“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder… he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
From Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder
As a mother and longtime resident of Vermont, I have taken many enjoyable hikes with kids in the Green Mountains. Hiking is a great way to get kids outside, enjoying nature, and developing a sense of wonder about their natural surroundings. It speaks to the basic interests of kids—climbing rocks, playing hide and seek, digging in the dirt, tossing stones or twigs into a stream. It’s the positive experience rather than the distance traveled that matters.
Do you want your kids to fall in love with hiking as much as you have? The way to do it is to start them early and keep it simple. You don’t need a plan. Walk in the woods and be patient, bring along your own childlike imagination, and some flexibility.
Start with short hikes close to home and go when the weather is pleasant. Make frequent stops and play games on the trail. Look for holes that might be homes for animals. Lie on your backs and look up at the tree canopy. Ask questions such as, “How far up are those leaves?” Roll onto your bellies and ask, “Can you see any bugs that live in the forest floor?” Turn over a rock and watch the ants or listen to the rain and make up a story about the travels of a raindrop.
While hiking, there is no need to pass along a lot of names or facts to kids. Just be open and share your curiosity and awe of nature with them. Look for things on the trail: soft, smooth, rough, squishy; signs of an insect such as holes in a leaf or bark; something that doesn’t belong there (if it’s trash, carry it out). Every child has an inborn sense of wonder and usually loves the discoveries of things nearby—the sound of a cricket, the light of the firefly, the smell of a flower—and of things farther away—the roaring wind, the moon, and the sunset.
Sometimes as adults, we forget that our bodies were designed for motion. There is no doubt that hiking for exercise can improve our physical and mental health. In Vermont, there are so many opportunities for kids and adults to go hiking and explore together, unplugged and away from electric outlets. Hiking is also a wonderful way for each of us to develop a stronger sense of place and appreciate the many environmental resources that surround us.
In time, kids can come to the understanding that we all have a responsibility to take care of the things we enjoy, including the earth. Children are natural caretakers and often need to learn about a place they like before they want to take care of it. We can teach them to respect nature by first admiring what they find, and then leaving what is there in its place so that others may enjoy it, too.
When we are outside on a nice day, time slows down. We can be very present and think about things that are really important to us. While hiking, we can have a hand in creating safe and positive experiences for kids. When the desire of children to explore is ignited, they will want more. Plant the seed for the future.
Haystack Mountain Trail, Wilmington
Four miles round trip, pretty forests, fun summit to explore, and great views.
Lye Brook Trail, Manchester
Four to six miles round trip to one of the highest and most beautiful falls in Vermont.
White Rocks Ice Beds, Wallingford
One-and-a-half miles round trip, spectacular views of White Rocks Cliffs made of Cheshire quartzite exposed from the last Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago. At the base of the rockslide, ice persists through out the year.
Falls of Lana, East Middlebury
Five miles round trip, with a three-tier waterfall, 15 minutes up the Silver Lake Trail.
Red Rocks State Park, Burlington
A three-mile loop or a short walk along Lake Champlain, with dramatic views of the Adirondack Mountains. Several trails meander through natural areas, with an abundance of spring wildflowers.
Kettle Pond, Groton State Forest, Plainfield
A three-mile loop with wildlife observation and swimming. Also, nearby is Owl’s Head Mountain, with a 2.8-mile round-trip walk. This is a favorite mountain top within Groton State Forest and a favorite of preschoolers. It’s a great place for kids to lead the way, and has magnificent views of Groton Lake and surrounding mountains.
Stowe Pinnacle Trail, Stowe
A good first “real” hike. 3.2 miles round trip, steep in places, to an open summit with views of Mount Mansfield, the valley of Stowe, Camel’s Hump, Sugarbush, and Mount Elmore.
Devil’s Gulch, Eden
Five miles round trip. Moss-covered boulders and a rock tunnel that leads to jumbled boulders that line the dark and narrow gulch. Views from Ritterbush Lookout and Ritterbush Pond. Kid-sized waterfalls.
For more information about these hikes and directions to their trailheads, read these books:
Guide to Vermont’s Day Hikes by Jared Gange, Huntington Graphics, www.letsclimb.com.
Best Hikes with Children in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine by Cynthia Copeland, Thomas Leis, and Emily Kerr, Mountaineers Publishing Co., www.mountaineersbooks.org.
The Green Mountain Club’s Day Hiker’s Guide to Vermont—Trips Beyond the Long Trail, www.greenmountainclub.org.
The YAC, Young Adventurers Club, founded by GMC’s Montpelier Section, is a program based in central Vermont designed to get parents and kids, ages six and under, outdoors to hike, play, learn, and make friends. It’s a fun place to make connections: www.gmcmontpelier.org/yac.