Few outings are better for quality family time than a trip to the great outdoors. It offers the fun kids crave with the fresh air, sun light and exercise they need. However, there are a few special considerations when venturing away from civilization to ensure both safety and a great time. With a little planning and preparation, your family will be all set for smooth sailing on your next outdoor excursion. Here are a few family friendly outdoor tips to get started with.
A Few Basic Family Friendly Outdoor Tips
It never hurts to have a quick review of the basics, so we’ll start here. Obviously, protection against the elements is essential. Sunscreen, insect repellent and After-Bite sting and itch relief ointment are all important. If there’s a potential for poison ivy, it’s also a good idea to carry some pre-contact ointment or even hydrocortisone, which should be applied before and after any outdoor activities. Snacks and extra water are even more important, and be sure to carry a flashlight even for daytime excursions.
At many parks, conditions can change frequently and with little notice. This can sometimes be detrimental for a family-friendly visit, which is why many national parks provide alerts over their own radio frequency. This can inform visitors of a variety of concerns, including unexpected weather conditions, landslides, worsening traffic conditions, dangerous animal encounters and wildfires. It’s a good idea to carry a portable radio and periodically check to see if any alerts have been issued.
Exploring a Family Friendly Outdoor Destination
Kids love to explore, but they also burn out easily. Without a change in scenery, boredom sets in the for kids, leading to misery for parents. Fortunately, there are outdoor destinations that can help. Some great examples are Saguaro National Park, El Malpais National Monument, or the Great Smoky Mountains. What do all of these places have in common? You can see some of the most breathtaking natural features of each without ever getting out of your car. This is in contrast to places make you earn the great views and natural features with long hiking trails or climbing paths. Of course, they still offer trails and outdoor recreational areas, but they’re more easily accessible. You can simply pull over at the ones that interest you, let the family have a little fun, and then drive on to the next spot.
Features of a Family Friendly Outdoor Destination
If you have any young daredevils in the family, you know how important it can be to take advantage of preexisting safety features. Obviously kids should always be watched, but it doesn’t take much for them to disappear from view, even if only for a second (which is sometimes all it takes). Some popular outdoor destinations offer fences, railing and boardwalks to prevent access to potentially dangerous areas; others just let thrill-seekers walk right up to the edge. It’s important to learn not just what there is explore at an outdoor destination, but HOW you will explore it. Obviously, it wouldn’t be great for a fearless 9 year old to go running up to the Grand Canyon’s edge, so these details should be considered when planning a family-friendly outdoor trip.
Staying Safe During a Family Hike
When traveling to a new destination for a day hike, it is absolutely vital to ensure that trails are marked, and not just on the map. Most trails have a feature called blazes that should not be confused with trail markers. Blazes are small painted markers, typically found on rocks and trees, that correlate with the trail’s color on a map (if the trail is not on a localized map, it’s a good idea to Google whether or not it has a blaze ahead of time). Try to estimate the frequency with which blazes appear as a lack of them after a considerable time period could be cause for concern.
Trail markers are numbers posted along the trail to help identify a particular location. They come in the form of posts or smaller markers attached to trees. As you may have guessed, these are a great way to reference specific areas along the trail in case of trouble. For example, if someone has a heat stroke and you have cell service, you can use the nearest trail marker to pinpoint your location. If the trail does not have markers, it’s usually a good idea to become familiar with its general before taking children.
Crowds tend to deter vacation plans, but they shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a bad thing. Wildlife always presents a concern when visiting the outdoors. However, large crowds of visitors tend to scare away even the most threatening animals, leading to a safer overall experience. Of course, more people also means a lower chance of getting lost or becoming stranded during an emergency.
Consider the Unexpected
This is an amazing planet we live on, full of surprises. Sometimes, those surprises can be a bit more than you bargained for. This is why it’s always important to do a little research before traveling to a new environment. Preparing for the unexpected is important and, sometimes, lifesaving. For example, deserts are pretty well-known as dry places, which is why it can seem a bit odd when a massive surge of water shows up seemingly out of nowhere. But such is the case with desert washes, which can be flooded by rainstorms as far as 30 miles away.
It also explains the recent surge in deaths and incidents at Yellowstone National Park. Visitors veer away from the boardwalk because the ground looks like rock and easily traversable. What most people don’t realize is that much of Yellowstone’s rocky terrain is actually a very thin crust that forms over boiling underground springs. Those boardwalks are there for a reason and highlight the importance of following park rules.
Finding Help During an Emergency
The ability to call for help when necessary is essential for a family friendly outdoor experience. Mobile networks have become increasingly reliable, but that doesn’t mean that you can get service everywhere. It’s important to check your carrier’s coverage when traveling. After all, having a mobile phone in case of emergencies is pretty useless if it can’t connect to make a call.
However, a lack of cell reception shouldn’t necessarily deter family outdoor plans. Many popular outdoor destinations offer emergency call boxes at points of interest. These are becoming more scarce with the expansion of mobile networks, so make sure that all information is up to date.
If an emergency does occur, it is important to find out what services are available and how long of a response time to expect. Some parks include their own emergency rooms while others may be so remote that ATVs or even aircraft will be needed for rescue. While we like to hope for the best, it’s important to also prepare for the worst. Always find out in advance how long it will take for help to arrive in case something does happen.