Switzerland has amazing mountains and I love hiking them with my children, aged 5 & 7. The question I often ask myself is how to pass on my love of hiking to the children? Here’s 10 ideas and 10 tips to get children hiking, based on my personal experience. Please leave us a comment below to share your ideas and suggestions.
Plan the Hike
1) Go up! I don’t know if it’s due to short stride length, inefficiency of motion or reduced body weight, but compared to adults, children seem much better at hiking upwards than hiking along the flat. We unintentionally proved this one day by selecting a route with 8km of flat followed by 800m of climbing. The 8km of flat took us four hours, the 800m hike upwards took less than two hours. Lesson for the future: save walking along the flat for the grandparents!
2) Hike in woods. When the boys were young, they would walk much better on a woodland path than on an open footpath, go figure!
3) Do a one-way walk. Our favourite was hiking from the station in Genolier through the woods to St-Cergue. The hike would take 2 to 3 hours, and we’d finish with lunch in a cafe before taking the train back down the hill to the car. Another good walk is to take the route de foret vert from La Tzoumaz around the mountain to Iserables, then take the bus back to La Tzoumaz. Be warned, the bus only runs every two hours (find the timetable at www.cff.ch).
4) Hike to a trampoline, or a bouncy castle. The Croix-de-Coeur between Verbier and La Tzoumaz has a trampoline and a bouncy castle outside until the end of October that have magic powers. We know the trampoline is magic: we had dragged our five year old on a four hour hike, and every step he told us how tired his legs were…then – as if by magic – the trampoline stopped his legs feeling tired!
Have Fun on the Hike
5) Find some snow in Summer. Need I say more? If there are two children of different speeds, the child in front can write messages or draw pictures for the child coming behind.
6) Look for mountain flowers. Every Swiss child has heard of the mysterious edelweiss. The locals here know where to find them, so let the hunt begin!
7) Dam a stream, or cross it on stepping stones.
8) Listen for birdsong, and look for animals. Mischievous marmots can often be heard on sunny slopes, always sitting just out of range of whatever photography equipment you’ve bought with you.
Motivate the Little Ones
9) Start from different places, or at different times, and do a race. Every time the children walk faster or further the new pace seems to stick, so even just doing this occasionally makes a big difference to the other walks. And they really enjoy winning.
10) Climb to the top. It works to motivate adults as well!
Last but not least, here’s some practical tips worth remembering:
1) In Switzerland, hiking routes are marked differently from mountain trails, which are significantly more dangerous. This website gives a good description of the different hiking trails, mountain trails and Alpine routes that are linked together.
2) Take warm and waterproof clothing, don’t forget the sunscreen and a spare pair of socks if you’re going anywhere near water.
3) Take non-sugar based snacks, and plenty of drinking water!
4) Remember that being tired is necessary in order to get stronger. The average time to the first “I’m tired” is normally less than 15 seconds, as is the time to subsequent repetitions. Short of finding a magic trampoline, I don’t know of a way to stop this. Patience, tolerance or earplugs are recommended.
About the author:
Percy Kirkman lives in La Tzoumaz with his wife Anna, where they run 4vallees4saisons.com, a company dedicated to getting lots of people to enjoy the mountain resort of La Tzoumaz. La Tzoumaz is just over the mountain from Verbier in the Verbier 4-Vallees ski area. Check out their other posts on the blog 4vallees4saisons.