Is there anything better than watching your children’s face glow the first time they ski a run without falling? Or paddle their first river? There’s nothing sweeter in life than passing your passion for the outdoors down to your kids. BRO’s Family Guide is designed to make that process a little smoother. We’ve collected the best advice from experts and parents, and we’ve uncovered a year’s worth of outdoor adventure that your entire crew will love. From the chill of winter to the heat of summer, BRO has your vacation calendar booked for 2008.
The Outdoor Family Calendar
12 Months of Family-Friendly Fun Spots in the Southeast
Snowshoe Moses Cone Memorial Park,
BLOWING ROCK, N.C.
It’s not exactly difficult to get a kid excited about playing in the snow. Even the most ardent couch potatoes will take a break from video games to build a snowman. Snowshoeing capitalizes on that enthusiasm while introducing your kids to the broad spectrum of winter sports. It’s easy, safe, and you can set the pace according to your kid’s wishes. Moses Cone Memorial Park is a 3,500-acre forested park next to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Highlands of North Carolina. The area gets its heaviest snowfalls during January and February, and the gentle terrain of the carriage trails make for the perfect first family snowshoe excursion. Twenty-five miles of gentle trails criss-cross the park, serving as a popular destination for cross country skiers and snowshoers during the winter. Check out the Rich Mountain Trail for views of Grandfather Mountain. Trout Lake Trail is an easy, one-mile walk through evergreen hemlock forests. Climb Flat Top Tower for a big view of the surrounding mountains.
Even with snowshoes, hiking in the snow is slow going, so don’t expect to cover as much ground as you would on bare trails. Bring some hot chocolate on the hike and plan on stopping frequently for breaks. Check out Kojay’s Café in Blowing Rock for dessert after the trek. 828-295-0015. www.kojays.com.
SKI WINTERGREEN, NELSON COUNTY, VA.
Wintergreen separates their mountain evenly between beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers, so families can cruise the green slopes without having to worry about dare-devils hucking a cornice onto their child’s head. Check out the various ski programs Wintergreen has for children. They’ll start teaching your kids the basics of skiing at the tender age of three, and have them shredding moguls by the time they enter elementary school.
START TRAINING FOR A RACE
A striking percentage of American kids are obese, and most kids think video games are a serious form of exercise. These are both valid reasons to get your kid running, but the best reason to drag your kid on a trail run with you is because you love it. Running is a large part of your life, and part of the joy of parenting is passing those passions on to your children. In 2007, the Road Runners Club of America designed a program to help facilitate that connection. The Kids Run the Nation Fund awards small grants to local running clubs to help boost youth running programs. The fund is designed to help children develop self motivation and encourage them to adopt running as a lifelong activity. Encourage your local running club to apply for a Kids Run grant, or start a training plan within your own family. Pick a race and mark it on the calendar to give your kids extra motivation for joining you on your training runs. Here are a few kid-friendly races in the region:
MOOSIC CITY DAIRY DASH, NASHVILLE, TENN. APRIL 12.
There will be ice cream at this 5K race and one-mile fun run. And really, is there any better way to motivate your kids to run a mile than by placing tubs of ice cream at the finish line? www.puritydairies.com/dairydash.
James River Scramble and Scramble Jr. Richmond, Va. June 14.
The Scramble has been a favorite with hardened trail runners for years, but the Scramble Jr. is the perfect race for introducing trail running to your kids. The one-mile course follows a loop of trails on Richmond’s Bell Isle Park. www.sportsbackers.org.
Sope Creek 5K and Fun Run. Marietta, Ga. MARCH 15.
Kids are encouraged to participate in the fun run and the 5K. It’s a kid-friendly concept that always brings out a large crowd of younguns. The one mile fun run circles the Sope Creek Elementary School, while the older kids head out into the surrounding neighborhood for the 5K.
Bike the Southeast’s most beloved rail trail .
