A Naturalist’s Guide to Family Hiking

Nature, family time and fresh air. Sounds pretty good, right? Hiking is a fantastic spring activity for the whole family. It is beneficial for physical and mental health, while also creating life-long memories and connections to the natural world. With spring comes warmer weather, wildflowers and deciduous leaves emerging. What an excellent time to get outdoors. Here are some tips to make the most of your family hikes.

Make a plan
Spontaneous outings can be a blast, but extra planning can go a long way, especially if you are hiking with children. First, pick a date that works well for everyone. Then, decide on hike duration and time of day. Allow some extra wiggle room for travel, breaks or if you decide to extend your time outdoors. Then, pick a location. Not only will this help you organize and pack, but also get excited for the adventure. Finally, do your research. Look online for park information, maps and trail distances and difficulty levels. With this information, you can plan a hiking route that everyone can enjoy. Check the weather and safety alerts as your hike approaches ensuring a safe and fun experience. It’s always a good idea to tell a friend or family member where you are headed and when you are expected back. Learn more about how to be prepared for outside adventures at adventuresmart.ca.

Pack wisely
Once you’ve made a plan, it’s time to pack. Have everyone carry their own backpack to share the load, stay safe and help teach children independence. Each person should have their own water, extra clothes and healthy snack or meal depending on how long your hike is. Pack at least one first aid kit, cell or satellite phone, park map and sunscreen for the group. It’s a good idea to attach a whistle to kid’s jackets or backpack. Heading somewhere wild? Consider some navigation aids. If you’re bringing a furry family member with you, pack a leash, waste bags and water, and food for longer hikes.

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The beauty and excitement of nature can be fulfilling enough without additional activities. However, children often enjoy something to further engage them with their surroundings. Here are some ideas:

• Use your senses. Smell a wildflower, listen for birds chirping, look for new leaves growing and feel different textures. Can you find something soft, rough, wet, or prickly? Keep in mind that some things in the forest are not safe to eat. Save your sense of taste for the healthy snack you brought with you.

• Identify plants and animals. Learning the names of living things around us can help us connect with them. Use field guides to identify the plants and animals around you. Let everyone take turns picking a tree to identify by observing the leaves or needles, bark, shape and size.

• Develop new perspectives. Magnification tools provide us with ways to experience things differently. With binoculars, look up in the trees for birds of prey to get a closer look. Try identifying the species with a field guide. Roll over a log in the forest then use a magnifying glass to see what’s hiding underneath. You may see salamanders, pill bugs, slug eggs and more! Just remember to roll the log back afterwards.

Having a tricky time choosing a park? Here are some suggestions in regional parks:
• Francis/King Regional Park. This park is a hidden gem with many gentle trails to best suit your adventure squad of all ages and abilities. With some of the largest Douglas-fir trees in the capital region and wonderful wildflowers emerging all around, this park never fails to impress. After your hike, hop into the nature centre to learn more about the park’s history and the things that call it home (open weekends and holiday Mondays from noon-4pm).

• East Sooke Regional Park. Looking for something a bit more wild and coastal? This park offers incredible ocean views and dense forest along gentle to rugged trails. There are three entrances and many trails of varying difficulty levels, so do your research to decide what will be most enjoyable for the group.

Get outdoors and create some life-long family memories, while boosting your health. If you’re looking for some more fun family nature outing ideas, join CRD Park Naturalists on a free guided walk or drop-in event. For more information, visit crd.bc.ca/about/events.

Rachael Tancock is a Park Naturalist at the Capital Regional District.