of groomed trails. Beyond that, you are also allowed to ski on unplowed park roads. Be warned that snowmobiles can also use the roads for travel though. 

Acadia National Park is also a stunning place to go for a winter hike or an afternoon snowshoe. 

Learn more on the Acadia National Park website.

Best Hobbies to Pick Up During the Pandemic

These are challenging times for everyone. It helps to have a hobby to occupy your mind and your time. The situation going on around us is unprecedented, but it’s full of opportunities if you know where to look. Rather than sitting around the house feeling bored, lonely, and worried, why not pick up a hobby? You can enrich your mind and entertain yourself, as well as your family. All you have to do is select the right activity for you. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Binge-Watch Your Faves

You might be stuck inside, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do. During times like these, sometimes you need to do something soothing that will not only take your mind off of what’s happening, but will also numb you a bit and take you out of the situation. For that reason, binge-watching movies and TV shows might be your best bet. You can turn it into something fun, even something that has a purpose. For example, this is your opportunity to catch up on all the shows you always wanted to watch but never had time to enjoy. You could also sit down to watch an entire movie series, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy or all of the Marvel movies—in order. To make it more enjoyable, consider Facetiming or Zooming with a group of friends while you watch.

Pick Up a Book

Speaking of immersing yourself in different worlds, all you need is a book to transport yourself to a faraway place. At the very least, you can get lost in a world where the pandemic isn’t happening. It’s hard for busy adults to find time to read even when they enjoy doing so. Right now, you have no excuses and no other commitments. You’re stuck at home, so there’s no reason not to pick up a book that you’ve been dying to read. Then again, why not reread your old favorites? Books and stories are comforting, and comfort is exactly what we all need right now.

Bust Out the Crayons

Soothing activities are unquestionably some of the best hobbies to start right now. Plenty of adults have embraced some of their childhood favorites because those activities give them a sense of calm and help them to believe that everything genuinely will be okay. Whether you want to color with crayons, colored pencils, or watercolors, take a look at some adult coloring books to see what strikes your fancy. In addition to funny adult coloring books with risqué pictures and naughty words, you can also pick out books with intricate designs and breathtaking scenes.

Get to the Kitchen

Throughout the course of the pandemic, people have understandably been cooking at home more often. Many restaurants are open for delivery, takeout, and social distanced seating, but with the economy the way it is and with growing numbers of furloughs and layoffs, cooking at home is often the more practical choice. Why not turn it into an adventure? Try your hand at gourmet meals that you’ve never attempted. Experiment with baking, chocolate, or pastries. You never know, your true talents may lie in the kitchen.

Stay Active

You may be wary of going to the gym, if they’re even open in your area. That’s entirely understandable. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy physical activities. Turn your home into a gym. There’s a wide world of videos and tutorials out there that can show you exactly what to do using basic equipment. You don’t need to spend a fortune to work out at home. Simply going for a local hike or doing yoga in the backyard is excellent for your mental and physical health. You can also opt to go for a run, but don’t forget your earbuds to entertain yourself while you’re on the go.

Choose a Craft

Are you into arts and crafts? Maybe it’s time to start crafting. There are all sorts of hobbies to learn. For instance, have you ever considered crocheting or knitting? You can order the supplies, have them sent to your home, and look up video tutorials to get started. The same goes for painting, felting, jewelry making, or woodworking. Just think about an artsy hobby that you’ve always wanted to try and jump right into it.

Turn Your Thumbs Green

Have you ever considered gardening? It’s a calming activity, it serves a practical purpose, and it gives you the chance to nurture something and watch it grow. It may not be the right season for gardening where you are, but that’s okay. You can set up an indoor garden, instead. Consider creating a container garden in your sunroom or treat yourself to an herb garden starter kit. You can grow herbs right in your kitchen. Not only are they beautiful and fragrant, but they can elevate all of your cooking endeavors, as well.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of hobbies. You may decide that it’s the perfect time for a few DIY home improvements. Learning a new language may be right up your alley. What hobby interests you the most?


5 Lesser-Traveled Spots to Check Out That Are COVID Friendly

The COVID-19 pandemic has been excellent for outdoors lovers. Bars are closed. Conventions and amusement parks are widely considered bad ideas. What’s left for simple recreation is getting outside to camp, hike, backpack, and otherwise enjoy nature and all its myriad attractions. 

However, many of our favorite outdoor locations have become crowded by groups who usually would have gone to Disneyland or stayed closer to home, sampling the local pubs and restaurants. This not only makes these destinations less enjoyable for a diehard outdoors lover, but it also makes them dangerous. A crowded campground can be just as hazardous as an overpopulated beach, from a disease vector standpoint.

Until there’s a vaccine, good sense and a spirit of adventure both dictate that we go to the lesser-known spots. Here are a few great ones from different parts of the country.

1. Pacific Northwest: Toad Lake Campground

This small patch of camping bliss is 12 miles west of I-5 near Mount Shasta. It’s one of the hike-in-only locations on the Pacific Crest Trail, a strong deterrent for casual campers. You can take your pick of developed sites with park benches and nearby toilets or hike the extra few miles for a back-country or primitive space. The farther you go, the more separated you’ll be from the crowds.