Kids love bikes, but throw in the uphill grind and technical challenges of most mountain bike trails and you have a recipe for tantrums. Enter the Greenbrier River Trail (GRT), which could be the only flat trail in all of West Virginia. For 78 miles, this converted rail-trail hugs the Greenbrier River, offering families an epic adventure full of the scenery the Mountain State is renowned for, but without all the logistical challenges of a wilderness adventure that many parents are weary of. The trail passes through several small towns, allowing bikers to take convenient rest breaks, and never gets steeper than a mellow one percent grade.
Check out the 10+ mile section of the Greenbrier that runs adjacent to Seneca State Forest. This section of the rail-trail hugs the river, offering plenty of opportunities for swim breaks, and allows more adventurous bikers access to Seneca Forest’s singletrack and doubletrack. For kids who want a downhill thrill, shuttle to the top of Clover Lick Road within the state forest, and bomb the two mile downhill trail, which drops 1,000 feet before crossing the Greenbrier River at the bottom of Big Thorny Mountain. Combining the Greenbriar with Clover Lick is a great way to introduce a kid to the joys of mountain biking.
Backpack the Chinnabee Silent Trail, Alabama
This six-mile trail has the most varied terrain in Alabama’s Talladega National Forest and serves as the perfect entry to backpacking with an infant or young child. The trail starts at Lake Chinnabee and follows Cheaha Creek for three miles as it climbs gradually toward Cheaha Mountain. Most of the 1300-feet in elevation gain comes in the last mile during a steep rock scramble to Cheaha’s summit. Skip this last stretch and you’ve got a cake-walk in the woods that passes two waterfalls and follows a scenic gorge through Alabama’s foothills. Devil’s Den Falls and its swimming hole beckon you at the half-mile mark, making an ideal resting point if you have smaller children with a short attention span. The real attraction of Chinnabee Silent Trail, however, is the Cheaha Falls Shelter at the three-mile mark. The shelter has views of Cheaha Mountain, sits only a few hundred yards from picturesque Cheaha Falls (complete with swimming hole), and it comes with many of the comforts of home like a picnic table, fire ring, and a roof over your head. It’s the perfect way to bridge the gap between car camping and gung-ho backpacking. If you have bigger kids looking for more of an adventure, you can link the Chinnabee Silent Trail with the Pinhoti for a solid 17-mile backpacking weekend.
Climb some rock, Crowders Mountain State Park, N.C.
In the middle of the gently rolling foothills surrounding Charlotte, Crowders Mountain rises 600 feet above the horizon line in a mass of layered quartzite and trees. The mountain tops out at 1,625 feet, offering more than a hundred routes and some of the best top roping for beginner climbers and families. Try the Balcony (5.5) on Middle Finger Wall or Gastonia Crack (5.4) on the Practice Wall. Both routes are straightforward enough to help kids build confidence on their first attempts at outdoor rock climbing. www.crowdersmountain.com.
Raft the Tuckaseegee, CULLOWHEE, N.C.
Many of the whitewater rivers in the Southeast can be imposing to families with small kids, but the lower Tuckaseegee Gorge offers a five-mile trip filled with class I and II rapids. And during the summer, the water temperature hovers around 70 degrees, so you don’t have to worry about hypothermia. www.tuckfloat.com.
Learn to Surf
Surfing may seem like an intimidating sport but it’s actually one of the most family friendly endeavors you can find on the beach. Kids take to surfing naturally because of their low center of gravity, and there are a number of surf camps up and down the East Coast designed to get the entire family up and riding their first waves. Check out the five-day “Family Learn to Surf Program” at WB Surf Camp at Wrightsville Beach along North Carolina’s southern coast. The pro surfer instructors will guide you through the entire surfing progression, from learning ocean safety to finding the “green room.” They’ll even take you on a daytrip to Masonboro Island, an undeveloped barrier island that’s been a favorite with Wrightsville local surfers for years. www.wbsurfcamp.com.
