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Family Hikes - Hiking For Health

Updated on May 3, 2016

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.

Want to learn how to make a paracord bracelet? Click here to see my tutorial and find out how easy it really is. This is also an incredible opportunity to do something fun with your family.

I'm smiling as we cross the Animas
I'm smiling as we cross the Animas

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.

I wish I was back there right now!
I wish I was back there right now!

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.

My Son Fishing & Incredible Views
My Son Fishing & Incredible Views

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 for all of our trips because you can get honest reviews from real people.

The Train Ride Alone Is Worth The Trip

The Train Ride Alone Is Worth The Trip
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

Cottonwood Pass - Continental Divide
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. :(

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Durango and Buena Vista On The Map

Hop on the train here and ride to Silverton:
Durango, Colorado

get directions

This is an incredible area with so much to do:
Buena Vista, Colorado

get directions

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.

I've shared mine, now share yours...

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      My kids and I love to get outdoors, buta hike of this magnitude has to wait for a few more years. It's hard to handle my seven year old's occasional whining fits during mile long hikes. Great lens. Great pictures.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for your lens.

    • privresearch profile image


      7 years ago

      My 900-th squid like for your great purple star lens! Excellent page and great info

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Awesome lens with some really stunning photos! We also enjoy going on hikes!

    • hankmolini profile image


      7 years ago

      I'd love to take my kid hiking some day too! Great pics!

    • lasertek lm profile image

      lasertek lm 

      7 years ago

      I enjoy hiking with friends and family.

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 

      7 years ago from Kansas

      Wonderful lens! I love hiking the mountains and being surrounded by nature. Need to do this again soon! Blessed!

    • PaulaSquidoo profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for your lens. I hike every spring in the Smoky Mountains with my mom, aunt, and cousins. Our hikes have brought us closer together as a family. Reading your lens brings back fond memories.

    • Barb McCoy profile image

      Barb McCoy 

      7 years ago

      Excellent story and lens. :)

    • iijuan12 profile image


      7 years ago from Florida

      Beautiful lens!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Beautiful paces, great lens. It reminds me a times I was doing family hiking with my parents. The best time ever! When my kids will be bit bigger certainly I will come back to this. Thanks.

    • TheHealthCabin profile image


      7 years ago

      Congratulations! Enjoying time with family in such a wonderful way is inspiring. Lovely lens, Thank you.

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 

      7 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      Happy New Year! Congratulations on being chosen as a top 100 Community favorite for 2011!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      7 years ago

      Oh, I would love to ride that train. Congratulations on being selected as a Community Favorite. Happy new year!

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 

      7 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      What a beautiful area and a great adventure. I've done quite a bit of hiking and camping, mostly in the Cascade Mountain range near my home in the Seattle area, so it's hard to pick one adventure that stands out from all of the rest. I haven't done a lens about any of my favorite hikes or mountain adventures - yet - but have lots of ideas.

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 

      7 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      Wow, this is a real hiking adventure. The longest we've ever gone is a few hour hike -- I enjoy winter hikes the most. The most fun my husband and I have had together during activities has been in the outdoors on hikes or camping.

    • Auntiekatkat profile image


      7 years ago

      Congrats on being nominated for Community Favorite Lenses of 2011. A wonderful lens. Fortunately we both share one thing it was easier to vote than for most as mine was my "why-I-am a- vegetarian was nominated as well. A proud moment for all of us. Good luck in the voting.

    • blue22d profile image


      7 years ago

      Excellent lens and, really, what could be more fun than sharing outdoors experiences with your family. I love trains and I am so wanted to go on one. We recently took our 2 years old for a short jaunt on Thomas the Tank Engine in Utah in May. She still talks about it. Outdoors keeps in touch with nature and healthy!

    • JoyfulReviewer profile image


      7 years ago

      Loved your pictures and helpful tips. Sounds like your family will have lots of great memories from this trip. Congratulations on being one of the final 100 favorite Squidoo lenses of 2011!

    • MCB2011 profile image


      7 years ago

      I love the outdoors! What a great way to store memories. Congratulations!

    • N Beaulieu profile image

      N Beaulieu 

      7 years ago

      Beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing your memories with us & congrats on making the 100 Community Favorites list.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      From one person of the wilds to another, Well Done! And I appreciate that you offered a balanced opinion about black bears. I'm finding that, as people move further away from nature, there is becoming more anxiety about a lot of creatures of the wilderness. The bears suffer from this new attitude and too many people are willing to call a "food raid" an "attack." Great lens!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Sounds like your family really had some great quality time and made some memories. Loved the pictures. Congrats on being in the top 100 Community Favorites.

    • CanInsure profile image


      7 years ago

      The pictures were amazing, love the mountains.

    • Mahogany LM profile image

      Mahogany LM 

      7 years ago

      I love when my family and I go hiking together. I feel like, not only are we enjoying each other and nature simultaneously, but also we are doing great things for our bodies by getting out there! Lovely lens safereviews. I love that you added photos of your own family hiking too :).

    • safereview profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Kansas City

      Thank you all for the great comments, I really appreciate it! Happy holidays to you and all Squids.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      this really is a great lens, enjoyed reading this, made me want to take the rest of the week off and go camping and fishing.

    • fugeecat lm profile image

      fugeecat lm 

      7 years ago

      Your right this is a great way for families to spend time together.

    • Mauhro profile image


      7 years ago

      lovely lens. i will go spring :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Wonderful lens. Fantastic idea. Thanks for sharing!

    • Fart Pickins profile image

      Fart Pickins 

      7 years ago

      Great lens! It's good to read people really enjoying their family time and what better way than to go on fun trips. Thanks for sharing those pictures. I'd really like to visit some of those places.

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Beautifully done and written lens on your hiking adventures. Enjoyed browsing through it and the beautiful pictures. **Blessed by a Squid-Angel**

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the information and the lens. I road on the Silverton train in 1978. Glad to hear it is still in service. What a great adventure.

    • GonnaFly profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Wonderful! We really enjoy camping and hiking (which we call bushwalking here in Australia). And such stunning scenery!

    • safereview profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Kansas City

      Thanks Squids, I appreciate you visiting my lens and that you took time to leave your feedback. It looks like a lot of us share some things in common.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens - I enjoyed reading it! We (my husband and I) hiked through Sequoia National Park a few months ago. It was wonderful and I'm still smiling about it :-)

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      It's the simple pleasures in life that matter most. There is something about being immersed in nature that can be very bonding. I appreciated your focus on quality family time. What could be more important? I would like to hike in these areas that you have reviewed.

    • TheLastResort LM profile image

      TheLastResort LM 

      7 years ago

      A great reminder to keep things in perspective - let's stop worrying about every insignificant detail of our careers, and material possessions, and start investing in families and friendships.

    • timo5150 lm profile image

      timo5150 lm 

      7 years ago

      Could not agree more its a great way to spend time with your family. This has been my families favorite pass time since we moved back to Colorado and its what started us in our new survival kit business. Can't beat hiking and camping in the back country.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very nice! I'm looking at my hiking boots right now. Thanks for a great lens.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens! I haven't done a family hike but yours sounds great. Having a first aid kit and bottled water or filtration system is important because you never know what can happen. I'll keep in mind to look for pools because I really wouldn't want to have to pay to shower.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Your lense have touch my heart, thankyou for heartwarming lense. When it's all said and done its family that will be there for us if we are bless to be from a loving family.

      Happy holidays

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      great lens indeed...

    • Adventuretravels profile image


      7 years ago from UK

      You are so right - my view is as yours. I am at my happiest when I am travelling with my wife and our son - those are the best times - ever. Thanks for this. You are so right!


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