Family Hikes - Hiking For Health
Family Hikes Are Quality Time Together
You don't need another reminder about how important family life is, but everyone could use a nudge from time to time to help us find time, or ways, to make family time even better... and family hikes are our favorite. One of the most memorable and fun things that we do together is to hike, backpack and camp in the Rockies.
Our son, now 21, has even become a Colorado Trail Crew Volunteer and spends a week each summer on the trail doing maintenance work so hikers and backpackers can enjoy the wonderful mountain scenery on a nice, maintained trail. Needless to say, the time we spend in Colorado has had both direct benefits and long-term ones; I'm sure the love that our son has developed for the mountains and backpacking will stay with him for life.
The cost is much less than many vacations, and of course once you own your gear the cost is really negligible. While we've had many great destination trips ranging from Puerto Rico to Europe, family hikes with so much close interaction and quality time together makes other vacations pale in comparison. And the icing on the cake is that you're hiking for health, together.
Unless noted, all images are of us and from our trips.
“Families are the compass that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.”
~ Brad Henry
Two Different Family Hikes - 2010 & 2011
While it's a challenge to cover two trips, and do them justice in this space, I'm going to try. The reason I want to cover both is that these are two unique trips that might interest different people. The first family hike I'm talking about was in 2010 when my son and I spent a week in the mountains together (we went again later that summer as a family, but there's only so much writing space), and the second trip discussed in this article was in the summer of 2011 when my son spent a week as a trail crew volunteer and my wife and I celebrated our 25th Anniversary. So you see, the first trip may interest those who want to spend some quality time with a child, while the second may interest couples.
My son and I began our backpacking journey in Durango, Colorado where we have been numerous times. It's also the starting point of the Colorado Trail (western side) and home of the train station for the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, one of the few remaining (operational) narrow gauge, steam powered passenger trains.
Leaving our car in the long term parking nearby we loaded our backpacks into the train's luggage car and took our seats in this fabulous piece of history for a 3 hour ride through the mountains of the San Juan National Forest to Silverton, Colorado (image below), which is an old mining town where you can spend an hour or so getting lunch and any supplies you might have forgotten (if you're backpacking). I was able to pick up our fishing licenses while there at a small outfitter. We also met others who were on their way to family hikes, so more and more families are seeing the value of this great sport.
When riding the train you must purchase either a one way or round trip ticket, so if you're backpacking you can choose to get off the train on the way out of Durango (about 2/3 of the way to Silverton), or on your way back to Durango after stopping in Silverton, like we did. Let me explain. Some of the most pristine hiking and camping is found in mostly remote locations along the Colorado trail. There are a couple of secluded stops that the train will make if there are backpacking passengers who wish to get off (or on, after their trip). So we took the train to Silverton, then rode back about an hour to the Elk Park drop off, where the train stopped. The train crew handed us our packs from the storage car and we began our remote family hike.
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Off The Train, Onto The Trail
Getting off at Elk Park puts us alongside the Colorado Trail (you can travel east or west along the trail from this point), and following a known and marked trail in the mountains is a good idea. The Animas River flows along the tracks so a crossing was built by the Colorado Trail Foundation for hikers. We traveled west along the trail with a destination of Molas Lake and Little Molas Lake, where we would camp and fish, and take day hikes from. Quite a few other backpackers were camping near the lakes and we met some of them on trails during the day so we knew they were taking family hikes as well, and not just camping. Many people thru- hike, meaning they're on their way to a final destination other than where they started. But others, like us, have found the great opportunity the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train provides for family hikes... get off the train and hike a few miles to your camp, and from there venture out each day without the full load of a backpack.
Below is a photo looking down on the Animas River and the train tracks where we had been dropped off a couple hours earlier. It's a 3 - 5 hour hike to the Molas Lake area, depending on your load, health, etc... I had about 40 lbs in my pack and my son about 35; we weren't exactly ultra-lighting on this trip.
Our gear included 2 travel fishing rigs (essential for our family hikes), a 2 man ultra-light tent, ultra-light down sleeping bags (rated to 20 degrees), weather gear (rain jacket and pants and fleece for both of us), a Katadyn Hiker PRO Water Microfilter (and backup water purification tablets), a Jet Boil Flash PCS and spare gas canister, eating/drinking utensils, personal hygiene items, misc freeze dried meals, powdered milk, oatmeal, some flat bread, beef jerky (we wanted the bears to tear into our camp), powdered coffee (I never go without coffee) and other drink powders, first aid kit, fire kit, multi-tools and of course a few clothes. By wearing wool as base layers, including socks and unders, odor is "drastically" reduced making for a more mutually enjoyable trip for everyone, not to mention fewer blisters from boots and pack straps.
