“The mountains are calling and I must go!” – John Muir
They called and we went! I’m starting to write the post to you while we’re still on our trip, sitting here in our cabin after five days of hiking with our kids in North Carolina and Tennessee! My legs are toast. I’m listening to a rushing creek outside the open windows. And I can hear the kids talking to each other about our adventures as they drift to sleep. These five days have felt more like two weeks—packed with adventures, 90,000 steps (literally—my Fitbit got a workout this week!), and memories we’ll cherish forever.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in my years using PowerSheets is to consistently evaluate where you’re headed in life—and be willing to try new things as you get clearer and clearer about what matters to you in the big picture. As we grow and change over time, our goals and passions do, too! Case in point: A year ago, I had never been on a hike! We took our first trip to the mountains last August. We all fell in love with the North Carolina mountains and exploring trails and waterfalls together. And now, less than a year later, hiking feels like home to me. A lot can happen in a year, my friends! The mountain air, the hard work of the ascent, the unmistakable majesty of the Lord in seeing the world He made—something about it stirs my soul.
I’m no hiking expert, but Ari and I have learned a lot as beginners in the last year—and several dozen hikes under our belts with the kids now. So many of you asked me questions about our trip on Instagram, that I thought a blog post might be helpful! I’m going to share a few quick tips, favorite hikes, and things you need to know before you trot off to the mountains with your toddlers in tow!
Is it hard to hike with kids? Yes! Worth it? YES! Hiking with kids is HARD. The hikes themselves are not your biggest challenge, though—it’s having the determination and peace as parents to keep going through the whining and “Mommy, CARRY ME!!!” moments you will inevitably experience. Be prepared to put on your “Coach Mommy” hat allll day long. You can do it! Only 8,893,943 more steps to go! Almost to the waterfall and I HAVE SNACKS! For us, this has been 1000% worth it. Our kids have gained confidence, strength, perseverance, a love of exploring, and they know so much about plants, trees, rocks, mountains, and history from our adventures. Not to mention the magic of God’s creation their little souls have soaked up with every step forward—all worth it! But, I do have to warn you to set your expectations aright. Hiking with kids can be a test of endurance and patience (and physical strength), but it can also be doubly rewarding! In summary, it’s challenging. It’s worth it. Carry them a lot. SING. For real, singing somehow helped all of our kids get through longer hikes with ease! Help them over rocks. Be ready to motivate those kiddos! Best of all, you can eat a donut at the end—you will have burned up all those calories carrying your kids up mountains!
How old are your kids? Our kiddos are 7.5, 3.5 and 3. Everyone’s kids are different, but for our kids, a little over 3 seems to be a good age for more moderate hikes. They can follow directions more clearly (note I didn’t say easily—they are 3!), and their bodies seem better able to climb and navigate varied terrain. Grace is a champ at 7.5. If they were younger, I’d carry them in hiking packs!
How do you get started? I don’t want to downplay the skill needed for more moderate hikes (my brother was a junior national champion rock climber and I grew up bouldering and climbing with him), but kids are naturals! They use similar skills all day long in the wild of suburbia. They are always running, climbing, jumping and have more energy than I do. Hiking is a natural and fun fit for their usual inclinations! There are just more unique things to navigate and explore around: waterfalls, giant rocks, mountain peaks, wildflowers, wildlife, and creeks. So, how do you get started hiking with kids? Pretty simple. Take them to an easy nature trail. Then warm them up to an easy short hike. Most of learning to hike with kids is teaching them safety and how to maneuver on different terrain. It’s not complicated though—just get out there on an easy trail and see how they do! We didn’t do anything fancy to get started. We just got out there with our kids and did it!
What do you pack for the kids to eat on hikes? Okay, this is a big one. We have taken a few week-long hiking trips now and here are my best suggestions: bring all the snacks. All of them. Double what you think you’ll need. I’m not kidding! Pack enough snacks for an army—things that are easy to pass around in the car or toss in your backpack. We burn double the normal calories we usually burn on a daily basis and our snack intake proves it! We’ve gone through 6 bunches of bananas in 5 days, 3 dozen apples, 2 giant bags of chips, trail mix, granola bars, nuts, and I don’t know how many Kind bars. We also brought several large jugs of water in the car for refills! Eat a big breakfast (we had big bowls of oatmeal and fruit and tons of water) and keep those snacks comin’ all day! We had a cooler in the back of the car and it was loaded.
