Even on a rainy day, a mother and her young boys enjoy the short hike up Sawyer Mountain near Indian Lake.
By Leigh Hornbeck
If you grew up hiking and now are a parent, you’re likely to want to introduce your children to the beauty and challenge of a hike in the woods. But it’s a delicate thing. If the first experience is too hard, cold, wet, or buggy, they may drag their feet about hitting the trail the next time.
I started hiking with my boys, Rushton and Devlin, last summer when they were four and six. It’s been rewarding, but also frustrating. You know how grandparents enjoy seeing their grandchildren give their parents the same hard time the grandparents experienced? During my son’s whinier moments on the trail I can hear my father saying, “Leigh, there’s a Burger King at the top!”
I was not usually a willing hiker or camper as a child—I preferred staying inside with a book and my dolls—but I’m glad now that my parents put up with me on their adventures.
I’m starting slow with my kids. I learned from the mistake I made with my husband not long after we met. He was a child of the suburbs with little hiking experience. I outfitted him in borrowed gear. He took his first steps on snowshoes just before we climbed Cascade and Porter in subzero weather.
My approach with my children has been relaxed. Hiking with kids is a different experience. Don’t expect to see wildlife, unless your children are a lot quieter than mine. But do expect dirty, happy, proud kids.
I don’t mess around with their gear: they have proper hiking boots and they go into the woods sunscreened and bug-sprayed. But I try not to put a lot of expectations on them. It’s not: “We’re hiking to the top of a mountain.” It’s: “Let’s go for a hike.” If we don’t get to the top because my little guy is worn out, then we don’t get to the top that day. No big deal. This is supposed to be fun.
I’m also doing my research beforehand using Kids on the Trail!” by Rose Rivezzi and David Trithart, a guide to hikes for kids in the Adirondack Park. In late June, we chose Sawyer Mountain along Route 28/30 between Indian Lake and Blue Mountain Lake. The book describes Sawyer as an easy hike with rewarding views for minimal effort. My highly competitive older son is also excited by the possibility of winning a “Kids on the Trail Patch” from the Adirondack Mountain Club. When we log sixteen hikes—two each from eight sections of the Park—I’ll send away for the patches.
I feel confident enough in my abilities to go hiking on my own with my kids, but you don’t have to go it alone. Hike it Baby is a national nonprofit organization with three hundred branches, including one in the High Peaks region called Hike it Baby Adirondack Coast. The group’s mission is to organize hikes for families with infants up to school-age children.
Our hike up Sawyer was on a rainy, steamy day. The woods outside Indian Lake felt like what I imagine the Amazon rain forest is like. We had been waiting for a nicer day, but when it seemed to rain every day we were free, we decided to go for it. I’ll hike in anything except lightning. The trail is bony and clearly well-used. My five-year-old fell in the mud almost immediately and proceeded to complain loudly about the mud on his hands and arms, preferring to hold them at an unnatural angle from his body rather than wiping them off. He forgot all about it when my older son spotted a newt, and the two boys studied it for a while.
There were plenty of boulders for the boys to climb, and the gradual, mile-long trip to the summit was easy (we gained 650 in elevation). A thick canopy kept most of the rain off our heads. Some of the rocks embedded in the ground were tricky because they were so wet, and the boys needed to figure out how to get past them without slipping. It was gratifying to see my older son help his little brother get over an obstacle by himself. I won’t lift my boys into trees or onto boulders. They are only safe if they can get up and down themselves.
The view from the top (a couple hundred feet beyond the highest point) is probably more rewarding on a sunny day, when Blue Mountain is visible. We didn’t linger because the mosquitoes were vicious, but they bothered me more than the boys.
On the way down our little party of four stretched out: my mom went ahead with the seven-year-old, while I stayed back with my slower-moving five-year-old. We talked about moss and lichen and made up stories about gnomes swimming in the tiny hollows of tree roots that were filled with water. I asked a lot of questions when I was a child in the woods with my parents. I was an adult before I realized my dad was making up the names of trees when he didn’t know the answers. In the woods with my children, I passed on the lessons I learned from my father. If you’re lost, follow water downhill. Don’t pull on birch bark; it hurts the tree. Don’t pull the moss off rocks; the moss worked really hard to grow there. Listen. What do you hear? Do you hear raindrops? Do you hear cars?
And just as I used to do, my younger son complained mightily and told me at one point he wasn’t going to talk to me for the rest of the day—a threat he forgot about immediately.
Directions: From the junction of NY 28 and NY 30 in Blue Mountain Lake, drive east on NY 28/30 for 6.7 miles to a parking area on the right.