Once we arrived at Molas Lake we quickly set up camp as it was getting late, and eating a quick bite we hit the sack... the hike in was too fast and furious for my liking (young kids!). For the next few days we would wake early in the morning and after a carefree breakfast and a few cups of coffee (yes, a few) we were off hiking, fishing and whatever moved us that day. I don't believe my son and I have ever had a better time together.
How many times have you been on family hikes?
Did I mention it rains everyday in the mountains? Maybe only 1/2 hour, but truly almost everyday. So always pack rain gear.
Some Gear I Use & Highly Recommend
Hiking humor: You don't have to be faster than the bear, just the other people you're with. :)
Train Ride Back To Durango
A great way to finish a family hike
At the end of our multi-day trip we hiked back to the pickup point and waited along the tracks at Elk Park as the train approached to take us back to Durango. Since we had purchased round trip tickets we were able to hop on the train and ride back into Durango. While there are bears in the area, they're Black Bears and relatively seldom seen by hikers, and for the most part not a danger to humans. I know that anyone considering family hikes in the mountains wants to know about critter danger, but you can rest assured that along the entire stretch of the Colorado Trail the risk of a dangerous interaction with wild animals is really (truly) small. Do a little research on food storage and your risk gets even smaller. If I made my wife angry she joked that she was putting some Beef Jerky in my sleeping bag. Water is in abundance for the most part along the Colorado trail, but there are exceptions depending on where you'll be hiking (and the seasonal weather) so always, without exception, pick up a trail guide from the Colorado Trail Foundation before you go and map out water resupply points. My son and I each carried two 1 liter Nalgene Bottles and had a 2 liter hydration bladder in our packs. It's extra weight, but is there anything more important?
Take a camera for life-long memories (especially on family hikes), and things like a travel-sized pack of cards. During the 1 or 2 hour rain showers it's a great way to spend time in the tent or a lean-to as you wait it out. We also found ourselves sitting around the campfire whittling on wood, just talking and having a great time. Anytime you'll be hiking for any length of time or distance (especially under load) it is crucial that you have quality foot wear, and that you size and fit them well ahead of your trip and break them in by taking short walks; a set of blisters several miles into your hike can not only ruin the trip, but also pose a safety risk if you're unable to hike out due to infection, etc... A quality backpack will also save you a lot of pain and misery. Check out my article on the Best Hiking Backpack. A poor fit or poorly designed pack can cause blisters, back strain and add needless pounds to your load. On the matter of packs, boots, sleeping bag and tent I would urge you not to pinch pennies (unless you find a great deal on a brand name of course, then pinch away). Specifically because these are family hikes I take having the right gear and equipment seriously (not that I wouldn't otherwise). And I recommend you take it seriously, too, and plan and pack properly.
Finally, as it relates to a hiking trip with your family, I have found that freeze dried foods offer the best mix of taste and weight savings. For many people Oatmeal and powdered milk just doesn't work, so try it at home first. If you like the Oatmeal with powdered milk then pre-mix your "instant" oatmeal in zip lock freezer bags (they're heavier duty), adding in the powdered milk, brown sugar, nuts, dehydrated berries or whatever you like. Then in the field you just boil some water (in about 2 minutes with the Jet Boil, which I LOVE), pour it into the baggy and let it sit for a few minutes and you have a delicious, hot breakfast, with no clean up to speak of... just be sure and pack your trash out with you, PLEASE.
I rely on tripadvisor.com for all of our trips because you can get honest reviews from real people.
The Train Ride Alone Is Worth The Trip
Family Hikes 2011
In 2011 our son was part of a 7 day hike-in volunteer trail crew that was performing maintenance along a section of the Colorado Trail. His crew had people coming in all the way from Pennsylvania to volunteer; it's a great experience (especially for older teens) to be a part of something like that. The crew has a representative from the Forest Department and the Colorado Trail Foundation and they use pack mules to carry in the tools and supplies. Note: some of the trail crews hike in and out daily, some drive in on 4x4's and pitch camp, and some like this one hike in with pack mules and pitch camp... you can specify which trail crew you want to volunteer for depending on what you like. After we dropped him off at the crew's meeting point my wife and I headed to Cottonwood Lake and set up our camp (Cottonwood Lake in photo below), which is about a 30 minute drive west of Buena Vista, Colorado. Our goal was simply to enjoy family hikes each day and just relax and spend time together, celebrating our 25th Anniversary.