What do you do during all the driving? There was a lot of driving from mountain to mountain (BTW, be sure you stretch a bit between hikes before you sit in the car for hours!). We listened to audiobooks! Very important to know in the NC mountains: there is NO CELL SERVICE in the mountains for the most part. So, pre-load your Google maps and audiobooks on your phone before you head out. We loved My Side of the Mountain—perfect for this trip and the ages of our kiddos. We also started a second run through of the Little House books. My kids also need something in their hands to keep them occupied. So, I loaded a bin with books and small car activities and put it between Grace and Josh’s seats so they could serve themselves. Sarah loves baby dolls, so they came to the mountains, too!
What gear do you use? What do you wear? It’s pretty cool here during the day even in June (between 50 to 75), so we stick to long pants and long socks for everyone to avoid poison ivy and raspberry bush scrapes on the trails. I wore leggings, a t-shirt, and a long sleeve shirt over that to have some layers I could take off and throw in my backpack. The kids are all hiking in sturdy tennis shoes most of the time. They would do better in hiking shoes, but I’m not willing to spend money on feet that grow so fast yet! (Also, if you’re wondering why Sarah is wearing rain boots for a lot of the hikes, the answer is she loves them. And Josh ran out of shoes so he wore Grace’s old shoes for several hikes!) They are perfectly happy and slip-free in what they have. As for me, one of the best investments I made was in these Merrell hiking shoes and proper socks—they have made a world of difference for how long I could hike and how my knees felt after. As for my backpack, it’s cheap and great! I bought this one on Amazon for $20 and it folds up into my purse (so cool!). I also can’t recommend this Waterfly pack enough. I keep my phone and car keys handy and I end up wearing it all day. That’s it for gear! Gear tip with kids: have a bin in the back of your car with extra shoes and to throw dirty ones in. We were constantly swapping out muddy or wet shoes. This was a game-changer for us to have a bin we could toss dirty shoes into before getting buckled up into the car!
How do you not totally freak out hiking with younguns? Who said I didn’t freak out a few times? We were doing a lot of difficult hikes, but I also know my kiddos. I would not have done these hikes with them at 2 years old—they were ready for these hikes and more importantly, we were ready to help them with the terrain of the trails. It was all worth it! Here were our ground rules for safety (so much of hiking is learning safety and problem-solving skills!):
- Everyone had a buddy—either I would take care of holding Sarah’s hand and Ari would take Josh or vice versa. This system was key!
- Mommy always goes first on hard things to check it out first.
- When we say “stop,” fully freeze where you are (this took some practice!). Ari also gave all of us a full education on military standards and how they work as a team, march in step together, and are good listeners. : ) Josh was really into this!
- My catchphrase was “sure footing, go slow.” Which meant, step on things to test them (rocks) and be sure they are steady before you put your weight on them.
- We carried them (Grace included) over hard parts or mud and creeks where needed.
- Slow feet (no running). It’s just not safe in tennis shoes on rocky trails. Josh has a bevy of knee scrapes from this trip to prove it. Fields and meadows, yes—fly like the wind!
- And last but not least, don’t touch plants unless mommy knows what they are. We were on poison ivy alert with little hands. Long socks and pants were a great solution to this, too!
What else should I know? One of my best tips is to know thy family. Do what works for you when planning a hiking trip! Our family tends to do better at this stage when we’re not making plans on the fly. If we know where we’re going, we can better manage transitions for our younger kiddos—specifically one with sensory processing disorder. Transitions and new places can be especially tricky, so having a plan allows us to make our kids feel more safe and secure knowing where they are going ahead of time. I hope all of my planning research ends up being a blessing to your family, too!
Your itinerary looked amazing! Tell me all the details. You got it! Using the tips in the How to Plan Your Year podcast episode and with the help of my PowerSheets, I looked ahead at the entire year and planned trips when they made the most sense—and at (hopefully) ideal times for each locale. A little forethought goes a long way when planning with kids. To plan this trip, I looked up the best time to see the rhododendrons in the mountains—which you know as a plant lady, I had to see! I also did a lot of Googling, looking at TripAdvisor, and generally researching reviews of people’s favorite free things to do in the area we planned to go. Most importantly, though: I used AllTrails! You can search for hikes on the map view and read reviews. This is primarily how I planned this trip! See all my hike reviews and what we did last week on my AllTrails profile. (I’ve linked all of our hikes below too—just make an AllTrails account [free and so awesome] to see them!) Now, on to our itinerary!
