- Written by Katie Harris Katie Harris
Enjoy fresh air, beautiful scenery and family bonding There’s nothing like a family hike to cure a case of spring fever. This month, head out to one of northern Colorado’s many family-friendly trails for fresh air, exercise and, if you’re lucky, some of the first signs of spring. Read on for a couple of our favorite kid-friendly local hikes, along with tips for a successful day on the trail.
Devil’s Backbone to the keyhole: Just outside of Loveland on Highway 34 sits the entrance to Devil’s Backbone, the long string of spine-like ridges that run along the west side of the city. From the parking area and trailhead at 1725 Hidden Valley Dr, Loveland, the trail extends north for 12 miles through Devil’s Backbone Open Space and into Horsetooth Mountain Open Space in Fort Collins. The most popular route for families with young children is the 2.5-mile loop to the keyhole. The natural trail features a gentle slope suitable for even the youngest children, and the view of the city from inside the arched rock at the end of the trail will awe hikers of all ages. Be advised that hikers, cyclists and horseback riders, utilize a portion of the keyhole trail and remind children to be vigilant of oncoming traffic and share the trail. Keep an eye out for possible wildlife sightings as well, including coyotes, bobcats, elk, hawks and, emerging late in the season, rattlesnakes. For more information and trail updates visit www.larimer.org/naturalresources/parks/devils-backbone.
Horsetooth Falls trail: This trail, situated in Horsetooth Mountain Open Space west of Fort Collins, features 2.5 miles out and back of varying landscape and difficulty. The trail begins with a gradual slope through the prairie, where wildflowers pepper the hillside. Halfway in, hikers enter the forest and are greeted by a narrowing trail and the sounds of the river running nearby. The trail steepens here, with log steps making appearances at various points. Young children will need to be kept close towards the top of the trail, as it is bordered by a steep drop-off for the final portion. At the end of the trail a small pond, popular for wading, greets hikers. In spring mountain run-off creates a powerful waterfall into the pond, which diminishes into a trickle by early summer. Hikers retrace their steps to return to the trailhead. This easy-to-moderate hike is suitable for young children with adult supervision, and the changing scenery makes it a popular hike to return to year after year. For more information, including a trail map, visit www.larimer.org/naturalresources/parks/horsetooth-mountain.
Tips for hiking with kids
In Colorado, spring weather is nothing if not unpredictable. Be prepared for changing conditions on the trail by dressing in layers. Rain gear, sweat-wicking clothing, and appropriate footwear are musts when hiking in spring.
Stave off whining on the trail by bringing along plenty of snacks. Not only do young hikers need frequent nourishment to keep their energy up, but also an eat-on-the-go snack such as trail mix or granola bars provide a great distraction from tiring little legs. Water is a must as well!
Make hiking feel more like an adventure and less like a chore by planning nature activities before heading out. Games like outdoor bingo and scavenger hunts can be printed off and brought along to encourage exploration and discovery on the trail. Bring along trail guides to answer questions and look up the names of flowers, birds and bugs spotted on the trail.
Choose trails that offer a reward, such as a lake, waterfall, boulders to climb or fantastic views to make the hike feel worthwhile to even the youngest hikers. Alternatively, purchase or create patches to reward kids with after every hike, and display them on a blanket, t-shirt or bulletin board.
Even the most enthusiastic young hikers get tired. Pushing children to complete a hike within a set time frame is setting yourself up for failure, and will deter them from wanting to head out on the trail again anytime soon. Practice patience if the younger members of your group need to stop often, and schedule in plenty of time for rests