Day Hiking 101

Anyone can go for a walk in the woods.  You don’t need $200 boots or expert survival skills.  Not every hike is a week long trek into the wilderness with 60 lbs of food and gear strapped to your back.  There are thousands upon thousands of trails all over the country that can be done in less than a day.  Some take no more than an hour.  Others can be an all-day event.  Whether you are visiting one of our national or state parks, or just looking for a way to enjoy a nice afternoon close to home, day hiking is always a great choice.  If you or your family are new to hiking, start with a few short hikes and then build up to trails that are longer and more strenuous.  Don't be intimidated by miles.  It's just like anything else, the more you do it the better you'll get at it.  Kids included.

Here are some basic pointers for day hiking:

how to find a hike - If you are in a park, there should be trail maps at the visitor centers.  Talk to a ranger about which would be best for your family's level of experience. is a great site for locating trails near you and it has an app as well.

stay on the trail - If you’ve never suffered from an encounter with poison ivy, it’s no treat.  This, plus thorns, aggravated snakes, ankle-twisting holes, spider webs in your face, and many other unpleasant surprises are much more likely to become a part of your day when you go off trail.  It’s also much easier than one would think to get turned around and not find your way back to the trail.

clothes - Whatever is comfortable.  If it’s cool outside, dress in layers.  Hiking can warm you up pretty fast.  Avoid jeans, cotton underwear, or anything else that will chafe.  Especially on longer hikes.

shoes - Sneakers with decent support are fine.  No flip flops or shoes that are too small.  Long socks if you’re worried about poison ivy or bug bites.

backpack - Don't overpack.  The number one thing is water.  Some snacks, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, bugspray and that's pretty much it.  Maybe a lightweight rain jacket.  You don't need three different outfits, 5 gallons of trail mix, toys and coloring books for the kids(they will be plenty entertained,) or a laptop.  Don't weigh yourself down with stuff you won't use.

water - Always bring more than you think you need, especially if you are doing a long hike in a high temperature area.  It's heavy, but you don't want to get dehydrated.  Make sure your kids are drinking as they hike.  One piece of gear to help with this is a Camelback.  One of the perks of this is not being asked to carry your kids' water bottles the entire hike.

bathroom - Pick a safe, clear spot a few yards off the side of the trail.  Boys, pick a tree.  Girls are a little trickier, but can still squat and use a nearby rock or log for balance.  For younger girls, hold them up with their legs straight out and feet braced against a tree.  For pooh, you don’t have to use leaves.  Pack a small ziplock with some TP.  Dig a small hole with a stick and cover it with leaves or pine straw when you’re done.

wildlife - Find out what kind of critters are in the area.  Don't feed them no matter how cute and cuddly they appear.  For the little guys that are safe to handle like frogs, lizards, turtles and such, be very gentle and always put them back where you found them (and then wash your hands).  Be aware and keep your distance from the ones that could ruin your day.  Don't step on or try to catch venomous snakes.  Steer clear of the bigger guys like bison, elk, moose, etc. especially if it's during the mating season.  In mountain lion country, never let your little ones run far head of you on the trail.  If you are in bear country, try to be a little noisy so you don't turn a corner and surprise one.  Now, all that sounds a little nerve-wracking, but it's just good advice.  Animal attacks are much more rare than people think, and when it does happen, it's usually due to human error.  
Wildlife encounters can be the best part of a hike, as long as you are respectful and safe.  Remember, you are taking a walk through their home.  Be a polite guest.

be safe - That daredevil selfie on the edge of a cliff just isn't worth it.  Use your head and set a good example for your kids.

remember to look up! - It's easy to get focused on your feet, especially on rougher terrain.  But don't be so worried about stubbing your toe or tripping over a root that you don't stop once in a while to take in your surroundings.

have fun - Don't overdo it.  It's not a race.  Take rests when you need to and enjoy the scenery.  Don't push your family too hard, especially if they are new hikers.  You don't want their first experiences to be exhausting and miserable or it could put them off the whole idea.  It's okay to turn back early if people are getting wiped out.  You can always come back and try again.