Hit The Trails! Preserve Wilderness For Future Generations By Teaching Youth To Appreciate Nature

Hiking with kids provides a fantastic way to work off energy and allows children to connect with family, while spending time outdoors. Our area has several great trails, and many others are just a day’s drive away for longer weekend trips.

Try Wesslemans Woods Nature Preserve for kid-friendly trails and an interactive nature center. Walk the boardwalks at Howell Wetlands or follow the paths of young Abraham Lincoln at the trails at Lincoln State Park. Henderson’s John James Audubon State Park features a large lake with paddleboats during the summer, and several trails for all ages, including an easier, shorter trail near the museum. Within a day’s drive, there’s also great hiking and nature viewing at Harmonie State Park, Garden of the Gods, Hoosier National Forest and others. Most of these parks also offer free or inexpensive activities for kids during the summer, including art, nature and science programs. Visit their websites to view calendars for each park.

A few tips for hiking with children, which presents a different set of challenges than hiking with only adults.

  1. Plan for more time than you think you’ll need. Kids will need to stop frequently for resting, water and food. It’s also beneficial to allow time to point out animals, trees and plants. Remember, it’s more about the journey than the destination, so don’t worry so much about reaching a certain point on the map. Although features such as a lake or waterfall give kids something to look forward to on the hike, know that you won’t always make it all the way, and that’s okay.
  2. Pack the essentials…and then some. Always carry water, food, bug spray, sunscreen and a first aid kit. But adding kid-friendly extras such as binoculars, field guides, cameras or nature books are sure to make the experience even more fun for a younger audience.
  3. Create games along the way. Create a scavenger hunt or looks for signs of wildlife, such as bird nests, feathers or fur. Older children can use field guides to find animal species or plants. It’s always educational (not to mention, safe) to have each child be aware of what Poison Ivy and Poison Sumach look like.
  4. Start a tradition. The more time children spend outdoors, the more they will adjust and enjoy the concept of hiking. Try setting a goal to go on a hike once a month. Research spots together for future trips. Choose longer trails during good weather, and short, easier trails during warm, summer months.
  5. Cheer them on. Kids love to hear that they are doing a good job, so encourage them on the trail. Let them know you’re proud of how far they’ve come, and use positive reinforcement if they point out an animal or plant on the trail or pick up litter.

I challenge you to get the youth in your life hiking this summer, because part of preserving wilderness for future generations is teaching children to appreciate nature by spending time outdoors. Happy hiking!

Jessica Mitchell is the Marketing & Design Coordinator at Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana.