Hiking with kids rarely seems to work out the way it looks in the travel brochures. The kids are either lagging behind and complaining, or racing ahead and making a parent’s heart skip a beat as they creep ever closer to cliff with the sheer 2,000-foot drop to the sea below. But there are secrets to making a challenging hike work for kids as well as parents.
Hiking in Norway
In June 2015 my family and I took a trip to the beautiful country of Norway. Throughout the entire trip my little brothers, who were nine and six at the time, and I, at age 20, were begging to take a day to hike. So at the very tail end of our trip our parents gave in and we made our way to a famous hiking trail near the city of Stavanger. Norway is known internationally for its many hiking experiences that are beautiful, fun, and challenging; the hike to Preikestolen is no exception.
Secret 1: Choosing the Right Hike That the Whole Group Can Enjoy
We zeroed on what looked like an amazing hike. It would take us to Norway’s Preikestolen, or “Pulpit Rock.” It consists of several plateaus, or “look out” points, with steep inclines in between. Most of the steep inclines are “paved” with stairs made out of natural rock. None of us are avid hikers, since we hail from flat-as-a-pancake Iowa, but we are an active family and love our long walks by the Mississippi River.
Our Norwegian family members, who are expert hikers, warned that it can take anywhere from one to four hours to reach the main attraction, Preikestolen. However, after seeing photos of the final destination, it was hard to come up with a case against the potentially grueling hike ahead. Preikestolen is 604 meters (almost 2,000 feet) above the Lysefjord that is flowing down below. My brothers were not going to let this opportunity pass by; they could not have cared less about how long the hike would take.
Secret 2: Curiosity Must be Calculated Into the Duration of the Hike
With high expectations of this final lookout point we set off on our adventure… Not quite as prepared as we thought we were. We started the hike at around 11:30 a.m. and were expecting to spend an hour and a half climbing up and the same amount of time climbing down, but our calculations were far less than accurate. The trail to Preikestolen is not particularly long, only about two and a half miles each way. However, the boys were especially curious and taking their time exploring the Norwegian nature. My parents were happy to pause often to let them look under rocks for trolls, attempt to climb trees, and eat as many snacks as they pleased.
A child’s curiosity is a beautiful thing and must be encouraged, but must also be taken into account if something must be accomplished in a certain amount of time. Although my brothers’ extra exploring during the hike did delay our expected arrival to Preikestolen, I believe that it also made the hike more memorable, enjoyable, and accessible for them. These tiny explorations coaxed the inner child out of all of us… We all felt like true Norwegian explorers. By going at a slower pace, we were able to reach our destination without the grumpy after effects of rushing.
Secret 3: Kids Can and Will Leave You in the Dust if You do not Hustle
Although our eagerness to reach the top was high at first, our enthusiasm and energy faded every time we encountered yet another steep set of rock stairways. My brothers however, were always happy to race us, and every other hiker on the trail, to the top of each stairway. My six-year-old brother was beating everyone on the way up, I’m not sure how many times we had to yell ahead and tell him to wait for his slowpoke family.
As mentioned earlier, children have an amazing curiosity of the world. They also seek gratification in everything they do. They want to see the top and to reach the ultimate goal; this is why they make great hikers.
Secret 4: Always Bring More Food… Always
Right as we were about to hit a wall of exhaustion and hunger in the middle of the trek, we arrived at an oasis. There was a pool of fresh mountain water filled with fellow hikers and large flat rocks that were perfect for having a picnic. We took out all of the remaining snacks and water only to realize that we did not pack lunches. The hike was taking much longer than expected and we had not planned to still be on the trail during lunchtime. Yet we were, and of course there is never a vending machine around when it’s needed…
The rest of the hike was filled with grumbling tummies and “I’m hungry” complaints. Not just from the kids, but from the adults too. Popcorn, trail mix, and water is not exactly a well rounded meal.
Secret 5: No Matter How Mild the Weather, Grab Sunscreen
The day my family and I hiked to Preikestolen it was a normal, mild Norwegian summer day. The temperature was around the mid 50s and when we started the hike we were all wearing layers because of the unpredictable weather. Within minutes, the layers were stripped and the sun was out. Little to our knowledge, it was out to get us.
I made fun of my parents when they insisted that my brothers wear hats and sunscreen. I never thought that they would be the ones laughing at me at the end of the day, when I finally realized that standing in even mild sun for hours can really do a number on your scalp, nose, and neck. I was sunburnt in Norway. Something I never thought I would be. Even though I wore long sleeves and pants, the sun was able to sneak in to those tiny square inches of exposed skin. I wish that I had thought about this before going on the trek, and I am sure that my brothers enjoyed their hot showers much more than I did that night.
Next time I plan on being outside for hours on end I will think of Preikestolen and of how my parents were right to put sunscreen on the kids, even though there was no beach in sight.
Secret 6: The Final Destination, and the Feeling of Reaching it, is ‘a New Type of Happy’
We finally reached Preikestolen after three hours of panting, sweating, exploring, resting, and exerting ourselves.When we reached the top we were astonished and absolutely breathless, not only from the physical effects of the hike but also because of the amazing view.
We were all very proud of ourselves and of each other when we finally saw the amazing view of the fjord below. The feeling of accomplishment after such a hike is almost indescribable, and even my little brothers understood at that moment that they are extremely lucky to have the opportunity to be in Norway.
My 9-year-old brother described the experience best when he said, “I feel a new type of happy,” after standing almost 2,000 feet above sea level.
Both of my brothers continued their fearless and curious nature at the final destination, taking whatever opportunity they had to gape over the edge of the cliff. All the while ignoring the shouts coming from my mom, who didn’t dare to step closer than 10 feet away from the edge, but once she got a hold of them, I’m pretty sure she was cutting off the circulation in both of my brothers’ arms from holding on so tight.
This post was written by Alexandra Olsen, a college student intern for TravelingMom.com. Her love of travel began at a very young age–traveling with her family to little beach towns growing up in Brazil. Alexandra also has her own personal travel blog, Trail Mix, which she started while spending a summer studying abroad in Norway.