Car Camp in Style, Lake Conasauga, Chattahoochee National Forest, GA.
At 3,150, Lake Conasauga is the highest lake in the Peach State, and is reported to have the cleanest water in the Chattoochee National Forest. It also offers some of the best car camping in the Southeast. Aside from the canoeing and swimming that the lake offers, the isolated campground sits adjacent to the popular Cohutta Wilderness and its 60+ miles of hiking trails. It’s a popular campsite with Atlanta residents during the summer, but thanks to the long gravel road leading to the lake, RVers tend to avoid the area. Plan early and you can land one of the primo lakeside campsites. Hike the 1.2-mile Lakeshore Trail, which cruises around the 19-acre lake through a thick rhododendron and hemlock forest, or hike the two-mile Grassy Mountain Trail, which leads to an old fire tower sitting on top of 3,692-foot Grassy Mountain. From the top of the tower, you can see all of the Cohutta Wilderness. 706-695-6736.
Big Bend Campground, Monongahela National Forest, W.VA.
Big Bend sits on the edge of the South Branch of the Potomac River as it carves its way through the dramatic rock walls of Smoke Hole Canyon. The canyon stretches for 20 miles with vertical rock walls rising a half mile toward the sky. Reserve your spot early and you can get one of the coveted River Loop campsites, which lie on a peninsula that juts out into the Potomac river as it makes an S-turn through the canyon. Hiking trails abound in the area, but the true attraction for families is the tubing on the Potomac as it winds its way around the campground and through the rocky Smoke Hole Canyon. 877-444-6777.
Hike Through Foliage, Big Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National park, N.C.
Big Creek Trail follows an old railroad bed as it climbs a gentle 1,200 feet in just over five miles. The creek (popular with anglers and swimmers during the summer and spring) hugs the trail as you climb slowly out of the valley. Giant boulders (perfect for scrambling and picnicking) fill the creek, and colorful hardwoods blanket the mountains on either side of the gorge.
Summit a Mountain, Bearfence Mountain Trail, Shenandoah National Park, VA.
This one isn’t for toddlers. The short but steep Bearfence Mountain Trail climbs from Skyline Drive to the 3,640-foot summit of Bearfence Mountain in just over a half-mile. There isn’t a lot of elevation gain, but the majority of the trail consists of scrambling over and down rocks and huge boulders. It may be a bit much if you have an infant in a backpack, but kids in the 5-11 range love the adventure of climbing the big boulders. And along the way, you’ll get what many say is the best panoramic view in the entire park from a rock outcropping that allows for 360-degree views of the Shenandoah Valley and its surrounding mountains. Needless to say, during peak foliage, the view is astounding. Check with the park for an up-to-date foliage report: www.nps.gov/shen/
Ski in Peace,
Sapphire Valley Ski Resort, Sapphire, N.C.
Forget the black diamonds and terrain park. Sapphire Valley is a family oriented resort with a no-frills ski hill that caters to beginners and younger children. The hill is divided into two slopes, one for beginners and one for intermediate skiers and boarders. Obviously, your ski choices are limited, but it’s the perfect atmosphere for introducing a timid child to the sport. There’s little chance of any kids getting lost and or run over by some out-of-control yahoo who wants to try something he saw at the X Games. The new Frozen Falls Tube Park is also a hit with kids who grow tired of having skis strapped to their small feet. www.skisapphire.com.
Ask the Experts: HIKING WITH KIDS
Victoria Logue literally wrote the book on backpacking. Several books, actually. Beyond writing guide books to Southern hiking trails, Logue writes extensively about backpacking with children, an experience, she says, that is like no other. During the past 16 years, Logue and her husband have explored the Southern Appalachians with their daughter, Griffin, from her infancy to her teen years.
Is it feasible to backpack with young children?
Children younger than four months old won’t fit in a pack, but one benefit of backpacking with children in the four to six-month range, is they have yet to learn how to crawl, and most packs built to carry infants can be set down almost like infant seats. They also tend to sleep a lot more, and unless they get easily motion sickness, they will find the movement comforting.
