Backpacking Ideas for an 8 year old

donkiluminate

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Nov 28, 2018
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45
Hi Everyone,

Hi my name is Sam and I'm a longtime lurker. ***Hi Sam!*** I set up an account here a couple years ago with the intent of being an active member and well...I'm not.

Ok, now that the confessional is out of the way I was hoping to get some ideas for 2021. My 8 year old has decided he wants to start backpacking with me. HOT DANG!!! So now I'm trying to come up with some ideas. I'm hoping I can some ideas for you all. Does anyone have any ideas of where to take an 8 year old? I want to try and make it a good experience. One can never have enough backpacking buddies, and the only thing better than this guy would be to get his brothers to come too.

I'm thinking of taking him to southern Utah, just so we can get out sooner rather than later. Maybe 1 or 2 nights, 6-7 miles a day and hopefully with decent water sources. I've thought about Coyote Gulch and the Escalante River trail to the confluence with Death Hollow, or maybe even the Joint Trail to Chesler Park, but that means carrying water. But I wouldn't mind exploring Capitol Reef or Bryce Canyon. So with these open ended parameters I throe it out to your collective experience for any ideas.

Thanks;

Me
 

gnwatts

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Welcome.
When my son was that age there was another family we would backpack with that had a kid the same age. Having someone his age was critical, at least for us. Then I started backpacking with him without a friend and it was a great experience. But he seemed to enjoy it more with a friend. 6-7 miles a day with a pack seems like a lot, but you know your son best. We started out slow, 3 mile 1 way trips, and then went from there.
 

Ugly

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Apr 20, 2013
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I agree with @gnwatts .
Friends help, and it all depends on the child. My daughter still likes the challenge of long days. When she was around 7 or 8 I felt she was motivated by people surprised by how many miles she had done, or saying they were tired and she would reply, "I feel fine."
My others though, it's always been a few key things that helped. A real destination so they would know they were THERE... a lake, an arch, etc. My younger kids also did not do as good on loops. When we were doing an out and back they could recognize where we were and what was left.
Lower mileage and flexible expectations help too.


As for the first question on ideas/locations.
The desert is full of infinite possibilities.
The considerations are always the long cold nights this time of year and carrying water when you probably are going to be carrying a bit more of your kids' stuff as well. However, my kids have always loved any places with slickrock and things to explore. This means at least spending your nights in areas above the canyons in the winter, as opposed to down in the cold, moist shadows. Once you hit March-ish, then canyons become perfect.
Chesler Park is fine in winter if you carry water and wear microspikes if there is any snow or ice. The same goes for Devil's Kitchen when the road is closed and you hike in. Bryce's altitude means May and June usually are good to hike down below the rim, but I have not backpacked there yet since it was closed to backpacking when I had permits for this spring.
There are a lot of places above and along the Escalante that during winter or shoulder seasons are nice when it is not blowing hard and when the sun is your friend.
 

balzaccom

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Sep 30, 2014
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505
I would make these suggestions:

1. Long car trips are a drag for kids. Take him somewhere close to where you live. The adventure of sleeping outdoors, cooking outdoors, and pooping outdoors is enough. Kids don't need 5,6,9, or 12 hours in a car to get there.

2. Water. It is not only critical to keep your kid hydrated, but nothing entertains kids like water. And it doesn't have to be a lot. Even a small stream with a slow current will keep a kid amused for hours and hours.

3. Short on hiking, long on fun. A base camp trip is a lot more fun than 8-10 miles a day to complete some trek. Hike at his pace, both in terms of speed and total miles.

4. You have only one goal---for him to want to do this again. Ask yourself that question about every hour on the trip--is this something he is going to want to do again? If it is, keep going. If it isn't, stop.
 

regehr

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Mar 28, 2012
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not really relevant until summer but the West Fork of the Blacks Fork River (the one containing Deadhorse Lake) in the Uintas has nice campsites starting not too far from the trailhead. could easily walk 2-3 miles and find somewhere nice to stay, or if kids are energetic, push on farther. I wish I'd done this with my kids when they were smaller, but didn't get around to it. I did only a bit of backpacking when my kids were little, but a lot of hiking, and my general attitude was to make sure there were lots of rewarding things: fun dinner stuff, campfire with marshmallows and hot chocolate, places to look for arrowheads, a swimming hole, fossils, dinosaur footprints, etc. -- doesn't really matter what it is, you just have some stuff to sort of build up in their minds to get them focused and motivated. they love that! it's also fun to have things like this along the way, like my kids are teenagers now but I can still motivate them if I say there's a 5 Guys along the drive. of course other stuff people are saying in this thread is important too. be safe and maximize the fun/pain ratio.
 

wsp_scott

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I'll go ahead and agree with a lot of the advice above.

