There’s no arguing with the benefits of taking kids on a hike. It allows the family to spend time together, keep fit, and experience the pleasure of exploring the natural world.
When looking for a Chicago-area hiking spot to bring the family, keep in mind that some destinations will be better than others.
- A visitors center with engaging nature exhibits is always a plus for kids.
- Generally, younger children will prefer a shorter hike through a gentle landscape.
- Avoid places that are overly busy. During summer weekends, Chicago’s Lakeshore Path or Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in DuPage County can be overwhelming, not to mention dangerous, for a small child on foot.
- Build a child’s interest by asking him or her to help choose the destination. Consider your own preferences, too. If parents are enthusiastic, it will likely rub off on the kids.
So your kids are on the trail, now what? The trick, as many parents know, is making sure the kids have fun. The June 2009 issue of Backpacker magazine contains a short article with some great tips on hiking with kids. Here are a few of the suggestions offered:
- Start hiking early and quit before their energy goes on a sharp decline.
- Make sure you match the kids’ interests and hiking ability with the right trail and the length of time hiking. Take a rest break every half hour or so.
- Play hide and seek by having the kids run ahead on the trail. After everyone walks by, the kids can surprise the family from behind.
- Ask kids to find items along the trail: a purple flower, a red rock, or a type of leaf.
- Consider bringing items such as binoculars, a magnifying glass, and a camera.
Local parks and county forest preserves throughout the region offer a host of fun programs geared toward teaching kids about the natural world. Keep watch for activities in your community on these websites:
- Chicago Park District nature programs
- Cook County Forest Preserve nature programs
- Kane County Forest Preserve District nature programs for children
- Lake County (Illinois) Forest Preserve calendar of events
- Lake County (Indiana) parks programs
- McHenry County Forest Preserve program calendar
- Will County Forest Preserve calendar
Parents may find it useful to check out my book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago. It lists the top kid-friendly hiking destinations in the Chicago area and describes each hike in detail.
Other posts you may be interested in:
- Great places to hike close to Chicago
- Nature, family, solitude and just plain fun
- The Fox River Trail
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