My family and I have been hiking the extensive trails in and around the Southern Vancouver Island region for almost 10 years now. From the beautiful, groomed, paths at Thetis Lake Park, to the backcountry trails of Sooke’s Regional Hills, my husband, our two kids, and I have enjoyed many a good stomp in the local woods. In fact, hiking has become our go-to activity when planning meaningful family time. Fortunately, there is no shortage of amazing hiking trails to choose from in the Greater Victoria Area. Over 100km of trails, annually maintained by the CRD, are available for exploring, making it easy to get outside, as a family, for a hike. Hiking on this beloved island meets my family’s needs for an affordable and physically engaging activity that connects us with nature, and, rather unexpectedly, connects us as a family.

We began our journey into the world of hiking with leisurely walks at local gems: Lower Thetis Lake trail, sections of the Galloping Goose, and the quiet, nearly abandoned roads within Royal Roads’ forests. They were stroller friendly and picturesque, and perfectly suited to our preschooler’s stamina at the time.

On these walks my husband and I would stroll, the kids setting our inconsistent pace, while pushing a three-year-old’s necessities—juice boxes, snacks, attachment toy—in a buggy alongside them. These early hikes were relaxed, almost aimless, and the kids would stop at their leisure to inspect nature’s treasures: a rock that caught their eye, a fallen leaf on the trail, a bustling ant hill. Upon these discoveries we would huddle together, pretending to be explorers or princesses, to examine the day’s finds.

We enjoyed lengthy, unplanned chats about our surroundings: why the fallen leaf isn’t on a tree anymore, where the ants are going, or we’d debate if the rock was put on the trail by fairies for us.

At the end of our forest adventures we’d trudge home with tired kids and, surprisingly, refreshed parents. On occasion, if the outing was an enormous success, our kids would re-pay us by going down for an afternoon nap. Yes!

So our love for being in the outdoors as a family was not born from a deeply-rooted desire to connect, as a family, with nature. Nope. The connection we found was purely a by-product of two disoriented parents’ desperate attempts to tire out a toddler and a preschooler—without spending money—so our kids would sleep for 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon.

But, really, isn’t that like, 75 per cent of all parenting?

I first fell in love with our family’s nature walks for their ability to locate my kids off-switch. But I soon began to notice other good things happening from our treks together. I found that as we walked along the trails, my husband and I would talk to each other. And the conversation would come easily too—seldom interrupted with “just a minute” or, “what did you say.”

In the woods we would give each other our full attention. No cell phones going off, no screens or schedule-related emergencies to compete with. We found we could speak to each other in a way we weren’t speaking at home.

At home, we were being pulled apart by the unending demands of caring for two young children. But in the woods, household distractions didn’t come between us. We were talking, listening, and enjoying our family. So, along with our kids burning off energy on these walks, my husband and I were improving our connection to each other, too.

Our kids are now in grade school and the need to engage them isn’t as consuming as it once was. We still look forward to bedtime, but our family feels more relaxed than it did in the early parenting years. Now, when we hike, the trails are often strenuous and uphill. Instead of naptimes, the rewards are spectacular waterfalls and stunning viewpoints atop rugged mountains. We still have gear to haul, but not in our old, all-terrain stroller; we have hiking packs. And the gear has changed too, the plush toys and sticky juice bottles have been replaced with safety bells, water filtration systems, and blister band-aids.

Not every hike is several hours and kilometres long, but some are. Others are visits to a lake for a quick spin around it on foot. But, the result is still the same: family time in the woods where we find our connection to each other.

Katie Duff is a freelance writer living in Sooke; she is the mom to two happy hikers! She can be reached at katieduffwrites777@gmail.com.