Hiking With Kids: It's All About the Cupcakes
A hiking-obsessed mom gets her reluctant 6-year-old out on trail. And, amazingly, everyone has fun.
When she was 4, my daughter, Hazel, told me she hated hiking.
I stared at her, trying to keep my face blank, and thinking “This is a problem.”
The picnic trick
So I started taking her on picnics instead. I just took her to picnic sites that required a long walk.
Not long after her anti-hiking declaration, I took Hazel to Beaver Lake off of the Mountain Loop Highway. It seemed like an easy hike for a kid, and I packed an absurd amount of sugar as energy. (Well, OK, fine. It was bribery. But whatever works.)
It went better than I could have possibly hoped. We watch masses of butterflies. We admired the tiny blooming flowers. We ate cupcakes while watching the river. It’s still one of my fondest memories of our time together.
Too big to Fool, too big to carry
Fast forward two years. Hazel is now 6 (almost 7, as she always points out) and she has figured out my picnic trick.
She’s too big to fool, and she’s too big to carry.
So, I’ve hiked more and more without her. I appreciate the chance to go on long, hard hikes. But I miss my girl when I do. It’s a balance—do I spend time with the activity that brings me more joy than any other? Or do I spend time with the person who brings me more joy than any other? And like anything else in life, balance is hard.
On a recent sunny weekend, I had no interest at all in balance. I wanted to hike and I wanted to be with my family. So, I called in reinforcements. Also known as friends.
Hazel is an only child, and nothing makes her happier than having a friend to play with.
So we went for a hike to Beaver Lake. I was a little worried — my memories of that trail are so warm. I was almost scared to overlay them with a new story.
Cupcakes for the win
I didn’t need to worry. My husband, Jerry, and I joined up with a friend and her two girls. The older girl and Hazel basically ran most of the trail. The youngest girl rode on her mom’s back. I loaded up my backpack with extra layers and at least twice as much food as we all needed.
We at a giant picnic—complete with cupcakes. We looked for the beavers. We didn’t see them, but we did see their houses. We wondered what they had in their houses, and agreed with the girls when the suggested that they probably had a lot of wood furniture hidden in there.
Lessons in letting go
I hope one day Hazel will like hiking for hiking’s sake. But she’s 6. She’s healthy, she’s active, she likes running around with her friends. And what more could I ask for?
I can’t control what Hazel comes to love as she grows up. Parenting is about letting go of more and more control every day. I used to wear her on my back when we hiked. Then I let her walk, holding my hand. Then she walked, but always with-in arm’s reach. Now she knows the trail rules—stay within earshot, stop at any trail junction and never leave the trail. Someday, I hope, I’ll be giving her the keys and letting her drive herself and her friends to the trailhead. If I’m lucky, maybe she’ll let me come sometimes, too.
And if she doesn’t come to love hiking on her own as she grows up? Perhaps it will have been long enough that I can try the picnic trick again.