Even with kids in tow, adventure junkies can still enjoy the great outdoors. You won't be bagging any 14ers or going off on three-day backpacking excursions, but getting kids out on the trail is a very rewarding experience in its own right: It gives adventure-loving adults a new way to experience nature by inspiring little ones to love it as much as they do.
And, while the kids are out of school for the summer, there's no better time to enjoy as much time with them as possible on the trail. Here, some tips for making hiking in Cody a fun experience for parents and kids.
1. Lower your expectations.
Hiking with kids is about fun, not about how far or fast you can go. Children have a way of thwarting plans, so don't expect to cover lots of ground. Find flat trails with fun diversions do along the way (more on that in a minute) or interesting places to explore, and consider it a victory if you hike a mile the first time out.
Take it from Lee Nellis, local dad of two kids under 10: “You can have a good hike with kids if you abandon adult notions about destinations or, worse yet, speed, and let the kids guide you. It's good for the soul to stop and throw rocks in the creek!”
2. Make it fun.
Kids love to play, and the great outdoors is the best place to do that. Keep children interested by playing games like I-Spy, looking for sticks in the shapes of letters, or rocks that look like faces. Older kids can write in nature journals and take photos. Geo-caching is another excellent option for kids to buy into the idea of hiking.
Hiking enthusiast Melissa Allen, also the owner of Sunlight Sports in Cody, admits to using bribery (food, games, and toys) to entice kids to keep moving. "Some bribery, especially at first, is ok," she says. "The end game is to get them to love it, so as they start to enjoy it more there's generally less bribery needed."
In addition, pick your trail wisely. Kids are under-impressed by grand views, so don't tell them about the awesome scenery at the end of the trail. Find flat trails with fun diversions do along the way (trails full of wildflowers, for example) or interesting places to explore. Getting a chance to cool off in waterfalls or climbing over a unique rock feature are great rewards for all that walking. Local mom and outdoor enthusiasts Michele Halle also suggests sharing with kids "all the fun things they can interact with while getting to the destination.”
3. Keep up the energy.
Kids can burn up a grocery cart of energy on the trail, so take more food and snacks than you think you'll need. In addition to a substantial lunch, pack along bite-sized snacks to dangle in front of a lagging child. This might even be a great time to utilize snacks you wouldn't ordinarily let your children eat.
And be sure to stop often for snack and water breaks, as an uptick in whining can mean dropping blood sugar. "Snacks can solve a lot of problems," Allen says.
4. Go prepared.
Preparation can be the all difference between a glorious day outdoors with kids or a stress-filled outing full of meltdowns and a refusal to ever go on a hike again. Pack extra layers and leave a change of clothes in the car for the ride home. Take a first aid kit complete with sting-kill swabs, moleskin, bug spray, baby wipes, sunscreen, and antihistamines.
And keep in mind that a fun pack with special gear used only on hiking days can make the outing more enticing. Items like a magnifying glass, a hiking hat, bug boxes for easy handling of critters and other nature-centric mementos, kid-friendly binoculars, a special water bottle, or even a stuffed animal also do double duty in keeping kids' interest up on the trail. "Kids like tools as much as adults," Nellis says.
5. Help cultivate responsibility.
Hiking is a great way to build responsibility in kids so that they can better enjoy and appreciate the outdoors safely. Allow older children to help you decide which trail to take. If they're comfortable, let kids take turns being the leader. Give each child a whistle with a belt clip and teach them how and when to use it (as in, when there's a legitimate emergency, not to whistle a song along the trail). Ask them to make lunch for the family or pack the snacks (if they forget the food once, they won't ever do it again). Same thing applies with clothing: Help them make appropriate choices and let them go from there. If they have to learn the hard way that their favorite T-shirt chafes terribly under a backpack, they'll know better for next time.
6. Choose your trails wisely.
Now for the fun part: Picking where to go. Here, a few recommended few kid-friendly trails in the Cody area.
- Elk Fork: This trail is about 30 minutes west of Cody and, though it's hot and dry in mid-summer, it makes a great shoulder season hike with kids. It’s open and fairly flat and has water to play in.
- Sweetwater Trail: Farther up the North Fork is Sweetwater, another short trail with little elevation gain that makes it good for kids. Water for wading, trees, rocks, and wildlife will keep them occupied.
- Timber Creek: West of Meeteetse and about an hour south of Cody is the Timber Creek Trail. You’ll access this trail directly from the Wood River Road. This is a kid-friendly walk down the road to the ranger station.
- In town, the Paul Stock Trail and the Shoshone River Pathway are great adventure spots for young children.