Trails for everyone, forever
We wanted to hike 22 times in 2022. Here's how we made it work with our 9-year-old and 4-year old. By William Garrow.
As my family entered 2022, I started thinking about New Year’s resolution. As a high school teacher and coach for 16 years, I have spent countless hours teaching goal-setting lessons. I teach students and athletes to set “S.M.A.R.T.” goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. But, I confess, I’ve set plenty of my own resolutions and watched them fail after a month or two, like many people. So I sat down with my spouse, Chelsea, son Theo (age 9), and daughter Ellie (age 4) in late December 2021 to talk about our plans. We decided that we needed a family New Years resolution that was specific, something where we could track our progress, something that would bring us closer together, and something that was flexible enough to make sure we didn’t “fail” if (when) life got busy.
We have been a hiking family for a few years, but I wouldn’t classify us as “hardcore outdoorsy.” We don’t go backpacking or mountaineering — we just don’t have the gear or time (even though it would be super fun to do). When we camp, we take a travel trailer and bring our cell phones, coffee maker and barbecue.
Our family is busy. Our son loves playing sports and our daughter loves her daycare routine. I teach and coach. Chelsea is a marketing director and runs her own small-business. And, of course, all the other activities that keep families busy.
With all that in mind, we decided a hiking goal was something that we could do. So, we set our sights on 22 hikes in 2022!
Our goal: Complete 22 hikes, as a family, before Dec. 31, 2022.
Specific: We set a specific number (22) to match the year. It wasn’t the most scientific reason but it worked for our kids. It was easy to remember and simple to know when we’d made progress toward our goal.
Measurable: We recorded each hike by taking a picture of the kids near the trail sign and we shared them on social media. We didn’t set mileage requirements, because there are just too many variables with our kids and how they’re feeling to set an arbitrary mileage goal.
Attainable: This goal meant we need about two hikes per month. But we knew that we might do three hikes on a single vacation or trip, so 22 felt attainable. (We also knew that sometimes life just gets busy and we might go an entire month without a hike.)
Relevant: We have learned that spending time hiking, walking, talking and disconnecting from the distractions of the world is important for our family, and for our shared mental health. That time has allowed us to see amazing things together. So, this goal was definitely relevant to my wife and I as parents who want to have this time with our kids!
Time-bound: The goal has an end date of Dec. 31, 2022.
We use the Washington Trails Association’s website and app whenever we are looking for hikes. We love the ability to filter hikes for areas near our home, or for areas we are visiting on a summer vacation. We regularly save hikes to “My Backpack” in the app so that we can access the data when we’re outside of cell service. The app helps us get to the trailheads (we trust it much more than Apple maps, that was a lesson learned hard). But, probably most significantly for us, we love the trip reports that hikers share. We have two kids who have done a fair amount of hiking, but the trip reports really help us get an understanding of whether or not a hike will be good for our family. If there’s significant trail damage (trees, wind) or water crossings, we might not do that hike just yet. The app, and the trip reports, are really an incredibly useful tool and we are so grateful to have them before we head out to the trail.
With our busy schedule, one of the most important things to meeting our goal for 2022 was making sure that, when we had an opportunity to hike on an upcoming weekend, we did a bit of preparation to make sure it went smoothly. The first thing was take one of our old backpacks and designate it as our “hiking pack” and make sure that we had the Ten Essentials available to grab and go. Second, we chose a hike with a destination for our kids to look forward to. Sometimes it’s a waterfall, sometimes it’s a lake or a river, or a manmade structure. Regardless, we want to be able to talk about what we’re hiking “to” when we are on the drive to the trailhead.
Then, we break up our hiking opportunities from home into two distinct categories:
Half-day hikes: For us, a half-day hike usually was one where the trailhead was within one hours driving distance, and with a hiking distance of 3 miles or less. On those days, we’d eat breakfast at home, bring snacks for the trail, and be home in time for lunch. Or we’d go after lunch and be home in time for dinner. We could plan those hikes around other activities.
Full Day Hikes: If we had a Saturday or a Sunday free, we planned a full-day hike. For those, we were willing to drive more, which opened up more options. We packed lunches the night before, with foods everyone liked. We used our kids school lunch containers and put them all in one of our packs. We aimed for hikes 4-8 miles in length, with a defined halfway point for a lunch spot. This was important for our kids, because it gave them something to look forward to at the beginning of the hike. We always throw a few snacks in the pack as well, to bribe the kids in case they needed a little extra sugar energy to keep them from being too whiny.
As an athletic coach and teacher, planning and organization are big parts of my daily routine. I can be annoyingly organized, and I like to plan vacations months in advance. This gets me light-hearted ribbing, but it helped us achieve our hiking goals. We made sure that on every trip, there was at least one hike we could do.
For spring break, we stayed at an AirBNB in California. It was a ton of fun, and the kids loved swimming in the pool and playing in the sun. And we made sure to include a day trip and hikes at Joshua Tree National Park and Mount San Jacinto National Monument.
In addition, we took our travel trailer near Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument over the Fourth of July. We chose the destination, campground and trails because we wanted to get away from the fireworks (we have a very old dog) and because we wanted to hike with our kids to a fire lookout. We were able to achieve all of those goals and more, as a family, with a little planning and organization ahead of time.
Like many people, I’ve found that accountability is important when achieving goals. Telling people what my goal is helps me stick with it. I did the same thing with our family resolution.
I decided we would take a picture of the kids at each trailhead sign, and share it with family and friends on Instagram to help us keep track of our goals. I plan to take each photo and make them into a printed book. If we can keep it up, we’ll have a few years’ worth of hikes, photos, and memories saved while our kids are still young enough to enjoy doing them with us!
These things have worked well in helping our kids stay motivated and enjoy hiking with us. They’ve worked for our family, maybe they can help others.