Once they learn to crawl and walk, backpacking with young children changes. Parents need to keep a constant eye on them once they can move around on the ground because, obviously, there are some harmful things they can get into (like poison ivy), and for the next few years they will tend to test everything with their mouths including sticks, dirt, and even bugs.
What factors should parents consider when picking a backpacking destination?
Most kids are pretty open to anything new. The main concern will be climate, because if you’re carrying the child, it will be harder to keep them warm when they are riding in a backpack. You can hike in the cold and the rain, but you will want to limit the amount of time you expose a really young child to the elements. A lot will depend on what you’re willing to do to keep the child comfortable while not over-taxing your own body. Most child carriers are either equipped with a sun-and-rain hood. We kept our daughter quite happy and dry that way while hiking in the rain, and it also kept the sun off her hairless scalp.
Should parents ease into that first backpacking experience?
Testing the waters, so to speak, is an excellent way to discover how your child will react to backpacking. From sleeping in a tent in the backyard to day hikes to car camping, you will find out how your child responds to the outdoors. The unfortunate truth is that for every child who would prefer to be outside there will be another that will be uncomfortable in the outdoors. These are probably the same children who grow up to think “roughing it” is staying in a hotel without room service. Discover what your child prefers before you find yourself ten miles or more away from the trailhead with a completely miserable child.
At what age should kids start carrying their own backpack?
Pre-schoolers can carry fanny packs and child-sized daypacks, but a child really shouldn’t start carrying their own pack and some of their gear until they are closer to 10 years of age. A child should only carry less than a quarter of their total weight. With the wide availability of ultralight equipment these days and the range of equipment manufactured just for kids, there is no reason for a child to carry too much weight.We always erred on the side of having Griffin carry a light pack because we wanted her to enjoy the outdoors. And, at 16, she still does.
Any common mistakes parents make when attempting a trip like this with their kids?
The most common mistake is expectation. If your heart is set on your child getting everything out of a hike that you do, you are bound to be disillusioned. Children will vary in what they enjoy, just as adults do. Some may enjoy the physicality of a hike, some may find intense pleasure in the exploration, and others may just find a certain peace in the entire experience and so on. As long as you realize that each child is an individual and allow them to enjoy the trip on their own terms, you’re more likely to end up with a happy child.
Five Tips from Victoria Logue
1. The nice thing about hiking with children is that they’ll reintroduce you to nature in a whole new way. They see things we overlook or take for granted and revel in every new thing.
2. If children are walking on their own, the pace can vary from running headlong down the trail to digging in their heels and refusing to walk another step. One parent or older sibling needs to keep watch.
3. Until children can walk on their own, one person will have to carry the child while the other carries all of the equipment and food.
4. As all children are different, you will have to take into account how your child reacts to enclosed spaces (the tent) and the dark, as well as heat and cold.
5. Know your children and allow them to be themselves. Is your kid not going to be happy unless he drags along his own pillow? teddy bear? pacifier? Then let him carry it. Do they have a special food that will help them feel more at home on the trail? Incorporate it into the menu if possible. Doing so will greatly increase the chances of a pleasurable experience.
Ask the Experts: PADDLING WITH KIDS
Lauren Burress is a member of the Jackson Kayak pro team. She runs rivers all over the Southeast, teaches kayaking clinics, and is sponsored by more companies than Lance Armstrong. And she’s only 11. Lauren’s mom, Kathleen Burress, talked to BRO about raising a precocious paddler, knowing when to push your kids, and the almighty importance of snacks.
How did Lauren start kayaking?
