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Now that my kids are a little older (we just celebrated birthdays so we have a seven-year-old and a ten-year-old in the house!) I am getting a little more adventurous about the things we can do as a family. I am a little ashamed to admit that I’ve lived in Orange County for my entire life and there are parts of my hometown that I’m only discovering now. For example, Orange County is positively filled with hiking trails. They’re everywhere! Both Wendy and my mom have trailheads right within their suburban neighborhoods and I have tons that are within an easy driving distance. There’s even a fully paved trail that stretches for miles within my neighborhood. This delights me to no end.
For me, the experience of stepping onto a hiking trail feels like stepping into another world. I’ve always thought of hiking as physically challenging but hiking is really just a fancy word for…walking. Sure, some trails are tougher than others, but there are plenty of trails that are accessible for people of almost all fitness levels.
Now that we’ve hiked both in our home town and on vacation, I have a pretty good handle for how to set ourselves up for success when hiking with our family. It’s a fun and inexpensive way to get outside and explore, both at home and while traveling.
Make a Plan
Maybe you already know all the best trails in town, in which case you’re way ahead of the game! Otherwise, a quick internet search should lead you in the right direction. People who hike love to talk about hiking and I bet you can find plenty of information about trail length, difficulty level, where to find parking, the trailhead, and plenty of other important information simply by searching for hiking trails in your area, or an area where you’ll be visiting.
Once you’ve found a location, choose an easy trail to start. You want a successful hike under your belt so everyone wants to go again, so don’t max out your capabilities. I wouldn’t do more than three miles to start unless you know that your kids love walking. Many trails run in a loop, some just double back on themselves. Don’t feel pressure to complete the loop and feel free to turn around and head back even if you haven’t reached the halfway point.
Some trails will have a ranger station nearby, but many others will not, so do a little bit of research before you head out so you know what to expect.
Don’t Wear New Shoes!
You’ll want sturdy, comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots but definitely, do not break in a new pair of shoes on a hike. You will be miserable the second your shoes give you a blister. Make sure to wear shoes that have been given several trial runs and are well broken in. The type of socks you wear will depend on the weather. Since I’m in Southern California, we don’t need to worry about extreme cold and I prefer a moisture wicking sock, but if you’re hiking in colder temperatures a wool sock might be called for.
Protect Your Skin
Sun-protection is required year-round, even if the weather is cool, even if you’ll be hiking through an area that might be covered in trees. There are no excuses. Protect your skin! Wear lightweight layers, a hat and sunscreen. For my family I’m a fan of sunscreen formulas using zinc oxide and we’ve been using Blue Lizard® Australian Sunscreen lately which also has broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection. We’re using the sensitive formula, so all four of us can use the same sunscreen on our face and body. No one needs to be lugging multiple bottles of sunscreen along on their day trips.
Blue Lizard can easily be found in your local Walmart while you’re picking up other hiking supplies, plus if you join iBotta you can get a $4.00 rebate on your purchase of Blue Lizard® Sensitive 5oz. bottle. My kids love the Patented Smart Bottle™ technology that causes the bottle to turn blue when exposed to UV sunlight. This is a great visual representation of how the rays of the sun can have an effect on our skin.
I’m a fan of packing light for hikes because I have no interest in lugging a heavy pack for miles, but there are certain things you won’t want to leave home without. Don’t forget water! Even if it’s not hot outside you’re going to want to rehydrate while you’re walking. Also be sure to bring snacks that won’t melt (think: granola bars, nuts and fruit,) and a small first aid kit. You don’t want to do all of this planning for a scraped knee to ruin your day. Disinfect, slap a bandage on any scrapes, and be on your way. Water can also be helpful in cleaning out any small cuts, so this is another good reason to be sure you have plenty of water on hand.
It probably goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Stay on the marked trail! If anything happens, which is unlikely but still worth noting, you’ll want to be on a trail where people can find you. Plus if you’re like me, getting lost is significantly harder if you stay on the trail. Obey any posted signs about wildlife in the area and take any suggested precautions. When we went hiking in the Grand Tetons a few summers ago, we bought bear spray to take along with us. We never needed it, but it was nice to know it was there.
If you attempt a hike, let me know how it goes! I hope you and your family find a fun, new way to explore. Whatever you do, don’t forget the sunscreen!