I took my oldest on her first backpacking trip when she was 4.5, we hiked about a mile from the trailhead and set up near a creek. She played with the water/mud and I gathered wood for a small fire. She is now almost 12 and her two younger siblings also go backpacking with me.

"rules for backpacking with kids"
1) you will never hike as far as you think you will => aim short - 3 or 4 miles max
2) a "destination" is key => aim for a waterfall or a pool or a gentle creek, my kids don't care about arches but a pile of rocks would probably be good
3) a base camp is always a good idea, easier on you and the kids => go somewhere that lends itself to short dayhikes from your basecamp
4) don't drive too far to get somewhere awesome (like quality = 9 or 10), your kid would rather have a shorter drive to a quality = 5 or 6
5) if it is you and one kid, plan on a lot of entertainment, bring a small book for bedtime, plan on smores at night and hot chocolate in the morning
6) only bring food that you know he will eat (gorp, candy bars, fritos,...) , don't worry about healthy or weight, you aren't hiking far and it is only a couple of days.

This is supposed to be fun, don't make the first trip an expedition, make it fun :)

1607009965689.png
 

scatman

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All the above advice is excellent. When I took my kids (started them at 4 years of age), I gave them a disposable camera to take pictures with along the way. I guess you can't do that anymore. :)I suppose they just use their phones now. And when they were really young, I had them take a small daypack with snacks and some water, to make them feel like they were carrying their fair share. :) Anyway, here are some shots from my little ones in Yellowstone (surprise surprise). My apologize if I have posted these before, Alzheimer's you know. :eek:

08.jpg

A 3 mile trip to Campsite 1C2, with a day hike to Grizzly Lake the next day.
Kids ages - 5 and 7
05b.jpg
06.jpg

At Grizzly Lake - On the way out
07.jpg

Butt scooting across Winter Creek - the only way my daughter
would cross

13.jpg

A four day trip into Ribbon Lake, with day hikes to Silver Cord Cascade on one day, and a second one to the Wapiti Lake Trail
Kids ages - 6 and 8
09.jpg
10.jpg

Trailhead shot - Clear Lake with Bison
11.jpg
12.jpg

Throwing rocks into Lily Pad Lake - Accident at the bear pole

05.jpg

Rescue Creek Trip - The distance into campsite 1A2 was approximately 2.7 miles. We did an off-trail day hike to the ponds up
above our campsite.
Kids ages - 7 and 9
02.jpg
03.jpg

Elk antlers at camp - Smile!
01.jpg
04.jpg

Happy times in the tent - Black Bear on our way out
 

WasatchWill

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Jul 23, 2013
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If they're anything like my kids at that age, you're likely to get less than a mile down the trail before they're complaining about their 8-10 lb pack already and wanting to take lots of breaks, like every quarter mile. I've often had take their pack and wear it on my front side to keep them moving along the trail to our destination. If you're aiming for southern Utah, Escalante area....I would definitely suggest the Escalante River to somewhere near the confluence of DH of even just Sand Creek depending on which trailhead you use and set up a base camp there if you're looking to do a couple of nights. Then you can day hike and explore the different drainages from there. Another good one might be Willow Gulch down to the area of Broken Bow arch. With that one though, it might only be worth it for one night, then spend a second night out of your car somewhere along the HIR road and take some time to check out the dino tracks down there, Devils Garden, etc...If you consider Willow Gulch, you'll likely be carrying your kid's pack out for them up the hill that must be regained to arrive back at the trailhead. Capitol Reef is much more limited in providing good kid-friendly short distance backpacking destinations with good reliable water sources. Of the few options that might be worthy of your efforts there, Pleasant Creek might be a good fit. Lots of other worthy options elsewhere out there too, just gotta skim over the maps.
 

balzaccom

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Joined
Sep 30, 2014
Messages
505
Given that we generally try to stick to about 15-20% of body weight as a maximum for our packs, I think asking a kid to carry 8-10 pounds is a lot. They have less muscle and (as you learned) tire more quickly. 10% might be a better rule for them,

