In an attempt to become one with nature, my husband and I packed up our crew – 4.5-year old, A, and 1-year old, E – and headed out for a peaceful stroll through the scenic hills on and around the Ritz-Carlton Tahoe property. “It’s easy,” we told our daughter. “Just a simple walk through trees and nature.” We talked it up like it was going to be Disneyland, an all-you-can-eat candy buffet and pink pony rides all in one. A absorbed our excitement and spent the whole ride talking about how she was going to use her hands to climb a mountain, just like Anna in Frozen. My husband and I glanced at each other, thinking maybe we overdid it a bit, but went with it. It’d be all good in the end, right?
To get to the trails around the Ritz-Carlton, you have to first take a gondola from Northstar. It was a breezy day, and the gondola rocked a bit, and A was freaked out, squeezing my hand and coming close to hyperventilating. Not the best start, but we rallied and set off around the property choosing the first trail we could find. The start of the trail consisted of big rocks, and little size nine feet have a tough time walking on rocks of that size, so A was not pleased and the complaining began. Once we got through the rocks it was better. Nice, smooth dirt. We grabbed a stick for A which proved to be not the best idea since she stopped every five feet to make an X in the dirt. I got her attention by warning that mountain lions were in the hills and if she didn’t keep up with us, she might get eaten. Not my proudest mom moment, but hey, she stuck by our sides for the rest of our 10-minute hike. Yes, 10 minutes.
So we’re walking, and talking, and singing and then we run out of things to do, and the whining starts up again. “My feet are asleep.” “I hear a buzz in my ear.” “I thought we were going to climb a mountain like Anna.” And on, and on, and on it went. We decided to have a treasure hunt and started collecting cool things along the way, which was a great distraction. By this time, we had turned around and promised ice cream if we could make it back to the gondola with no whining. Ice cream bribes work like charms in our family, and we headed down to Northstar to pay our bribe, only to find out the ice cream shop was closed for the day. Disappointment was the theme of the day.
I don’t tell this story to illustrate a whiny 4.5-year old and unprepared parents, though it most certainly highlighted both, but rather to give you some tips on how to enjoy nature hikes with your family. We’ve hiked two more times since this initial ‘family of four’ expedition and it’s only gotten better and better.
My first tip is to make sure everyone is dressed properly.We didn’t realize it until we were in the gondola, but A wasn’t wearing socks with her tennis shoes, causing blisters on her heels. I’m sure that was painful and added to the drama of the day. She is now the proud owner of true hiking shoes, and it’s made the biggest difference.
The second tip is to have plenty of distractions. I tell myself that with every hike we take, it will get better. If you’ve experienced differently, please let me live in my delusional fantasy for awhile longer. The ‘treasure bag’ was great, but we have had to set limits on what is truly considered a treasure. For example, we don’t need 25 pinecones. For future hikes, we printed off a scavenger hunt, which has been a lot of fun. The scavenger hunt is basic enough and keeps everyone moving.
Finally, we talk about the hike on the way home and listen to what A liked and didn’t like. Letting A voice her opinion and listening has really helped. We have revisited a couple trails because she has mentioned she liked them, something we typically wouldn’t have done in the past.
For those who are interested in getting out into the great outdoors with their kids, here are some easy hikes we have enjoyed. I even included the initial hike on this list because, while we were a tad unprepared, it’s become a go-to for us as a family.
Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe. The trails themselves are on Northstar Resort property, and there are so many to choose from. The first hike we did was Sawmill Lake, which is described a family-friendly.
Tahoe Rim Trail, or TRT. There are five trailheads to get onto the TRT, and the only one we’ve ever started at is located along Mt. Rose Highway, right past Mt. Rose Summit if you’re headed toward the lake. Park your car along the side of Mt. Rose Highway at the Meadows and find the trailhead on the left – it’s easy to see and starts off as a wooden walkway. This trail is a flat 1.2-mile roundtrip hike through the woods and the flatlands.
Vikingsholm Castle. I hesitate to put this on the list because it’s basically a cement-lined walkway and not my true definition of a hike, but it’s a fun one. To get to it, take Highway 89 South about 20 miles and park in the lot.
Spooner Lake. This is an easy hike, about 2.1 miles roundtrip. On it, you see the lake, beautiful flowers, and encounter birds and other wildlife. To get to the trailhead from Reno, take 395 South to US 50. Go went to State Route 28 and find the trailhead clearly marked.
Have fun and give us your tips on hiking with kids in the comments section below!