Hiking doesn’t have to be taking on the tallest mountains in the area, but getting outside in the wilds of Maine to enjoy some fresh air and some sunshine. Taking family hikes is a great way to introduce children to the enchantment of the woods and to get exercise.
Having a goal is a great way to determine the best hike for your family and to keep it fun for everyone, said Bill Yeo, the Freeport Manager for the Outdoor Discovery School at LL Bean. Angel Falls north of Rangeley is a great beginner or first hike into see the largest waterfall in Maine. Setting a goal of seeing the waterfall or perhaps swimming in frigid water could motivate younger hikers.
Some hikers like to include geocaching on their hikes. Using a GPS device or an app on a smartphone, hikers can search for hidden treasure using GPS coordinates found on www.geocaching.com. Others might bring snacks or a kite to enjoy at the top of the mountain or end of the hike. Just remember to carry out what you carry in. Don’t leave trash around.
One family had two adults and two children hiking. One of the adults ran ahead and planted little surprises along the trail for them to find. It kept them interested and engaged, said Yeo.
Bring a dog on a hike is okay as long as the trail permits them. They also might need water and treats, so be prepared to take care of Fido, too.
Establish ground rules when hiking with older children or a group, like never get out of sight from the last person or only go to the next cross path or road, then wait for the rest of the group to catch up. Communication is key to a successful hike.
“Each time you hike, you’ll find out what works for you,” Yeo said.
Items to take along when hiking vary family to family depending on the ages of the hikers and their physical needs. Families with small children should remember to bring diapers. Snacks can save the day for a family with toddlers or even teenagers. Snacks on the low end of the glycemic scale are a better choice. On longer hikes look into Camelback water bladders to help keep hikers hydrated.
Other items include a whistle, Tylenol, Benadryl, bug spray, a small first aid kit, a camera, flashlights, kites or Frisbees, Anti-bacterial wipes and a map of the area with a compass. Phones can run out of battery or not have a signal, be prepared. Toilet paper, sunglasses and hats, a pocket knife, sunscreen are also good items to pack, according to Yeo, who has hiked many of the largest mountains in the United States and the world, including Mt. Everest.
Check the weather before heading out. Bring portable ponchos or garbage bags in case of rain.
Nothing can ruin hiking for someone better than blisters from wearing the wrong kind of shoes or not being prepared to take care of someone’s feet, on longer hikes. Open toed shoes are not the best for hiking. Even if there’s a place to swim at the end, carry water shoes or sandals in a backpack until you arrive.
Know the plants in the area that can cause issues, like poison ivy and poison sumac. The itchy rashes these plants can cause are irritating and not easy to clear up.
Getting lost was made famous by local celebrity Donn Fendler, who inspired the story “Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” when he spent nine days alone in the woods near Mt. Katadhin after wandering away from his hiking party. The book is a great read for children and is taught in the fourth grade in Maine schools. Children should be told that when they get lost to stay put. If they have a whistle, they should blow it three times loud and long, wait a moment and do it again. Rescuers are more likely to find a lost hiker if they don’t have to chase him or her around.
When returning from a hike, always check for ticks. They like warm moist places and can travel quickly.
The final thing to do once in the car or back home is to debrief. Ask how the hike went for everyone? What made it special and what did the family gain from the hike?
“I encourage you to get kids out there in the mountains. They can grow with hiking, and it can take them anywhere they want,” Yeo said.
For longer hikes with an overnight or two, some of the same principals apply, but check with local outfitters for proper gear and equipment lists.