There are a few tell-tale signs of spring in the Washington, D.C. area – cherry blossoms, the White House Easter Egg Roll, and the city's professionals sprawled out on Farragut Square in their shirtsleeves and sunglasses at lunchtime.
For my family, any season is a good time for a hike. But there is something extra special about hiking in the springtime, spotting ephemeral wildflowers like Virginia bluebells and inventing dialogue between songbirds as they call to one another. One of our favorite local spots for a family-friendly hike is at Theodore Roosevelt Island, a small island park in the Potomac River, accessible only by footbridge. The car and bike-free environment offers a perfect opportunity to let our little one explore, and explore he will! As my son treks around the island’s trails, I am reminded of the many benefits of our day hikes for him and us alike.
Below are five reasons to hike with your kids. There’s no better time than the present, and you can also pledge to take your child out to hike in a park on May 21 for National Park Trust’s Kids to Parks Day. I encourage you to visit your local park, grab a trail map, and take your kids out for a hike. You won’t regret it, and maybe you’ll witness some of these benefits.
A growing body of research shows that spending active time outdoors is good for our health – and that goes for both kids and adults. A light hike offers beneficial cardiovascular exercise, for sure, but perhaps more important in today’s world of highly groomed playspaces, a trail hike can offer kids opportunities to traverse rocks, navigate exposed roots, and climb over fallen trees, building balance and agility. As my young son navigated a small rock scramble, I watched as his balance was tested. His problem-solving and confidence grew as he accomplished what, to him, was a great feat. Which brings me to my next reason to head out on the trail.
2. Build self-confidence
On the trail, away from cars and other dangers, my son was free to roam. “I did it!” we heard him joyfully exclaim more than once as he trekked up a hill or devised a strategy to cross a stream or a branch in his way. He made his own choices, tested his limits, and accomplished what he set out to do.
3. Exposure to wildlife
Hiking trails often provide a great opportunity for viewing wildlife, even in urban parks like this one. We counted numerous birds and insects, including a beautiful heron that preened for several minutes while we stood on a small bridge and watched. There is nothing like the wonder of nature to peak a child’s curiosity, forging powerful lifelong connections with the natural environment.
4. Practice “Leave no trace”
Theodore Roosevelt Island is a trash-free park. This means we had to talk about what we would do with our snack wrapper, and also why there were water bottles and other litter left by others in the park. It was a great opportunity to talk about why we do not leave our trash in the park, and what happens to the litter that is left behind.
5. Unplug together
We all know that kids spend a lot of time using digital media, and it is true for adults as well. I struggle with the urge to frequently check email or social media. Heading out for a family hike is a great way to take a break from your devices and connect with each other and the outdoors for a while instead.
Do you love to hike with your family? What resources does your park and recreation agency offer for families interested in hiking? Share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @NRPA_News.
Jessica Culverhouse is NRPA's Senior Manager of Fundraising. She is a former teacher and environmental educator, mom and volunteer Master Naturalist.