Kimberly Blaker, contributing writer
WHAT BETTER WAY to spend quality time with your family, exercise, and get in touch with nature than a fresh, invigorating walk or hike? What’s more, family hikes make for fun learning opportunities for kids and parents alike and the opportunities for beautiful trails are endless in Cache Valley.
Try some of these hiking activities with your kiddos this spring. You never know, hiking may become a new family favorite pastime:
• A stone is a stone is a … mineral? Go on an excursion to learn about rocks and minerals. Before you go, learn which rocks and minerals are abundant in the area, and have each family member choose several to scout for. Take along a small plastic container with dividers, a descriptive rock and mineral guide, and a magnifying glass for viewing the colors, layers, and details. As you identify stones and minerals, discuss their uses.
• Photo scavenger hunt: Capture nature’s splendor. Hiking trails provide plenty of photo opportunities, and kids will love snapping the shots. Discuss what each family member wants to photograph, such as a huge oak tree, a monarch butterfly, deer tracks, or a close-up of a nibbling squirrel. When you get home, print out the best photos and create a nature scrapbook.
• Tree tales: These giants of nature are not only intriguing because of their size, but also because of their many variations. Borrow some books on trees from the library that describe the unique features of trees and their history. Use clues such as the shape of the leaves, texture of bark, and size of the trunk to identify the kind of tree.
• Sounds of nature: Wander through a forest and listen carefully for a variety of bird and animal sounds. Use the audio recorder on your phone to record some of the sounds you hear. Listen to the recording again at home and play a game of detective to determine the source of the sounds.
• Which way do we go? Roam the countryside and teach your children directional skills, such as how to read a map and use a compass or the sun to determine direction. For even more fun, turn the excursion into a treasure hunt.
• Animals all around: Take a quiet hike in a wooded area with grassy clearings and see how many animals you meet. Watch for snakes, turtles, and geese if there’s a nearby lake or stream. Look for chipmunks and squirrels playing chase or gathering food, birds of prey circling overhead, or grazing rabbits and deer. Discuss the animal’s unique characteristics. Talk about what the animals eat, their shelters, and species they are related to. Keep eyes peeled for animal tracks to identify and determine how recently they were made.
• Creepy crawly things: Scouting for insects is an all-time favorite among kids, and the variety of creepy-crawly creatures in the woods is remarkable. Carry an insect book, clear container, tweezers, and a magnifying glass for close examination of insects’ fascinating features. Bring a journal and track the types of insects you find.
• Plant life, old and new: Discover the fantastic diversity of plant life with your kids. Before you head out, review some books on plants to spark your children’s interest. As you inspect plants, look for their seeds, and notice the variations. Talk about how seeds travel by blowing in the wind or catching on the fur of animals.
• Where to find trails: You might be surprised to discover nearby trails that you never knew existed. Visit trails.cachecounty.org, logancanyonhiking.com, or explorelogan.com/assets/files/brochures/hiking.pdf for information on many local trails.
• Before you go: Plan your activities before you leave so you’ll arrive prepared. For comfort and convenience, carry a small daypack, warm clothing, and wear hiking boots. For protection, bring along hats, sunglasses, sunblock, and insect repellant. Be prepared for emergencies by carrying a small flashlight and batteries, a watch, map, bandages, and plenty of water and snacks. Finally, make the most of your adventure by carrying binoculars, a magnifying glass, and a small camera.
Trekking Tips for Tykes
When hiking with children, keep these suggestions in mind:
1. Allow small legs plenty of time for breaks and know your child’s limitations.
2. Be familiar with potential dangers in the area in which you’ll explore and teach your children trail and animal safety.
3. Before you set out, prepare your kids by informing them that there may be rules against taking their nature finds home and teach them to leave the trail tidier than they found it, picking up garbage along the way