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Hiking with Kids – Fun in the Fall!

By Jeff Alt

By Jeff Alt

Plan Ahead: Make your back-country trail and camping reservations early. Fall is one of the busiest times of year for many parks and some parks limit the number of hikers at shelters, campsites and on trails.

Check the Weather: Fall is an unpredictable time of year. Mountainous regions may already have snow at the higher elevations and cold wet rain or sleet can take the fun out of your hike. Check with the park rangers and the park website for trail conditions. Dress for the weather! Be flexible in your plans to keep everyone safe.

Count Down to the Adventure: Psych the kids up with pictures, videos, and highlights of what they will see. Use books, magazines, maps, and the Internet, especially park websites and videos showing the spectacular wildlife and location they will see.


Pack the Right Stuff:  Take this checklist with you shopping so you get the bases covered:

  • Clothing: Bring clothing for cool, wet extreme conditions. Wear non-cotton synthetic, wool & fleece clothes and dress in layers. Wear multipurpose clothes like pants that zip off into shorts or shirts with role up sleeves. Pack a waterproof breathable rain parka. Pack fleece hat & gloves or a hat with a wide brim for sun protection.
  • Footwear: Make sure the kids are wearing trail shoes or boots with a sturdy sole. A Vibram sole with a waterproof breathable liner is preferred. Wear non-cotton, moisture wicking, synthetic or wool socks.
  • Packs: Get age and size appropriate backpacks that fit each hiker comfortably with hydration hose capability.
  • Trekking Poles: Get a pair of adjustable, collapsible poles with an ergonomically designed handle for each person.
  • Fresh, Clean Water: You can get a hydration hose system for your pack or just use bottles. Disinfect wild water using hi-tech portable treatment water systems such as a UV wand or micro-straining filter.
  • Communication: Bring a smart phone so you can take lots of pictures and if there’s connectivity, email to family or upload to your online blog or Facebook page.  Carry a GPS unit to keep you located on the trail and for geocaching.
  • Other Must Haves: Pediatrician recommended suntan lotion; First aid kit that accommodates the whole group & first aid knowledge to go along with the kit. Bring a compass & map and brush up on how to use them. Learn how to make a shelter to keep you warm and dry. Keep matches and a lighter in a dry place and know how to make a fire to keep warm. Carry a whistle and a signal mirror in case you get lost. Pack a survival knife with a locking blade. Bring a head lamp flashlight, extra batteries, 50 feet of rope or twine, and always have several feet of duct tape for that unexpected repair.


Bring water and food kids love:  Hand out needed extra energy and water as needed on the trail. Pack their favorite snacks and bring plenty of water. Stop often for a drink and a snack. Pack along a stove and serve up some hot coco on the trail. Be sure to pack along the S’mores kit for evening time around the fire.

Pack Fun Items: Let young children fill their adventure pack with a magnifying glass, binoculars, a camera, a map and compass, whistle, or flashlight. Let your little adventurer take ownership and pack a few items of his own; even if it’s not hiking related.

More information is available at


Jeff Alt is a travelling speaker and hiking expert who provides seminars in collaboration with the Shenandoah National Park staff, and Appalachian Trail Shows in and around National Parks. Alt has walked the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, and he carried his 21-month old daughter on a family trek across Ireland. Alt has been hiking with his kids since they were infants. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). His hiking advice has been featured in numerous publications and media, including Scholastic Parent & Child, The Boston Globe, National Geographic Adventure,, ESPN, Hallmark Channel, National Public Radio, and more. Alt is a speech language pathologist and lives with his wife and two children in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In addition to walking the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, he also walked the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, and trekked across a 50-mile path of Ireland with his wife, young daughter, and extended family. He and his wife emerged from the church doors on their wedding day wearing backpacks, and his son was taken on his first hike at 8 weeks. 

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