When my husband and I plan a vacation, it always involves some beautiful scenery, hiking trails, and cool temperatures. Even now, with three littles in tow, our vacation plans are the same. It takes a little more effort (okay, maybe a lot more) but we want them to experience the great outdoors with us. This Summer, our destination of choice was Utah.
We were considering a few other scenic hiking spots. The main benefit of Utah was that we could fly into Salt Lake City and not have to drive far to get to good trails. A friend of ours lives there and she assured me we could keep our driving times to a minimum.
(Last year we flew to Seattle and drove over to Olympic National Park. It was breathtaking and wonderful, but we spent at least two hours in the car each day, driving from our hotels to different scenic locations. It worked out because we had just two kids and tried to drive mostly during times they could sleep.)
This year, we had a baby with us who doesn’t love her car seat. We knew that even the older kids could get restless if we took too long to get to our destination, especially with a fussy baby sister in the car, so we mapped out some trails that were less than an hour from our AirBnB in Salt Lake City.
I spent some time in the months before our trip searching through travel blogs, like tripSavvy.com and theoutbound.com, and on Pinterest at the best family hikes around Salt Lake City. I made a list of several hikes that would be a good fit for us. I knew we could do anything that was less than five miles round trip, but I didn’t rule out shorter ones, knowing we could do two or three in the same day if they were only a couple of miles.
I looked for hikes that were reviewed as not too steep, easy to navigate, with little or no entrance fee and they got bonus points for having a payoff like a waterfall or lake. On my list, I starred the ones that I wanted to make sure we got to see.
Some of the trails on the list included: Donut Falls, Hidden Falls, the ski trails at the top of the Park City gondola, Cecret Lake and Ensign Peak.
Then I mapped them all out. When I could look at all of them in relation to our AirBnB, which was in Holladay, or restaurants we wanted to go to, I could easily see which ones to group together. So I rearranged the list to see which hikes needed their own day and which ones could be done on the same day. Then I made a general itinerary over the days we were there so that we could no how to fit it all into our travel time.
One thing that we’ve found to be so important with vacationing with kids is flexibility.
The first day of our trip, we got on a very early flight and when we arrived, the car rental company we used to reserve a car ran out of vehicles. So we spent an extra hour at the airport canceling that reservation, waiting in line at a new company and getting a rental car. We had hoped to use that evening to do a couple of short hikes in the city but by the time we got to our AirBnB, everyone was tired and grumpy from traveling. We ended up just getting dinner and settling in for the night. We knew trying to convince the kids to hike would have been frustrating for all of us after a long day of traveling. We got great sleep and were all ready to get going to the next morning.
I picked an exciting hike to be the first one (Donut Falls), knowing the kiddos would need a positive experience to get excited about days of doing the same thing. So we drove about 20 minutes into the mountains, hiked about a mile on this wide, well-marked trail and took our time. There were ground squirrels all along the way, so we stopped and fed them some granola. Some of them even ate out of my son’s hand and he still says this was his favorite part of the whole trip.
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We packed a small backpack for trail necessities that my husband carried. We kept it light enough that if he ended up carrying our toddler, our 6 yr old could carry the pack. It contained plenty of snacks like dried fruit, nuts, granola, plantain chips and water bottles- nothing with too much sugar or that was too heavy, but all things the kids liked and that would give us some energy. The heaviest part was the water bottles, but we had to make sure we had plenty for every person. Nothing makes a kid whinier being thirsty!
We also brought sunscreen and a natural bug repellent just in case, but focused more on dressing appropriately. Each child had a hat to cover their ears and face and the two older kids wore sunglasses. The baby stayed mostly in my sling or carrier, except for breaks to let her walk around when we found a safe spot. I wore her mostly on my back in a sturdy carrier so that I could see my steps to have sure footing and balance her weight easily. When we walked around town or on easy, paved trails in the city, I used my favorite carrier, my Wildbird Ring Sling, because it is so lightweight, cool and easy to get on and off by myself. I made sure to keep her legs and feet covered or lathered in sunscreen since they would be exposed more than ever before to the sun. We made sure each kid had shoes with good grip that fit well. Second to dehydration, there’s nothing that halts a hike faster than ill-fitting shoes.
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We tried to eat a fairly big breakfast, spent the middle of the day hiking or driving to trails and just ate snacks for lunch, then headed back into town for an early dinner. That helped us keep our momentum going and not racing the sun at the end of the day. We eat a strictly gluten-free diet and try to stick to mostly real, whole foods. We splurged some on this trip but found several great places to eat real food. We liked Cafe Rio for good quality fast food and Tropical Smoothie Cafe for smothies. We tried Aubergine & Co for delicious salads and gluten-free cheese bread. We got coffee at a very cool shop called Publik Coffee Roasters and gluten-free donuts at City Cakes & Cafe. But my absolute favorite was the Redmond Heritage Farm Store in Sugarhouse. They serve farm fresh veggies, eggs, grassfed meats and raw milk. YUM!
One of my favorite things about hiking is getting to see the kids explore and be brave. We try to let them run off the trail, let them stop to look for unique rocks or leaves, encourage them to climb and jump and run. I think it’s so good for them to know they can do hard things and a good attitude can change our perspective about a challenge.
Sure, there was plenty of fussing, exhaustion, scraped knees and frustration (and that was just in the airport.) But we made great memories that far outweighed the weight of our efforts. Looking back on the trip, we all talk about the majestic scenery, the wildlife, the laughter and how much we all enjoyed each other. We’re already planning our next hiking adventure!
Feature photo credit: NadyaEugene / Shutterstock