Two years ago I took Cohen (our then 11 year old) to hike a portion of the Fundy Footpath and last year our 10 year old daughter Ingrid (not to be outdone by her older brother) wanted to take a stab at back country camping and asked me to take her on her first solo trip. How could I say no to that cute little face, or to the promise of another little hiking/camping buddy in the making. This year it has become a traditional and I have multiple overnight hikes planned with my family in different combinations.
2015 Fundy Footpath – Cohen 11 years old
I can only say that the Fundy Footpath is not for the faint of heart or the unprepared (Fundy Footpath post to follow!). It is a very challenging hiking and when our 11 year old son wanted to go on an overnight hike and that is the hike he chose to do I guess I should have talked him out of it… But I didn’t and with some proper planning he did just fine.
We hiked in from the St. Martins end because in my experience it is the easier of the two ends. Also, we did an in and out so that if we didn’t make it as far as we thought we would the first night we didn’t have to go all the way we could just build a fire and stay the night where we stopped.
The hiking was hard as he had moments of doing amazing and a few moments where it got fairly hard but all in all he did amazing.
2016 Bennett Lake
Last year I forgot that I had told Ingrid I would take her on an overnight hike and we got to the last weekend of the summer. I went out the Wednesday before and bought all of the produce to do pickling and relish (again look out for a post in the fall!). Of course, Ingrid comes home and looks at me and reminds me this weekend is our last chance to go on our trip together so when are we leaving…. Oh goodness! I have 50 lbs or more of fresh produce and a 10 year old that I made a promise to, so what do I do? I work like crazy for 2 days pickling while I send her on a mission to compile all of the stuff for our trip and I just make it happen…
I finish the canning on day 2 at 3pm… I pack our bags and off we run… I seem to do everything at this speed these days… Need to get it all in of course…
We arrive at Fundy National Park around 4:30pm. Ingrid has picked the Bennett Brook trail and I looked at the length etc. and it appears to be perfect for our trip and timing. Approximately 9 km of mostly moderate hiking with 2.4 km of strenuous hiking. Ingrid has a pack of 13lb which considering her weight of 72ish lbs is pretty ambitious but compared to my back of 35ish lbs is doable… And we are off.
The trail starts as a road which is very level and picturesque. It starts to occur to me that this hike might be quite easy and we will have lots of time to get to the campsite before it gets dark (something I have not adequately considered before this moment). Until we hit the 2.4km of strenuous…
At this point we slow down significantly and I start to really worry that there will be a scared and tired little girl stopping in the middle of the trail refusing to go forward in the pitch dark. So we push on and to be honest Ingrid is a trooper, she does start to break down a little on the other side of the river crossing as we hit the uphill portion of the river crossing. What in the world am I going to do if she stops altogether – the thoughts you don’t have before you and are in the middle of the woods with your 10-year-old and you no have ability to carry both packs (or the child for that matter up a large hill…
Luckily my motivational words of encouragement (you don’t stop, keep moving, we have no choice, we need to get there, move, move, move) manage to get this amazing little kid to the campsites at the other end of the trail. It is dusk but not dark yet. Lots of time to set up camp. Luckily despite my lack of planning there is an available campsite (which for the record in a national park should have been booked in advance and it was only by luck that we have space to stay!!) with wood and fresh water nearby. I have to say at this point Ingrid shines, she goes to work on the tasks I send her on and doesn’t appear to be scared or uncomfortable in the least. A cup of hot chocolate and a few chocolate covered raisins and she is beyond happy and so am I. What a great little companion!
We cozy into bed early (9:15ish) to be warm and cozy and we both read until we are close to sleep! We then slept until 6ish when we both woke up, looked briefly at one another and then promptly went back to sleep for a couple of hours until it was warmer. We got up and off we went. The trip home was more leisurely as we did not have the time pressure of it getting dark.
2017 Dobson Trail
After a couple of years I have started to get better at the kid hiking trips. This year Ingrid asked first and so she got the first hike of the season. We started early and bought her proper hiking boots. This was a hard pill to swallow because hiking boots are not inexpensive, she now wears ladies sizes and will grow out of them. That being said it really improved the hike overall!
The initial plan had been to do a hike inside Fundy National Park and hike out of the park onto the Dobson to camp. Unfortunately, with it being Canada 150 the park was packed and the gate to get through to where we wanted to start the hike was closed.
So, we moved to plan B which was to drive around to the Shepody Road and start at the Dobson Trail. The first section (or section 7 in the NB Hiking Book) is about 10km and has a great campsite at the end so it was a great alternative to our original plan. The hike is also very moderate so it wouldn’t be too much for Ingy.
The complaint I have about the Dobson trail is that it is very boggy (which means bugs) and a large portion of the trail follows logging roads and is not actually in the woods. That being said the portions that are in the woods are beautiful and the campsite was gorgeous.
Once again I was so impressed as our now 82lb girl carried 18lbs this year and was a complete rockstar! This time we had lots of time when we got to the campsite and we managed to get everything set up and have a nice leisurely dinner before a roaring fire. The thing I like most is that there are no devices or outside distractions, it is 100% captive time to bond. Some of the best times I have had with people have been hiking / camping and this was no exception.
Hiking in May was much colder than last year in August but we kept warm by the fire and then snuggled into warm clothes and sleeping bags and we were snug as a bug in a rug. The next morning Ingrid made the fire to warm us up and she really amazed me by how once again she was so capable for such a little person.
The trip home was a little bit harder, a few complaints about sore feet and how long it had been but again such a wonderful experience for both of us!
Tips for Hiking with Kids
Keeping kids happy and safe on the trail is my focus. For this reason I only take one at a time which gives all of my focus to one of them and not to have any of their interactions with one another affect the trip. There are a lot of lessons to learn about safety, respect, no trace etc to teach them and the more one on one time you have with them the more time I have had to share those things.
The first thing I have learned is that you need to spend the money and buy them proper footwear. This is hard to do because hiking boots are not inexpensive and to buy them for a child who will only wear them for one season is a kick in the teeth. But that being said this year with proper hiking boots the trip was much easier for all of us.
The second thing is not to forget they are kids. They are smaller, their legs are shorter, they are less resilient, they will need more encouragement but as long as you make it fun and bring fun snacks, my kids are pretty easy to turn around and keep happy on the trail. They are kids, don’t plan to go as far as you would without them. If they are struggling lighten their pack a little. Hot chocolate and cookies go a long way and celebrate the successes.
The night with Cohen we stayed close to the lower salmon river and I have to say the sound of the water kept us awake a good portion of the night. This is general advice to not sleep too close to the water source because if you are like us you won’t sleep well and it will dramatically impact everyone’s coping mechanisms the next day.
The truth about kids and hiking
The truth is that there is nothing we do with our kids that is as carefree as if we did it without them. They have fewer coping mechanisms and are little people. That being said what hiking with my kids has shown me is that they are very capable and amazing little people. They don’t need to be catered to, they can carry their own weight (obviously less than I can carry but not an insignificant amount) and one on one time with them is so valuable. They crave it and they just want to be near their parents.
I have to admit the trip out of the woods for each of these hikes took a lot of encouragement and more stops than I would have liked, there was complaining and the hikes were shorter and less challenging than I am capable of. That being said what a great experience which each of them and what great character they are building. Not to mention I have my own little gang of hiking buddies growing up around me, AT here we come!