by Stephanie Green – I grew up in Chicago, where the highest elevation was a 50-foot freeway overpass. When I moved to California, I fell in love with the mountains and their commanding height. I also loved exploring the variety of natural areas from the ocean to the desert. After twenty years, I am still in awe of the abundance and diversity of ecosystems.
My recreation of choice is hiking and running. The feeling of dirt beneath my feet and the smell of trees is both calming and exciting for me. I love exploring new trails for an entire day in the hopes of seeing a bobcat or coyote. I am thrilled for my children to grow up in California with all of the natural wonders available to them.
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When I had children, I romantically pictured galloping into the outdoors with them where we would spend magical days hiking and exploring the trails. I assumed that it would be similar to hiking with my dog, a tail-wagging good time from start to finish. I mentally planned to spend every weekend outdoors with them and hike the entire 211-mile John Muir Trail by the time they were 10.
Turns out, my expectations were completely unreasonable and far from reality.
Things started off great when both my kids were willing to ride in a stroller. Once they wanted to get out, however, there was no going back. We struggled with even short hikes, every one ended with an outdoor meltdown and me carrying one or both back to the car. If we brought bikes, I was carrying kids and pushing bikes.
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I remember one hike when my youngest son was about five. He was upset to be hiking and he said “I hate you” to everyone we passed on the trail. I wanted to crawl into a hole from embarrassment. Fortunately, other hikers thought he was joking and laughed it off. Sometimes we were lucky, and they found a stick to drag, which entertained them, and miraculously, we pushed past the one-mile marker.
The kids went through a phase where they wouldn’t wear hiking shoes, or if they did insisted on wearing flip flops. I went along with this unusual request, and it actually worked. We once climbed a rocky, steep trail, barefoot.
For parents with younger kids who are experiencing this same frustration, I can say from experience, have patience. It will get better. Although I still deal with some complaining, at ages 11 and 12, my kids are reasonably good outdoor companions. They don’t exactly beg me to take them hiking, but they do short trail runs with their friends, and they tell me when they need to get outside to clear their heads and decompress from school.
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For the past four years, we have hiked to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell over the first summer weekend after school is released. The hike is an eight-mile round trip from the Vincent Gap trail head in the Angeles National Forest. I always joke that this hike is their best day of summer vacation, to which they retort it is a death march and the worst. But, they pose for pictures, and even smile, and though they would never admit it, I know they enjoy it because I overhear them telling their friends about our tradition.
My kids developed their appreciation of nature because we began our outdoor activities when they were young and we allowed them to make choices, without fear, and lead. Despite the frustrations, and occasional embarrassment, by starting young and sticking with it, their emotional connection to the natural world was solidified. I believe this connection will serve them well and make them responsible environmental stewards.
I can see the time is fleeting now, so I am cautiously optimistic about actually starting to plan that John Muir Trail trip.
Stephanie Green has lived in the Los Angeles area since 1997. She is an avid hiker and ultra-marathoner. She is currently pursuing her master’s in biology with Project Dragonfly at Miami University.