I love a good long-distance hike. Whether it’s along the Way of St. James or along the Eagle Walk, it was always one of the most relaxing and memorable things to do for me on vacation. Being on the trail, reaching the destination… I walked over 3,000 kilometers during the last few years. And there’s plenty to come! But how about long-distance hiking with kids? Is it possible when you have children?
Last summer, I wanted to find out and hit the Lechweg (Lech River Trail), shouldering large loads and having recruited a friend who was willing (and extremely patient) to be a part of our trip. Let me go straight to the most important point: Yes, hiking with toddlers is possible! And yes, the week along the Lech River Trail with my boys (then 11 months and 2 years old) was a bit more work than hiking on my own – and not only physically challenging. As a passionate long-distance walker I’m used to carry my gear. However, in addition to the normal items I bring along on a hiking trip, there’s a lot of extra gear that goes along with kids: Diapers, food and snacks, extra clothes for the kids, and last but not least: the kids themselves! That’s what makes it important to pick the right path – do not only look for kid-friendly trails. Don’t let the trail ratings, which are usually based on the steepness and technical difficulty of the trail, be the end of your research. Also consider elevation gain and the width of the path. Considering all this and more, we eventually chose the Lech River Trail for these three reasons:
- There are many rewards along the trail: Worthwhile sights & attractions, swimming pools and creeks and brooks—having a destination with water involved is always a great motivator.
- The day walks are mostly easy and detours of more demanding sections are possible along the valley cycle path (or by public transportation). Many stages are all-terrain stroller accessible.
- The infrastructure along the Lech River Trail is excellent: A trailside eatery to grab a quick bite or a place to spend the night is always close by. The valley is served hourly by excellent hikers’ transit services in both directions. Bus transportation is free to Lechtal Active Card holders.
I usually don’t do a lot of planning when I go on vacation and it usually works out for me and my boys. This time was different. I should have booked accommodation for that week. This would have saved us from lugging a ton of equipment around the whole day, which can be draining. Plus, especially younger kids benefit from a base camp. In Holzgau, we finally booked an apartment at Ferienschlössl Harmonie (strongly recommended!) and staying more than one night at a place made life easier for the kids. The hiker’s shuttle bus took us to a new trailhead each morning and back to the hotel in the evening.
Walking was an enjoyable and relaxing experience for all of us – for my big one, the best part of being on the hike was the opportunity to romp about to his heart’s content (and to take a rest in the stroller afterwards). We soon learned to set aside plenty of time to stop (every ten meters or so) and toss pebbles into the water or build cairns. Recalibrating our expectations, we adults had a relaxing hike as we let the kids set the pace. We did not cover too much ground (it is definitely not possible to “log miles”). One thing is for sure when it comes to hiking with kids: Embrace the pace set by the littlest – and allow for many breaks along the way! For children, it’s the journey that’s important, not how long the journey is. Time is your friend – so plan for lots of it: We spent an hour watching a man tarring a back road. 20 meters later, we had to look closely to see some climbers scaling the rocky walls of Schrofenwies climbing terrain. And then it was time for an energy stop. (And that is how we spent a whole morning).
The trail is relatively flat and open, and the tread is soft and great for strollers – we had done our research before setting out and had selected hikes that weren’t too long or too strenuous. Only once we had misjudged the route and were happy and grateful when we arrived safe and sound back in the valley (Holzgau – Steeg). However, this stage is well worth the effort as it crosses a deep canyon on the swaying Holzgau Suspension Bridge. Without a stroller and with some sure footedness you will find it one of the most enjoyable walks along the Lech River Trail.
Some Final Thoughts: Hiking with kids is not only possible – it was great fun and extremely rewarding!I would take my children hiking again anytime – but with modified goals: At a more leisurely pace, without an effort to log miles and a little less ambitious.
My Tips & Tricks for Planning a Hike along the Lech River Trail with Kids
- Book accommodation for the entire walk and head out to explore the Lech River Trail on out-and-back hikes from this ‘base camp’.
- I would strongly recommend to call one of the Lechweg Partners for detailed information on tread and stroller accessibility. They are happy to help!
- Bring a carrier/stroller for each child. Even when kids are old enough to walk, their legs have to work hard to keep up with adult-sized strides (and there’s so much of the natural world for kids to discover and examine). I strongly recommend taking along an all-terrain stroller (which is as well helpful in transporting daypacks when those little legs are walking).
- Embrace the pace set by your kids and plan for lots of time. You may not reach the end of the trail. You may not even hike a mile! Kids are natural explorers and want to pick up and touch everything. You might not cover too much ground, but you’ll have a more relaxing hike if you’re not prodding and cajoling reluctant kids at ever bend in the trail in an effort to log miles. Remember, it’s about the journey not the destination – so slow down to their pace and enjoy it!
- Dangle the destination carrot: When you look for a place for a fun family hike, choose hikes with landmarks and attractions – there are many rewards along the Lech River Trail: Worthwhile sights and numerous swimming pools (like the Aqua Nova in Steeg, the natural swimming pond in Vorderhornbach, and the remarkable Ehrenberg Castle Ensemble where brave squires can join in the living re-enactment with historic armours and will be knighted for their services, to name but a few). Picking an enticing destination is always a great motivator and makes the long-distance walk an enjoyable experience for everyone.
- More information on hiking with kids and long-distance-hiking in Tirol is available from www.tyrol.com.