Its eponymous lake covers 23 acres surrounded by hilly forest. The shores vary from thick woods to rocky outcroppings to meadows. Boats are not permitted, making it great for fishing and swimming. There’s not much going on besides the beautiful, off-the-beaten-path nature, but that’s all we need. It might even be the perfect spot to bring out your Waterproof Speaker and lounge around for a bit.

Toad Lake Campground is open all year. Camping sites are first-come, first-served.

How to Get There

Turn onto exit 738 from I-5 near Mount Shasta, heading west. Follow Route 26/Barr Rd and turn off at the Toad Lake sign. Follow the winding road to the parking lot, then hike in following the marked trail.

2. Southwest: South Ruby Campground

A fishing and boating paradise located in the Ruby Valley National Wildlife Refuge, this campground is rarely close to as crowded as its location and amenities would suggest. It sits at 6,000 feet elevation around the coast of Ruby Lake in Nevada. Despite being a classic high desert location, its lake and marshlands attract stopover species from all around, making it one of the best bird and wildlife watching locations in the area.

The campground is located among pinyon pine and juniper, offering a shady place to pitch your tent in one of 35 sites, including one double spot and one wheelchair-accessible site. All sites have picnic tables and campfire rings, with vault toilets and running water available nearby. Besides being out of the way, the campground’s structure runs screens of trees between sites, making social distancing (and privacy) easy.

Unlike many of the out-of-the-way camping opportunities on this list, South Ruby allows boating, ATV riding, and off-road vehicles.

South Ruby Campground is open May through September, with exact dates announced one year ahead of time. You can book sites up to six months in advance.

How to Get There

Turn south off I-80 onto Route 227 near Elko. Turn right onto Route 228 and follow it past Jiggs. As the highway begins to turn north in a wide dogleg, turn right onto Ruby Valley Road and take it to the campground. If 228 turns into 767, you’ve gone too far.

3. Southeast: Linville Gorge

“The Grand Canyon of the East” is a rugged river valley in Burke County, North Carolina. The land is so steep and rough it was never harvested for timber, leaving much of it as pristine, old-growth forest rare on that side of the Mississippi River. The designated National Wilderness Area covers 12,000 acres deep forest, offering multiple rare plant species and excellent wildlife and bird viewing opportunities. The Linville River cuts a meandering path through granite walls, creating stunning falls, steep gorges, and multiple deep coves for swimming and fishing.

Trails here are not well-maintained or even clearly marked, but they offer unique, spectacular vistas to experienced hikers. Camping (with permits) is available both in established, primitive campsites and simple backwoods spaces. Motor travel is not permitted, and cellular reception is spotty. This is wilderness camping, so come prepared.

The Linville Gorge wilderness is open year-round.

How to Get There

You can access this large patch of wilderness from multiple locations, including simple roadside trailheads and a few logging roads kept open during the summer months. Aim your GPS for Spruce Pine, North Carolina. or Lenoir, North Carolina, and set off from there. Local guides can tell you what’s best and what’s least crowded at any particular time.

4. Great Plains: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Another sizable protected area, Wichita Mountain Wilderness contains Fawn Creek Campgrounds and Doris Campground. It covers more than 59,000 acres of scrubland containing rough hills, plains, and waterways. It’s one of the oldest national wildlife refuges in the United States and home to roaming herds of bison and longhorns. Locals and road trippers visit for camping near the Visitor’s Center, but the hiking trails and boating opportunities go deep into the Refuge.

Camping opportunities are more strictly regimented here than in many other areas. Doris Campground offers hookups for RVs and pop-up tent vehicles (tents are currently prohibited). Fawn Creek Campground is reserved for organized youth groups. Everybody else is invited to enjoy backcountry camping, which is likely what you wanted anyway if you’re reading this article. All three options are by permit only, available up to three months in advance.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is open all year, though some facilities shut down or curtail operations during winter.

How to Get There

Drive west out of Lawton on Highway 62. At Cache, turn right onto 115 and enter the area Refuge near Doris Campground. For faster access to the Visitor’s Center, continue on 62 and turn right on Route 54. Turn right onto Hwy 49, which leads you straight into the Refuge and to the Visitor’s Center.

5. New England: Cutler Coast

This area is also known as the Bold Coast, and it offers some of the most extended tracts of undeveloped coastline along the East Coast. Activity here is centered on trail hiking, including the famed Caribou Loop and Black Point Brook Loop. You can access most camping by car, but some of the best views, hiking, and wildlife viewing are only available to those willing to reach them on foot (or by paddling).

The entire area is dotted with primitive camping opportunities, all first-come, first-served. The main areas include Fairy Beach, Machias River Corridor, Donnell Pond, and Stave Island. Bear in mind that hiking is often strenuous and consists of some hazardous conditions. This getaway is not recommended for families with small children or novice hikers, making it an excellent choice for experienced outdoors lovers looking to avoid crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cutler Coast is open year-round, but the hazards increase and the foliage decreases as soon as the snow starts to fall.

