In 49 days, we travelled 9000 miles through 14 states.
We visited so many parks:
Grand Tetons (although it was just a quick drive through and Paul's bike ride up the pass)
And several large cities:
I can say, with great confidence, that when travelling with kiddos, mountains are easier than cities.
We came home 3 years older than we left:
We learned that there are more non-native English speakers than 'mericans in our National Parks. The exact ratio depends on how close you are to the concessions and no, I am not being a smart ass. I would say that on the hiking trails, English speakers are outnumbered 3 to 1, possibly even more. In the cafeterias, it is evenly split.
If you are hiking with a kid on your back, people will say the following things, verbatim:
1 - "They (the kiddo) really know how to travel."
2 - "Can I get a ride up next?"
3 - "You go! Start them young!"
but once the opening line is delivered, you will get more supportive comments regarding your parenting than anywhere else at any other time ever.
Young kids are not really all that impressed with vistas, mountain tops, oceans, large trees, vast prairies, or clouds but love rocks and pinecones and tree stumps and sand. This is not all that shocking, I suppose, but we often found ourselves saying, "really? nothing? this is doing nothing for you?"
If you want to get your kid interested in hiking, our advice would be:
- take them hiking (mountains, forests or urban areas)
- let them set the pace (and it will be slow)
- give them things to look for and count (in the mountains: snags, animals; in cities: fire hydrants & taxi cabs)
- have snacks and rewards and plenty of water
- be prepared to carry them for some portion of the trip
- play games (red light/green light, I spy, sing songs, take breaks for cairn building)
- let them get their feet wet (literally) and interact with their environment as much as possible (without damaging the environment around you)
- talk to them about what they are seeing and how to respect that space - I felt like we might have been talking over their heads but found that they were really understanding and absorbing a lot of it
- Carry a bag (or let them carry a backpack) to put a few treasures in (pinecones, leaves) that you can examine back at your campsite
- set a good example - don't walk in fragile areas, don't touch the wildlife, pack in/pack out, pick up litter to dispose of back in civilization, tell kids that smoking is bad (and not just for health reasons; in dry forests, it is seriously threatening to the environment. Go ahead - be smug. Point out the forest fires, past and present, and find out what started them. While we were travelling, there were several forest fires and one house fire near us that were started by cigarettes. A few were started by campfires - we taught our kids how to put out the only two campfires we had. These are important and kids can help prevent fires.)
- give them a camera to take pictures of the things that they see (or give them assignments like "take pictures of things that are round/blue/that bears eat"
It is worth it.
We couldn't have taken this trip without the kindness and support of our friends and family. I'm going to try this with the fear that I will forget someone (eeeek):Phyl & Bob, Massa & Sarah, Lisa & Stephen & Huck & Jemima & Amy, Dan & Ruth, Jacquelyn & Kraig & Owen & Baby Tiny, Milhouse & Joan, Lori, Christy & Molly, Callie & Petey, Carl, Danielle, Kirsta & Audrey, and every one else