I was so pleased last week to receive a lunch invitation from a couple of friends. While they both grew up here in Sheridan, as youth neither spent a lot of time in the backcountry we all think of as our personal backyard. Now they are raising a 6-year-old daughter and are eager to get her out hiking and exploring in the Bighorns, but weren’t exactly sure where to start. As we sat with lists, books and maps spread across the table, I knew the theme of my next outdoor column.
When I used to teach, I discovered that many community members did not sign up for outdoor activity classes at Sheridan College to learn the physical skills of hiking, snowshoeing or canoeing. Instead, most of them registered so they could find out where to go for any given adventure; how to get there; what equipment, clothing and food to take along; and all of the other logistical factors involved. These questions multiply exponentially when taking youngsters on outdoor excursions.
Whether you are a novice or an avid outdoor recreationalist, there are some things to keep in mind when introducing children to the joys of outdoor adventuring. First and foremost, you want the little ones to be as comfortable as possible. Stocking your first aid kit with some additional Band-Aids and packing more water and snacks than you think you’ll need is a good start. Extra socks don’t take up a lot of space and can save even a short trip because children like to step in streams and puddles but they don’t like to walk far in sloshy shoes.
Even if you aren’t always the most diligent about putting sunscreen on yourself, be sure to spread a good layer on your children. And don’t forget the ears, nose, neck and fingers as our tiny parts are the first to burn. Bug spray and itch-reliving cream or oil are also essential. If you have the time, it is fun to make these at home with your children’s help. I recently made a mosquito bite reliever from lavender, basil, tea tree and frankincense oils that proved to be effective.
Choose short hikes with dramatic destinations for the win if you want your littles to be excited to hit the trail again in the near future. Also, be prepared to go slow and take a lot of breaks. Stopping for short periods along the trail gives you great opportunities to teach map reading skills or Leave No Trace ethics. Doing a scavenger hunt as you hike is a fun way to keep everyone engaged and moving forward.
Taking a backpacking bathroom kit, even on the shortest of treks, is a must when you’re out with youngsters. A lightweight trowel, some toilet paper, wet wipes and some snack-sized baggies for packing out the TP all fit nicely into a small stuff sack. And don’t forget to throw in the hand sanitizer.
One last piece of advice is to do an extra thorough job of scouting your intended trip in advance. Having not been to Black Mountain Lookout in nearly a decade, I confidently pulled up to the trailhead yesterday with a girlfriend and six children. We were anticipating a two-and-a-half mile round trip hike, but when our hiking trail popped back out on the road I realized I had made a mistake. We eventually came to the real trailhead, proceeded up to the lookout and all was well. Had I looked at the map more carefully beforehand however, I would have saved us a couple of miles and many, “how much farther?” questions along the way.
Julie Greer is a member of the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Commission.