Like many of you, I was once a little kid with a big imagination; spending time outdoors, on hikes, and in the woods fueled it. I learned how to appreciate the magic of it all, something I largely owe to my grandparents. They were patient when I wanted to explore tide pools and gnarled root systems, they helped me identify new bugs, flowers, and trees, and they taught me that you can find bits of the wild everywhere if you look close enough. Whenever I hike, wherever I go, I try to look for some of the magic that was so easy to find when I was young.
How exactly were they able to instill this into my sisters and me? I’m not sure. And as a childless 21-year-old, it might be weird if I started giving you advice on how/where/why to hike with your kids. So, I spent a morning on the Northern Rail Trail with Becky Trudeau, an outdoorswoman, and mother of three. Becky lives in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and she walked me through the challenges and joys of bringing her kids on the trail, all while pointing out some great New Hampshire destinations if you’re in the market.
First Stop: Black Mountain
Becky’s husband is from Vermont, and while the two met in Maryland, they moved back to the Upper Valley in search of better snow. We talked about how important it is for families to find ways to make the winter a little less miserable. It’s easy to get holed up at home with the cold weather and icy roads, but if you find something you enjoy doing in the winter and stick with it, unsurprisingly, it might help. For the Trudeau’s, that is skiing.
Small cabins are dispersed through the White Mountains, where you can stay overnight, even during the colder months. Becky told me about a family trip to Black Mountain, which is near the town of Jackson. They packed up their gear, bought some firewood, and skied to a little cabin nestled into the western side of the mountain. The cabin’s view of Mount Washington can’t be beat. Remember to follow the principles of Leave No Trace when you visit; pack everything in and out, but even this is part of the adventure. Trekking through the blustery cold (luckily only 1.4 miles) with all of your supplies is very Tolkien-esque.
Cardigan Mountain State Park & Keeping Kids Motivated
When it comes to keeping your kids energized, engaged, and motivated on the trail — Becky told me you just have to know your kids. Cardigan Mountain State Park in Orange, New Hampshire, is the perfect day trip for her family. There is no sharp precipice, the trail is manageable, and most importantly, reaching the summit is incredibly rewarding. The sense of accomplishment from reaching a summit is unparalleled, especially for the little ones.
The Mount Cardigan Loop Trail is 3 miles with 1,181 feet of elevation gain. Becky told me something that rings true even as an adult: every 1,000 feet of elevation gain will “feel” like an extra mile. So when considering your child’s endurance levels (and your own), keep that in mind.
Finding the Right Trail
At the same time, you don’t want the kids to get too bored. Finding the right trail is tricky, but apps like AllTrails and Hiking Project can help! You can filter by location and read through comments to get a handle on the trail’s features. Becky and her kids are currently working their way through the 52 With a View. And when it comes to giving your kids an appropriate challenge, Becky’s son Ethan recommends “ladders and tunnels” along the trail. Waterways and cool rocks help, too, if you can’t locate any nearby tunnels.
While we were chatting, Becky told me that when she’s hiking with her kids, the goal is to get back to the car, happy and healthy. Getting to the top of the mountain is only half the journey, and rewarding kids at specific landmarks with power-bursts (starbursts) and chocolate energy bombs (M&M’s) can help them make the round-trip.
I have spent quite a bit of time outside this summer, but sometimes I catch myself zoning out trying to finish the trail or reach the summit. Talking with Becky put some things into perspective. For example, anytime you hike, it’s helpful to think about why you’re heading outside at all. Letting this question sit with me as I explored southern New Hampshire this past week, I found it was much easier to find the magic. It’s crucial to consider with kids as well; why are we even doing this?
There are plenty of reasons: exercise, fresh air, playtime, you name it. Getting on the same page with your kids might help keep frustration at bay when they decide to spend 20 minutes in a bush.
However, if the longtime goal is to help your children become lovers and stewards of the great outdoors, to instill wonder, then patience is key. Letting them ogle at ant holes and stick their fingers into tree roots helps them discover the tempo of the world around them. It’s a slow and steady beat, something we’re not used to.
Our world is relentlessly moving forward, one thing after another, and nature seems like a great escape from the rush of life. Yet, the real magic is when we discover that the rhythm of the outdoors is an endless, wild thing. It’s growing, collapsing, and being made new. Luckily, sometimes, we get to step back and watch.