How to Get There

Follow 191 northeast out of Cutler (accessible via 191 by driving south, then east out of East Machias). You’ll find multiple turn-offs and opportunities on your right as you go.

Final Thoughts

Visiting these out-of-the-way spaces is no guarantee you’ll be alone or at no risk of COVID-19 exposure. Be sure to include hand sanitizer, face masks, medical gloves, and similar items in your packing kit. For the time being, they’re as important as your cooking supplies and first aid gear.

John Bradley lives with his family of six in Oregon. They hiked and completed a big trip across the country in an RV during COVID-19.

Beginner’s Guide to Backcountry Hiking

Going out for a hike can span the time of a few hours, an entire day, or even days, weeks, and months. While hiking and backpacking are two different disciplines to prepare for, they do have many similarities. Getting off crowded metropolitan hikes and popular AllTrails picks can be both scary and extremely rewarding. Venturing into the backcountry should be built up to and takes a bit more planning than hikes you may be used to. 

As a beginner’s guide to backcountry hiking, we will be focusing specifically on hikes that can be completed in one day and require no overnights on the trail. Our goal is to give you the knowledge and reference points you need to feel confident, safe, and prepared on your upcoming backcountry hike. 

Take a Hike

Have Proper Hiking Equipment

Since you are only planning for a day hike, you will not need too much in the way of gear. While it may not seem like you need all of these things, keep in mind that you will be miles away from any roads and even further from any cities. You may not even have cell phone service for the majority of the day. So, you will need to be prepared and bring the necessary supplies. 

The most important things to bring with you when you are hiking in the backcountry include: 

  • Lightweight Daypack → If you don’t already have one, you will want to invest in a daypack that is intended for hiking. These packs are designed to be comfortable and have easy access compartments for organization of supplies. Many daypacks also come equipped with a hydration system. 
  • Hydration System and Snacks → Water is of the most essential things you will need in the backcountry. Water will also be the heaviest thing you carry, but that doesn’t mean to skimp out. Bring more than you think you need the first time you head into the backcountry. Don’t forget to pack a few trail snacks and maybe lunch if it is a long hike. 
  • Reliable Hiking Boots → The style of hiking shoes you wear will be up to you. Some hikers prefer to wear trail running shoes, while others like to have the classic ankle support high tops. Just be sure that your hiking shoes are broken in properly and have little chance of giving you blisters. Comfortable footwear is the key to an enjoyable hike! 
  • Map of Area, Guidebook, or GPS → Most hiking areas will have hard copies of maps and guidebooks, but you can also opt to download maps onto your phone. Better yet, you can take a backcountry GPS with you. If you go the digital route, keep in mind that your battery will not last forever. So, if you download maps on your phone, consider bringing a portable power bank as well. 
  • First Aid Kit → You may think that this is an unnecessary weight to carry, but better safe than sorry in the backcountry. This kit doesn’t need to be extreme, but it is good to have a few standard first aid supplies in case of an emergency on the trail. 

It can be tempting to kind of skimp on your first round of hiking gear and buy the cheapest options. While a limited budget may be a factor here, consider purchasing higher quality gear second hand or scoping out some discounts at retailers like REI to get higher quality, longer-lasting gear at a lower cost. 

Do Area Trail Research

Make sure you take time to get to know the area before you wander into the woods to get lost! This can be done in a variety of ways. You can go to old school techniques and talk to people from the area that may know the trail systems well. This can also include consulting park rangers and BLM land managers. Oftentimes, this is the most reliable way to go about things, because they will have access to the most recent trail conditions. 

Another common way of researching backcountry trails is to check out websites like All Trails, Hiking Project, and Summit Post. AllTrails can be especially helpful as you can download the app on your phone to have access to downloaded area maps when you’re hiking. 

If those maps aren’t detailed enough, you should invest in a digital or hard copy topographic map of the area. You can find these online and at many outdoor retail stores. 

Beyond knowing where you are going, you should be researching the area’s climate, wildlife, and plants. Look into the weather ahead of time to be sure that you pack accordingly. If you are hiking in a mountainous area, check for afternoon storms. Being aware of area wildlife and plant life will let you know if there are any dangerous animals or poisonous plants to avoid.

Prepare Physically for the Hike

If you are an avid hiker on familiar city trails or low key hiking trails close to town, then you are likely already in relatively good physical condition. Part of researching the area you will be hiking will include knowing the terrain to expect. 

If you are going to be hiking in a notoriously hilly area or a drastically different altitude than you are accustomed to, then you should prepare before attempting the hike. While you may be mentally ready, not being physically fit in the backcountry can be a serious danger. 

As you ramp up to your first backcountry hike, try to fit extra cardio and hiking time into your schedule. Get your legs ready at the gym by utilizing the stair stepper and doing squats. Building up your stamina and strength, will make a difference in safety, as well as how much you enjoy the hike overall. 

Leave No Trace

As you go out into the wilderness to enjoy the solitude and beauty, remember that we are sharing this Earth with other living plants and animals as well. One of the most important things you can take away from this article is to learn the Leave No Trace principles. Keep our wild places wild as we protect our outdoor spaces together!