Hiking is fun all year round but especially so in the spring when nature is coming alive. Families with children of all ages can benefit from the exercise and adventure of hiking – and Northwest Indiana is full of great places to get out and explore!
Benefits of hiking
Parents and kids alike will benefit from the fresh air and exploration of a good hike. Hiking builds both body and mind exercising nearly every part of your body: legs, arms, hips, abdominals and shoulders. Hiking also exercises your powers of observation, awareness and imagination. Regular hiking improves both cardio and muscular fitness, reduces stress and helps us sleep better at night. What are you waiting for? Let’s get hiking!
Tips for family hikes
Plan, plan and plan some more. Whether or not you were an active hiker before children, hiking with kids in tow is a different experience. Spend some time to select and investigate the trail ahead of time to make sure you pick a hike that’s best for your family’s abilities. You might want to start with a short hike – a mile or less – especially if you have younger children. But even children around the age of 5 can be expected to walk 1-3 miles that aren’t too strenuous. If you have older children, you can pick more difficult and longer trails. At any age there are some important things you can do ahead of time for a successful family adventure:
1. Be flexible: If your kids see a frog dart down to a creek, let them explore. If they hear a distinctive bird call, stop, listen and try to spot the bird. Expect frequent rest breaks – in fact, announce them before the kids ask for them: “at that fallen log up ahead let’s stop for a snack.”
2. Pack good supplies: You’ll definitely want to pack snacks and water. Binoculars and magnifying glasses can be excellent ways to keep kids interested. And don’t forget to check the forecast so you can bring along a sweatshirt if needed. It’s also a good idea to keep a change of shoes & socks in the car so that when the hike is done you can change – hiking can often be a muddy experience.
3. Be good observers: teach your kids to look for signs of wildlife: animal tracks, feathers on the ground, bird nests in branches, frogs in ponds.
Where to hike in Northwest Indiana
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has a variety of trails of all lengths and hiking levels. Supervising Park Ranger, Bruce Rowe, recommended these trails for great family spring hikes:
• Bailly Homestead & Chellberg Farm Trail System takes you through beech maple woods and some of the park’s historic sites including the Bailly homestead, Chellberg farm and Bailly cemetery. You could also tack on the Little Calumet River Trail from this site. All of these trails offer some of the best views in the park of spring wildflowers.
• The Great Marsh Trail is one of the newer trails in the park and as a flat, short trail is just right for young families. This trail includes a platform that is great for bird watching. Families can expect to see a variety of water fowl in the spring including ducks, geese and great blue herons.
• Finally what Rowe calls the “hidden gem of the park”, the Miller Woods Trail. Hikes ranging from 1/2 mile to 3 miles are available through this trail’s black oak savannah, ponds and rolling dunes.
The Miller Woods Trail is adjacent to the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education, an excellent free resource for families. The Douglas Center is staffed by friendly, knowledgeable park rangers and includes a room where children can learn about and see native animals such as fish and snakes. The Center also has free family activities every Saturday all year round.
For hiking trail maps and other information. Visit the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore website: nps.gov/indu.