This was our first time hiking in the Buena Vista area and it is absolutely gorgeous. Our first day trip was to an old mining town, St. Elmo. It is nestled among some beautiful mountains and has a clear creek running through it.
There are hiking trails in the area and lots of great scenery, but we decided to leave after spending some time walking through the town and surrounding area and go to Agnes Falls, which is a nice, short hike up the side of a mountain to a really nice water fall. It was a great way to ease back into the altitude and hiking.
Our next day found us a Twin Lakes (below), north of Buena Vista towards Leadville. My wife was concerned because just 2 weeks before we arrived a boy was attacked by a Black Bear in his camp near Twin Lakes. I assured her that it had more to do with his food storage than the Bear viciously attacking him. We pushed on and after she immersed herself in the incredible views of Mt. Elbert my wife quickly forgot about the bears.
The trails around Twin Lakes are fabulous and we met a lot of other hikers, many were families with children. Both the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail cross here, so you can hike out on either trail. Starting at the dam work your way around the south side of the lake along the Colorado Trail and you can explore the remains at Interlaken, an old resort area where you can still see Dexter's cabin and some other old structures. This is truly a great trail for family hikes and the number of families we met confirms it.
Have you ever hiked along the Colorado Trail?
Cottonwood Pass - Continental Divide
Family Really Is Everything
At the end of it all, when the dust settles, what will be important about our lives? Will it be the job promotion we got or the moments we had with our family sharing something special? In 50 or 100 years no one will remember or care what we did; but how we live our life matters to our family right here and now, more than anything else most of us will ever do.
Hiking With Family Is Never Boring
We spent every day doing something different, from enjoying a dip in the nearby hot springs to checking out old ghost towns. And every day we managed to log some miles hiking. Our last day hike was perhaps the most memorable of the trip. About 45 minutes west of Buena Vista is Cottonwood Pass, where the Continental Divide passes through. From there you're able to hike a trail north or south, depending on your preference. We chose to hike north because it seemed to be the path less traveled and we felt adventurous. The views were breathtaking at over 13,000 feet. And even in July weather we of course found snow laced peaks and it was awesome to enjoy lunch at a place like that.
As I mentioned earlier, we pitched our camp at Cottonwood Lake but were able to use facilities nearby each day to shower and even do some laundry. Shower facilities can be found, but are kind of pricey ($6 - $8) and not exactly clean. Instead we were creative and simply went swimming in nearby indoor pools and were able to use their shower facilities free. The pool in Leadville was the best, but there's another one south of Buena Vista in Salida, which is filled with hot mineral spring water from a local source. Fishing is awesome at Cottonwood Lake so if you like that then be sure to bring your gear.
Note To Self
When we left Kansas it was 104 degrees in July. At night in Colorado, at elevation, it was in the 30's. Pack extra blankets to line your wife's sleeping bag, dummy! If she can't sleep nobody can. :(
I write a lot about camping, hiking, backpacking, and anything to do with the outdoors... here are some of my articles that I hope you'll enjoy.
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The Trip Ends, But Not The Adventure
This is our son as he hiked back in from the trail crew; worn out but extremely happy to have been a part of it. This lens really only has one purpose, to maybe give you a spark that will fuel something great in your life with the ones you love. You will never regret the time you have together on family hikes. There's so much to do in life, and life is too short to spend it worrying about the stuff that truly doesn't matter anyway when all is said and done. As many of you know (or you will if you read my bio) I've spent a good part of my life in law enforcement and have seen the effects of broken homes and family dysfunction. Now my business passion is home business motivation because I've seen the difference it makes in peoples lives to be able to spend more time with their families and not chasing a clock for someone else. I believe in the power of family and when you embrace it there's nothing more satisfying or rewarding. I hope you enjoyed the lens and I'd like to hear your comments.
Oh, and if you're in the area the Royal Gorge is not too far from Buena Vista and is worth the drive.