Nathan, Lauren’s dad, was learning how to paddle on the Elkhorn River one weekend and Lauren and I went down in a raft. It was a beginner river, Class I-II water, and it was a lot of fun. Nathan took to paddling right away, but Lauren complained about being in the raft. When the group stopped for lunch, she hopped on the back of our friend’s kayak and surfed on a wave with him. From that point on all she talked about was getting a kayak and paddling. She was only 6. We just knew it was a phase. One year later she still wanted a kayak. We bought a yellow Fun 1 from the NOC in North Carolina. From there it was weekend trips to class 1-2 rivers like the Nantahala, parts of the Big South Fork, and the Hiawasee. It was a learning experience for both Dad and Lauren. What was great, was Nathan wouldn’t paddle any river Lauren couldn’t paddle. They both learned together and still do. By the time she was 8 she was paddling all of the Big South Fork, parts of the Ocoee River, and even getting into some creeking on the Tellico River.
Kayaking scares a lot of people, how did Lauren cope with that fear?
Getting her comfortable in the boat at first was a challenge. We worked on it every night in our back yard lake. Nathan would make up games like going under the water and surprising her and flipping her boat. He would rock her back and forth to get her comfortable with the feeling. She would flip at times but would just roll back up quickly. With kids, it’s important to remember they tire more quickly than adults, so they won’t be able to do this for hours even though they will want to. Having a solid roll is the most important thing before taking them on moving water. That way they don’t get scared from flipping and swimming. This will happen but they will be prepared with your help. We purposely would whitewater swim to learn the technique. She caught on quickly but kids this age do because they are fearless and learn fast.
After learning to roll, how fast did her skills progress?
Lauren was six when she had her first whitewater experience, seven when she sat in her first boat and paddled in current, eight when she was paddling class III rivers, and nine when she started creeking—going off a 22-foot Bald River Falls. Lauren took to kayaking immediately and just kept wanting more. It seems she can’t get enough and always looks forward to the next river and the next adventure.
You paddle together as a family, how do you manage your expectations from a trip with Lauren’s abilities?
I won’t lie—we push Lauren at times to try something new, but it is still up to her. We tell her she doesn’t have to run it, but we would like for her to and we think she will be glad she did. She always is and is so proud that she mustered up the courage to and overcame her fears of it. But it isn’t about how young your kid was when they paddled a class 4 river or how many times they ran that drop. It is only about them doing it at their own pace and accomplishing it when they feel they are ready. Each child develops their own abilities at a different pace than others. Parents don’t need to push their kids beyond their abilities. Use common sense. These rivers that we paddle aren’t going anywhere. You have plenty of time to run it the next time that you are there. And you have something to look forward to the next time.
Any extra safety measures when paddling with kids?
We used to go to American Whitewater’s web site and print off the rapids of a river like the Tallulah. We would waterproof them and bind them for Lauren to study and take in her boat with her. This way she knew what was coming up and what line to take. Now that she is older, she likes to be surprised.;
But we always scout a run and make sure we have throw ropes packed and lots of energy bars and drinks packed. You have to be sure they stay warm and dry. Kids want to quit if they are cold, wet, and hungry. So prepare to never let this happen.
Five Tips from Kathleen Burress
1. Break down every river into sections that you know your child is capable of paddling, with a little bit of a challenge added in.
2. There’s no particular age that a kid can begin paddling. It depends on the child’s interest and maturity level. Kids should learn to swim first, and then work from there. Introducing them to a rafting or canoe trip is a good start.
3. Be prepared with snacks and water. Take lots of breaks and have fun. Don’t be afraid to walk a rapid or leave the river because he or she is cold and tired.
4. Plan on doing only a section of the river instead of the whole river, which may be a two-hour trip. A park-and-play spot would be ideal for awhile.
5. Let them know how much fun you had paddling with them. Nathan loves it that his daughter shares an interest in a sport that he enjoys. He loves having his kayaking buddy, “Lil Duder,” on the river with him.
Ask the Experts: CLIMBING TIPS FOR KIDS
Lester Zook is a father of four and owner/operator of Wild Guyde Adventures (www.wildguyde.com), a climbing guide service that specializes in taking children and entire families onto the rock. Zook talked with BRO about “little league parents,” having children who don’t like to climb, and letting go of your own personal goals.
