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Photo © billbord99

#1: Destination Surprise!

Instead of hiking the same trail each week or telling your children where you will be hiking for the day – surprise them! Pack all of the essential hiking equipment in the trunk of your car and hit the road to see the fall colors. Then, stop along the way for what will seem like a surprise hike (that you planned ahead of time)! Don’t tell your children what they will see along the way, let them wait to see if the hike includes a lot of animals, a waterfall or a bridge they have to cross. They won’t know, until they start hiking!

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Photo © OakleyOriginals

#2: Pick a Hike that Packs a Punch

A couple of weekends ago, my family went on our annual fall family trip – this year in Montana. Our week long trip included many hikes – however, at the end of the week we surprised the kids by taking them on a 4-hour hike. This hike included many things that children love; waterfalls, rocky cliffs, streams, caves, and even a herd of mountain goats. Even though the hike would be considered long for many kids, the very fact that there was so much to experience had a much larger impact on them than the amount of time that we spent hiking.

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Photo © griffhome

#3: Focus on the Journey, not the Destination

A hike doesn’t need to be an intense, long trek through the forest. Sometimes the best hikes are easy trails that meander though the trees. During these hikes, allow your children the opportunity to literally stop and smell the flowers, collect pine cones and leaves, and discover fallen logs and rocks. Children love to experience things not only with their eyes but with their hands – and this can be an amazing way for them to experience fall hiking.

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Photo © peterme

#4:  Plan a “Surprise” Picnic

A day of hiking can sure work up an appetite. Instead of packing a typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich, go gourmet. Your children will be surprised when you pull out fresh organic bread, homemade jellies, and fruit from your backpack. We like to pack a blanket and lay it out on the side of the mountain where we can have an amazing view while we eat. It is always a great surprise that my family enjoys and almost every time we are sitting quietly eating, we will see some type of animal in the distance.

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Photo © marinakvillatoro

#5: Just add Hot Water

Some of our favorite hikes bring us to a water source of some kind. In the summertime, we like to dip our toes in the chilly water of whatever waterfall, pond or stream that we come upon. During the fall and winter months, it can be less than desirable to stick your toes in frigid water. Instead, we like to plan our cold weather hikes on trails that include a hot water source. There are many areas around the country that have hot springs that your family can soak in. If not, another option is to bring a thermos of hot cocoa or cider and find a nice place to stop and warm up with a toasty beverage.

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Photo © born1945

#6: Scat and Track!

Teaching your children how to identify the tracks and scat of forest animals is not only a lot of fun, it is also important. Being able to identify animals by their tracks and scat is essential for your family’s safety. If you come upon the scat or tracks of predatory animals, your family needs to be alert to the possibility of encountering it and what to do if that happens. Being prepared just makes hiking more fun!

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Photo © Paxson Woelber

#7: Be a Night Owl

One of my favorite ways to experience a fall hike with my family is at night. You will hear the sounds of animals that you rarely if ever see during the day. We have experienced elk bugling and owls hooting at night and it is a fantastic experience that everyone will enjoy. Depending on your area, it may be safer to experience the sounds of the forest at night by staying in the car with the windows rolled down or sitting on a blanket in the back of your truck. And if you do venture off into the night, make certain that you are prepared with all of your night hiking gear.

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