Love hiking? Got kids? So what could be better than a morning spent trucking down the trails? Not much…until the whining starts: “I can’t go any further!” “My feet are hurting!” Little legs tire, tummies rumble, kids start to grumble. When they reach that point in a hike where one of them starts to whine like this, you better have some tricks up your sleeve. In search of secrets for turning kids into enthusiastic hikers—and to avoid the “how much farther” syndrome, I asked around—here is my Q&A with my colleague Florian, who voluntarily works for the Austrian Alpinist Association, running mountain camps for kids aged 8 to 16. He also loves to take his wife Conni and his eight year old twins Paul and Lorena out on hikes frequently.
Florian shares the lessons he’s learned over the years with hiking with his family and with kids during his camps: He tells me all about overnight hikes on huts, adequate gear and equipment for little ones and how to make hiking fun for his children:
Florian, at what age did you first take your children hiking?
We started taking the kids with us very young – we put them in backpack carriers before they could walk, and once they were walking, we would take them out of the backpack and let them run up the trail until they tired out. We started out doing real hikes when they were about four years old.
How long of a trip were your first hikes?
Out first hikes were 1 to 2.5 hour trips with about 300 to 600 meter elevation gain. Some trips took longer, because we had to stop by a brook along the way, playing in the water and building dams. Children are fascinated with water, so having a destination with water involved is always a great motivator – such as the trail across Ehnbachklamm Gorge into Brunntal Valley near Zirl. Our favourite starter hikes are the one from Grawa Alm to Sulzenau Alm (along the Grawa Waterfall Walk), and the trip from the top terminal Serles Lifts atop Gleinser Jöchl Col—the cross on its summit is a worthy reward for kids at the end.
How do you choose trails for kids?
Kids are easily bored on manicured trails. That’s why I always ensure that it’s a hike that is interesting for them – creeks, waterfalls, rocks and wildlife usually keep them occupied. One of our first longer hikes took us from Oberiss to Franz Senn Hut. The walk involves a couple of rock scrambles and was easy and interesting enough for the kids.
And what to you do when parts of the trail are less interesting and your kids are overwhelmed by boredom?
If they start to whine en route, I keep it interesting by telling them stories, preferably folk tales from the place in which we are walking. The more you engage them, the less focused they are on how tough the walk is. And reaching the destination, they are surprised just how much they were able to do—and how much fun it was.
For first time overnight hikers, what are your recommendations?
If you want to spend a night on a mountain shelter with kids, I recommend trying the above-mentioned trip to Franz Senn Hut. Another worthwhile option is the trail from Oberbach to Solsteinhaus Lodge. To get to Oberbach, you can either take the “Dörfertaxi” shuttle service or walk there from Hochzirl. (The Alpinist Association’s Brochure “Hut Walks with Kids” is full of practical tips on how to plan memorable, outdoor, family adventures. German only).
Do kids actually like spending a night on a hut?
Taking kids on a hut trip is an amazing adventure. For most kids, no matter how young or old, something magical happens when they get to a mountain hut. Give them a sleeping bag and a dormitory and they are in heaven. Throw in some great company and interesting stories and you’ve got an adventure which will be remembered and cherished for years to come.
How do you beat cabin fever on rainy days?
Naturally, hiking with kids is much more fun when the sun is shining. Nevertheless, we also head out if it starts to rain. It’s all about keeping them engaged and interested. Playing cards and board games together on the hut are possibly some of the family hut trip’s sweetest moment.
What “gear” does a child need for hiking?
The challenge of footwear is one of the greatest. Kit them out with quality hiking shoes that are waterproof and have thick shock-absorbing soles, and good tread. As for clothes, we don’t use functional or moisture wicking underwear. Ordinary shirts just work fine for kids. However, in the mountains, where the weather can go from sunny to snowing in a matter of minutes, you always need to have a good waterproof jacket and a cap. Of course, protecting children from the sun while hiking is very important so bring sunscreen and sunhats. Sunglasses are great, however, my kids never liked to wear them. They never carried backpacks when they were small; my wife and I carried the load. Naturally, on our Alpinist Association trips, each child has to carry his or her own backpack.
The Alpinist Association has released a Brochure named “Hut Walks with Kids” that is full of practical tips on how to plan memorable, outdoor, family adventures on Tirol’s mountain huts. The Brochure is available in German only.
For more tips on trip planning, Hiking with Kids offers a variety of fun ways to reconnect with nature and make a memorable family trip.