You take a lot of kids climbing. Are they as fearless as they seem?
Some people say that kids are naturally daredevils, but I find this a bit simplistic. Most children have an internal range of comfort, and when you push them beyond it, they can get anxious and resistant to trying things. A wise parent will work to understand their child before ever setting foot in the backcountry, and then create experiences that provide the right mix of joy and challenge. If a kid is having a miserable time in the outdoors, the root cause is often parents (or scout leaders, etc.) who didn’t do their homework or prepare adequately, or who have their own agenda.
What do you mean by “agenda”?
Outdoor lovers are naturally eager to introduce our kids to what we enjoy so much. But I try to emphasize with parents that they should let their kids’ level of enthusiasm set the pace. Fundamentally, our children want our approval, and we have a lot of power in their little emotional lives with how we dispense or withhold it. So we must be very aware of our tendency to transmit messages of disapproval when a kid doesn’t want to climb, or doesn’t want to finish a route. We must just keep remembering that we are here for them, to enrich their lives, and they are not here for us (to gratify our egos, etc.), and our body language and tone must match our verbiage.
Do all of your kids climb?
My sons have embraced climbing more, to the point that now, my older son, who’s 21, leads some trips and assists me in guiding larger groups or multiple events.
Does it make it difficult when your kids don’t want to climb?;
As parents, we try to introduce our kids to the world and activities that we love so much, but in respecting their individual personhood, we have to be ready for them to look at us and say sometimes, “Mom, I really don’t think I want to go today—I’d rather stay home and play video games.”
How old should kids be before parents introduce them to climbing?
Kids can be exposed to outdoor activity as soon as they can walk, so they begin to see this environment as an exciting and comfortable one, rather than one that is foreign and intimidating. Hiking naturally gives way to scrambling and exploring. Children are physically capable of top-roping low angle and highly featured class 5 routes as five and six-year-olds, but their emotional readiness is almost more important than their physical capabilities. Some kids are ready, but others suddenly get intimidated when you add gear. While I don’t get a lot of personal satisfaction from indoor climbing, the controlled climate and the ability to easily create a kid-friendly route in a rock gym can give kids a good first chance at getting off the ground.
Any special safety considerations when climbing with children?
Often when I am with a family, I become quickly aware that one parent is the adventurer and the other is the worrier (and it doesn’t always divide predictably along gender lines). So before you ever venture out of doors with your family, you should achieve a level of understanding with your spouse. Lacking this, there can develop real conflict out at the site, and the kids (or the guide) can get caught in the middle.
Another reality is that no outdoor adventure is completely safe—not all hazards can be eliminated, and if they could, it wouldn’t be adventure. So in the guiding industry, we say that our goal is not to eliminate risk but to manage risk, with proper equipment, procedures, etc. If you want the liver-shiver but no risk, go to a theme park.
Five Tips from LESTER ZOOK
1. Kids are not nearly as motivated by the “challenge” as they are simply by having fun, physical movement, action, and competence. So set up overly easy routes that provide almost guaranteed success at first.
2. Many areas in the East allow you to set up several top ropes in the same site, with varying difficulties. This can accommodate different age and ability levels.
3. I have often seen that kids only have the emotional energy to “go to the bank” once in a day. So if a kid struggles through a vexing overhang or sketches out on a high exposure route, ready yourself for the reality that they may be done for the day. It’s not that they don’t have the physical skill to climb more; they just don’t want to go back to that place emotionally for a while. Be flexible and willing to change the plan for the day.
4. Take lots of photos. Take one of the kid’s friends along, so they are having a social experience as well as a physical and natural one. Take lots of energy drinks and snacks.
5. As you plan your vacation week, plan several different activities, so if a kid doesn’t get jazzed by one, she isn’t consigned to three days of misery. Instead of planning three days of climbing, try a day of climbing, a water day, and a cave trip.