Sunday: We drove to the mountains after church. The naptime window is great for long car trips. We stayed at a friend’s cabin in Matney, NC, for the first 3 nights. This was a great location and we saw so many hummingbirds and even a wild turkey on the property!
Monday: We are early risers (highly valuable on a hiking trip!). We took a short drive to Roan Mountain in Tennessee to see the rhododendrons around 7 am. It. Was. Awesome. This was one of my favorite experiences of the trip! Roan Mountain is rich with trails, history, and the smell of the hemlocks was new to me—a little taste of heaven! The rhododendron gardens (a paved easy walk) and Cloudlands Trail were spectacular. We even got to hike part of the Appalachian Trail! I can’t wait to return here again one day. We then spent naptime driving down to one of our favorite spots: the Moses Cone Manor. We enjoyed the craft guild displays, watched a woodworker hand-turn a pen (Grace loved it!), and did a short hike around the Julian Price Memorial Park. After a long day of hiking, we finished the day at the Banner Elk Winery. The kids loved the outdoor area at the vineyard—lots to explore!
Tuesday: We woke up early once again to be the first on Rough Ridge. This was a favorite hike of both Ari and me! It was super hard with kids, but the views were worth it. After a big snack break, we drove a short way down the Blue Ridge Parkway to hike the Linn Cove Viaduct. After two hefty hikes, we drove home for an hour to relax, and then headed off to Grandfather Vineyard to let the kids play in the creek!
Wednesday: Linville Gorge Plunge Basin was on the way to our next destination (Old Fort, NC). This was a HARD hike with kids. Ari loved it. I loved the end. We then visited an orchard and hiked Catawba Falls (be sure to read my reviews on AllTrails of these hikes!). Then, it was time to check in to our next cabin in Old Fort, NC. We stayed at this magical place Ari chose called Kibbin at Mackey Creek. It has an interesting history that was featured in Cabin Life magazine. The kids loved playing in the creek there before dinner!
Thursday: Mount Mitchell was first on our list (the highest point east of the Mississippi!). Well, with high elevation comes low temps and unpredictable weather—it was 45 degrees (what!?) and totally clouded out. So, we left winter for a bit to hike our favorite of the trip: Pinnacle Peak. This was an off-the-beaten-path hike and I don’t know why more people don’t do this one. The photo above is at the top—the view was spectacular! After climbing down from the summit, we headed back to Mount Mitchell in hopes of finding clear skies, which we did! Finally, we drove the Blue Ridge Parkway down towards Asheville to Hickory Nut Gap Farm to play in the creek. Then another big driving loop to Chimney Rock State Park (it was a big day!). Chimney Rock was interesting, but the kind of place you need to spend the whole day to justify the cost (I would skip this in our itinerary next time—it was also really crowded). And, finally, we landed back at the Kibbin and I made a huge dinner or us!
Friday: We did our favorite waterfall hike on Friday: Tom’s Creek Falls, We went around 8 am and we were the only people on the trail! The waterfall was huge (photos don’t do it justice—I could have stayed here all day) and it was just perfect for the kids. Highly recommend this one! Then, we drove back down to Lake Lure to explore the Flowering Bridge and do the Hickory Nut Falls Trail.
Saturday: We kicked off the last day with one more big hike on the way home: Crabtree Falls. Then, time for some non-hiking fun for the kids! We went to Rockfest and the gem mine in Emerald Village. Grace got fairy hair. Josh had a hot dog. Sarah got a balloon. Everyone was happy after a long week of adventure! A stop at Chic-fil-a on the way home and mom and dad were happy, too!
Our favorite hikes of the trip: Ari loved the Linville Gorge Plunge Basin (he liked the obstacles), Pinnacle and Toms Creek. I loved Rough Ridge, all of Roan Mountain, Pinnacle and Toms Creek. Going to Mount Mitchell was also a favorite. The kids loved anything that had a waterfall at the end they could play in!
Your turn! Do you hike? I’d love to hear your tips and favorites! Where should we go next? I hope this post encouraged you to get out there and enjoy the majesty of the mountains!
Psalm 121 : )