Of course, once they get into their teens, all bets are off. They could carry a massive amount and brag about it--or refuse to get out of the car.
 

wsp_scott

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May 16, 2016
Messages
872
If they're anything like my kids at that age, you're likely to get less than a mile down the trail before they're complaining about their 8-10 lb pack already and wanting to take lots of breaks, like every quarter mile. I've often had take their pack and wear it on my front side to keep them moving along the trail to our destination. If you're aiming for southern Utah, Escalante area....I would definitely suggest the Escalante River to somewhere near the confluence of DH of even just Sand Creek depending on which trailhead you use and set up a base camp there if you're looking to do a couple of nights. Then you can day hike and explore the different drainages from there. Another good one might be Willow Gulch down to the area of Broken Bow arch. With that one though, it might only be worth it for one night, then spend a second night out of your car somewhere along the HIR road and take some time to check out the dino tracks down there, Devils Garden, etc...If you consider Willow Gulch, you'll likely be carrying your kid's pack out for them up the hill that must be regained to arrive back at the trailhead. Capitol Reef is much more limited in providing good kid-friendly short distance backpacking destinations with good reliable water sources. Of the few options that might be worthy of your efforts there, Pleasant Creek might be a good fit. Lots of other worthy options elsewhere out there too, just gotta skim over the maps.

My kids start slowing down even without a pack or they fight about who's turn it is to carry the kid's pack :)
 

donkiluminate

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Joined
Nov 28, 2018
Messages
45
Welcome.
When my son was that age there was another family we would backpack with that had a kid the same age. Having someone his age was critical, at least for us. Then I started backpacking with him without a friend and it was a great experience. But he seemed to enjoy it more with a friend. 6-7 miles a day with a pack seems like a lot, but you know your son best. We started out slow, 3 mile 1 way trips, and then went from there.
Thanks for the sanity check on the miles. We regularly hike 6 miles but a backpack changes everything.
 

donkiluminate

Member
Joined
Nov 28, 2018
Messages
45
I would make these suggestions:

1. Long car trips are a drag for kids. Take him somewhere close to where you live. The adventure of sleeping outdoors, cooking outdoors, and pooping outdoors is enough. Kids don't need 5,6,9, or 12 hours in a car to get there.

2. Water. It is not only critical to keep your kid hydrated, but nothing entertains kids like water. And it doesn't have to be a lot. Even a small stream with a slow current will keep a kid amused for hours and hours.

3. Short on hiking, long on fun. A base camp trip is a lot more fun than 8-10 miles a day to complete some trek. Hike at his pace, both in terms of speed and total miles.

4. You have only one goal---for him to want to do this again. Ask yourself that question about every hour on the trip--is this something he is going to want to do again? If it is, keep going. If it isn't, stop.


Awesome tips. Thank you! Fun is my main priority. If h doesn't have fun he might not go again for a long time.
 

donkiluminate

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Joined
Nov 28, 2018
Messages
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Wow everyone. Thank you for the outpouring of advice. I really appreciate it. Just as an update since I posted. I had also texted a friend for some ideas and he mentioned he got a permit for White Rim so...I'm going to take him to go hit the White Rim. Maybe I'll take him to the Escalante River Trail in May, That's about the max driving he's good for.

My other kiddos, 4 and 6 love camping but have no desire to backpack so I'm not going to push that. Just camping and hikes for them.
 

wsp_scott

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Messages
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Wow everyone. Thank you for the outpouring of advice. I really appreciate it. Just as an update since I posted. I had also texted a friend for some ideas and he mentioned he got a permit for White Rim so...I'm going to take him to go hit the White Rim. Maybe I'll take him to the Escalante River Trail in May, That's about the max driving he's good for.

My other kiddos, 4 and 6 love camping but have no desire to backpack so I'm not going to push that. Just camping and hikes for them.

FWIW, a 4 and 6 year old are too young to know what they want :) If they already like car camping, then a gentle intro to backpacking would be a good idea for this age. My kids don't remember their first time camping or backpacking because they were so young which means there has never been an issue with fear or anything else related to the outdoors. I don't know Utah, but I'll bet you can find a destination that is a mile or two from the trailhead and get all three into backpacking next summer.

That's not to say that the oldest shouldn't have a special/bigger trip, but no time like the present for the other two :)

good luck and post a report when you are done
 
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