A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking with Kids

Leo spoils family selfie on Oberg Mountain, 2013. | ERIC CHANDLER

My kids and I have walked many miles together in the Northern Wilds. So, instead of lecturing you, I’ll let them take the floor first.

  • Sam’s advice: “Pack a lunch and snacks that you like.”

I would even suggest pure bribery to include candy and chocolate. When kids are small, this might be the highlight of their day. But the main thing is to tie the outdoors and fun together in your kid’s mind.

  • Grace says, “Have a positive attitude, because it’s more fun.”

This probably applies to the adults on your hike more than the kids. Sometimes looking at the caterpillar crawling along the trail is more important than getting somewhere. Make it about the journey, not the destination.

There are some amazing destinations right in our backyard that are pretty easy for kids. They are perfect, short trips that offer tremendous views and experiences. Our “top three” list of day hikes for kids happen to be on the Superior Hiking Trail. You can learn more about the following options at the Superior Hiking Trail Association website: shta.org.

Section 13

The views from the cliffs along this part of the trail are spectacular. My kids and I all agreed that this is our favorite hike. The Baptism River, Sawmill Creek, and Lake Superior fill the 360-degree panorama. And it’s just over a mile walk from the trailhead on County Road 6, east of Finland.

Sam on Oberg Mountain, 2005. | ERIC CHANDLER

Oberg Mountain

The kids both voted for Oberg as their second choice. Awesome views of Lake Superior, easy to get to, plenty of cliffs to take your breath away, and, in the fall, the colors are dazzling. We’ve been there many times over the years and it never disappoints. Find the Onion River Rd (Forest Road 336) in Tofte and go uphill to the trailhead parking lot.

Caribou Falls

This gem of a hike sneaks up on you. Follow the Superior Hiking Trail spur up from the Caribou Falls State Wayside for three quarters of a mile. Take the narrow staircase on the left down to the river. Kids will think the steep stairs are fun, at least on the way down. The 35-foot Caribou Falls are stunning in a grotto surrounded by big stone walls. Sure, the state parks have famous waterfalls, but you have a fighting chance of enjoying this one alone with your kids.

What to Bring

Snacks, a good attitude, and short hikes with big payoffs are all key for your beginning hikers. Also, make sure you have plenty of water and liquids. Bring more than you think you need and you’ll probably end up with the right amount.

Proper gear is also important. First, you’ll need some sturdy footwear. North Shore trails can be rugged and you don’t want a twisted ankle to ruin your day. Bring a backpack so you can carry extra clothes. You might be comfortable while walking, but you’ll probably want an extra layer or two when you stop for your picnic lunch. Rain gear is another key part. Don’t let a shower get you wet and dangerously cold. And always include a winter hat and gloves, year-round. Many times, they’ve saved the day. I don’t expect little kids to carry a backpack, so a decent size backpack allows you to carry all the same things for your little ones. Many child-carriers have big cargo pockets so you can do double duty while carrying your kid and some of the gear. Binoculars are popular with the kids for looking around when there are views and helpful if you run into any birds and critters.

Also, bring a little ditty bag with some waterproof matches, a lighter, a knife, bug repellent, sunscreen and toilet paper. The last item is useful for both the intended purpose and as tinder to build a fire if you get in a pinch. I also carry a map and a compass. Don’t rely on your GPS unit or phone, as both can run out of batteries. Don’t forget to let someone else know where you’re going and when you expect to be done.

Lastly, my daughter says, “Wear brown pants. You’ll feel like Bear Grylls,” [from the TV show Man Vs. Wild].

I’ve never heard this advice before, but go ahead. Give it a try. Have fun hiking with your kids.

 



By Eric Chandler