My husband and I enjoyed hiking before our children were born, so we weren’t going to let parenthood stop us from enjoying all the beautiful wooded walks that Westchester has to offer.
Hiking has been a physical and social outlet for us during the early childhood years and has provided our children with countless adventures. Further, it’s healthy, fun, and free (besides the gear you may need).
Here are my tips for young families who want to incorporate hiking into their lives.
Check Out Lesser-Known Trails
Westchester has over 200 parks for families to explore. Some parks and trails are widely known, like Ward Pound Ridge and the North County Trailway. However, I prefer the paths less traveled and more secluded. These hidden gems can be hard to find.
There are a lot of great resources to uncover new spots. To scout out new trails, our family relies on a book called Walkable Westchester as well as Facebook groups like Half Pint Hikes and Bedford Castle Family Trails, a group that organizes monthly family-friendly hikes (when we’re not amid a pandemic).
Get the Gear
When our children were infants, we would use soft carriers during hikes, such as the Ergo or Baby Bjorn, and the bouncing would often lull our children to sleep. As our kids got older and sturdier, framed carriers, like the ones made by Kelty and Osprey, were a better choice and worthwhile investment.
At between two-years and two-and-a-half-years old, our kids were ready to hike on foot, beginning with short and relatively flat trails. We discovered early on that proper hiking boots for all family members made for a better experience. Vasque hiking boots have held up really well, and we hand them down from our 6-year-old daughter to her younger brothers, ages 5 and 2.
REI, in Yonkers at Ridge Hill, is another valuable resource for all your hiking gear needs.
Prep Before You Go
Long pants and high socks are a good idea because of ticks and thorny bushes along the trail. Before walking out the door, everyone should use the bathroom (or get a diaper change). I apply sunscreen and bug spray.
We pack waters and snacks, as well as a garbage bag to remove our trash. If you’re bringing the family dog, make sure that the park you’re visiting allows dogs. Always leash your furry friends and clean up after them.
Since many people are taking advantage of the great outdoors during COVID-19, I recommend bringing or wearing masks if you find yourself on a narrow trail, and others need to pass.
Check the trail map and choose a route that matches your children’s stamina. We usually keep our hikes to around two miles, given that our youngest is still a relatively new hiker. Our older children can handle three miles.
If your children are young and will be on foot, you should estimate a pace of 1.5 to 2 MPH. We always take a photo of the trail map with our phone just in case we get lost, or the trail isn’t well marked.
Make It Fun (and Educational)
There are many ways to keep your kids engaged during a hike. We have our children help us spot the trail markers. We look for small creatures like frogs or butterflies. Many trails have features like bridges, creeks, waterfalls, and stepping stones that offer natural play areas. And you can almost always find fun climbing rocks.
Sometimes we’ll play games as we hike like I Spy. You can also practice math and spelling skills, for example, counting the things you see or spelling related words like tree and trail.
There’s plenty to observe and discuss, like the significance of tree rings, animal habitat, the four seasons, and more.
Westchester offers over 600 miles of beautiful trails, so I encourage you to take a hike and enjoy some quality time with your family and nature.