The best thing I learned from hiking with kids

“Do you miss hiking every weekend?”

Last night my son and I were having our usual bedtime hang out time in his room. We were piled into his bed with approximately 75 stuffed animals, plus a couple of books. It had been a busy, hectic weekend full of chores, volunteering, and running around. We were both a little beat.

“No,” he said. “Not really. Well, maybe a little.” He pondered for a moment. “Yes,” he said. “I do.”

We’ve just finished our second weekend of no hiking after completing every peak in Acadia National Park. While we didn’t hike every weekend this summer and fall, in order to meet our 31 peak goal we had to hike a whole dang lot of them.

This was especially true in the fall, as we raced to finish up. For a month or more, every discussion of our weekend plans started with: “What day is better for hiking? How much time do we have? Which hike should we do? Kids, which route up do you think is better?” Once we had our hike planned, we could fit the rest of the weekend around it.

We haven’t had that conversation since finishing all the peaks. Partly this was because we thought the kids might need a break from hiking and partly we needed to catch up on house projects, laundry, and putting the garden to bed. Then there was Halloween and the storm, which both took up chunks of time. So the last two weekends have been full of sweeping, washing, digging, costuming, raking and chainsawing. We’ve been outside, sure, but we’ve been too busy to hike.


We’ve been too busy to hike.

hiking with kids

It struck me, talking with my son, that the real purpose of taking on such a crazy goal–the goal behind the goal–was that we became really conscious of spending time outside with our kids. We scheduled it in, without fail. It became, if not our top priority, at least a non-negotiable part of our weekend. We had to make hiking a priority or we wouldn’t finish.

What this meant in practice was that for two or more hours every weekend–depending on hike length–our kids were guaranteed to have our undivided attention. For two hours or more, we chatted aimlessly about video games and favorite dog breeds, played 20 questions-based animal guessing games, seriously discussed the causes of climate change, and told bad knock knock jokes. For two hours or more, we checked out weird bugs and pretty birds, cool trees and great views. For two hours or more, we struggled, sweated, laughed, and urged each other along.

Our kids haven’t gotten that kind of undivided focus since.

Instead, they get two or more hours of: “Can you guys play in the other room so I can sweep?” Or two or more hours of “I really need some help raking over here.” Or two or more hours of “Finish up please! We need to get to the dump before it closes.”

I’m not saying the second type of conversations aren’t necessary. They are just a lot less fun.

I don’t think we’re going to be able to schedule two hours of hiking (or other activity) every weekend for all time. It’s okay that they learn that there are other things that need to get done. Sometimes I do have to clean the fridge and sometimes they do have to entertain themselves.

But I miss the scheduled fun, the dependability of having that guaranteed chunk of time to spend time together, uninterrupted. I miss feeling like we were setting off on an adventure together, not really sure of what lay ahead. Having that space free of chores, responsibilities and the standard parent-child dynamic was unbelievably special.

I would like to keep that part of our hiking marathon going.

“So do you think we should hike again soon?” I asked my son last night.

“Yeah,” he said, his face brightening. “Yeah, let’s do it soon.”

Good idea.

Because the best thing I learned from hiking with kids? Is that it’s actually not about the hike.

Hiking with kids Dorr Mountain

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.