Canaan Valley Hiking Trips for Kids
OK, this board has been dormant for way too long (almost a year). I'll continue my support for the less trafficked discussion boards by starting this thread on hiking with children.
My daughter is now 4 1/2 and well along in her parents' program to brainwash her into becoming an outdoor sports lover. Up until early last year, I was still able to carry her in a backpack on our hiking trips. We hiked all over with our Kelty Kids pack - Shenandoah, New Hampshire (I carried her to the top of Mt Eisenhower - bagging her first 4000' peak), and of course Canaan Valley. When she finally grew too large for the pack we stopped our hiking trips. This summer, we decided she was ready to discover the joys of hiking on her own two feet. The problem was finding the right hikes. The following are hikes we have done with our 4 year old in Canaan Valley. She completed these hikes under her own power and with a smile on her face. There were moments during each hike of doubt, weakness, and some preschooler whining, but in the end she enjoyed these trips and was very proud of herself for the accomplshment of completing them.
1) Blackwater River Trail - Canaan Valley State Park (1+ mile loop). This is a short relatively level hike that begins near the Golf Course parking lot. This gentle trail winds through open woods down to the Blackwater River and back out. The main attraction (besides bird and wildlife watching on the river) is a set of badly eroded stones on the shoreline that appear in neat rows like gravestones. A very easy introductory hike.
2) Blackwater Falls - Blackwater Falls State Park (<.5 mile out and back). This trail leads down a boardwalk and 214 steps to an observation platform very near the falls. The main attraction is of course the falls; however, my daughter got a big kick out of traversing all those steps. The energy of youth - go figure!
3) Lindy Run Overlook Trail - Blackwater Falls State Park (<1 mile out and back) - This gentle trail leads to a spectacular view overlooking Blackwater Canyon. A large wooden platform with rails protects your kids from venturing out onto the rock cliffs. Our highlight on this trail (besides the view) was seeing a snake stretched out across the trail in the sun (the snake scared my wife more than my daughter).
4) Balanced Rock Trail - Blackwater Falls State Park (2 miles out and back). This is a wonderful walk through the woods that actually feels like a real hiking trip. The main attraction is the namesake Balanced Rock - an interesting geological formation with one huge rock balanced on top of another (duh...) that appears pretty much out of nowhere. My daughter really got into the idea of hiking to a hidden destination. We gave her a map and a backpack to lead the way. For her this trip was something out of Dora the Explorer. This is a longish hike, make sure your kids are in the right mood before undertaking. Overall, the footing was pretty easy.
5) Bald Knob - Canaan Valley State Park (2.5 mile loop): This is a fun but long hike that begins with a chair lift ride to the top of the ski mountain. My daughter really loves ski lifts, so she found it especially fun to ride one when there is no snow. From the top we followed the Bald Knob trail behind the lift through the woods then up to Bald Knob following a pipeline cut. The first part of the trail is pretty rooty and generally downhill, while the second part is mostly uphill to Bald Knob. Bald Knob offers a beautiful nearly 360 degree view of the entire Valley and the Sods. Head down from the Knob bordering White Grass ski trails until you break out into an open butterfly meadow that descends to a parking area and the access road back to the resort. We brought our digital camera and butterfly nets for this hike. The adventure of catching and photographing the different varieties of butterflies is the savior on what is otherwise a pretty long hike for little legs.
What have I learned about hiking with my daughter?
1) Take your time - my daughter can find more interesting things to stop and look at in 100 yards than I have seen on any 10 mile hike. Her energy also comes and goes in spurts. So she will appear tired and discouraged then suddenly sprint out ahead of us. The opposite is also true. On longer hikes (over 1 mile) we need to take several rest stops and snack breaks.
2) Pick hikes with an end destination or other intrinsic adventure. My daughter enjoyed hiking most when we were headed for a goal - like Balanced Rock. She fed off the adventure. Also, mixing in buttefly hunting, rock skipping, chair lift riding adds variety that keeps her interest in continuing on the hike.
3) Get her equipped. We outfitted our daughter with hiking boots (pink), convertible pants (legs zip-off to make shorts), a small kid sized backpack and assorted kids outdoor gear - butterfly net, water bottle, binoculars, bug jar), hiking stick, and always a map. All of these things help her get excited about going hiking. We have found this is important to our daughter - she has her own gear just like mom and dad.
4) Keep her fed - We always bring lunch, but also lots of comfort food - juice, gummy bears, and snacks. The mood altering qualities of gummy bears are truly amazing.
5) Have a plan for the post-hike - We always announce the post-hike plan before we leave so everyone has a treat to look forward to. Our hikes usually end at the Purple Fiddle or Big Johns for ice cream. My daughter also likes a soak in the hot tub after a day of hiking.
6) Be patient - much like skiing with youngsters, hiking with my daughter requires me to put my own hiking ambitions on a shelf for a while. Before my daughter was born, my wife an I were big into hiking. We hiked just about every trail in the Shenandoah National Park. We took annual hiking vacations in the White Mountains of NH, climbing 4000'-5000' peaks and hiking 10-14 miles in the wilderness each day. After our daughter was born, but still small enough for the backpack, we found we could still do some challenging hikes - we just had to cut down the mileage somewhat. Now that she hikes on her own, a 2 mile hike is right on the limit. I am OK with that - this is an investment in what I hope will be a lifelong passion for my daughter - just as it is for her mom and I.
I am looking for some other suitable hikes to take my daughter on in the Valley now that the Fall hiking season is upon us. Please post up if you have some suggestions.
Thanks for reading.
I'd add the following:
--Loops using Back Hollow Trail, Canaan Valley State Park. Very little elevation change and some nice, diverse topography--good for birdwatching.
--Trails at Beall Tract, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Because no mountainbikes are allowed on these trails, they are in excellent condition and well-maintained by the NWS. I often hike them in just sneakers. Beall offers some of the best birding in the CV and is usually a key part of the bird walks led by notable local birder, Casey Rucker.
--Pointy Knob Trail off the Canaan Loop Road. This one is a little more ambitious but still not too bad from an elevation change perspective.
--Allegheny Trail from Canaan Loop to Canaan Valley State Park. One 3/4 mile climb but the trail is not as long as it looks on the maps. If you start at the Canaan Loop road and have someone pick you up at the Canaan Valley State Park lodge, it will be an easy downhill descent. No problems. If you RT it (as I do), it's more challenging.
--Chairlift to the top of Timberline, Salamander to FS-80, FS-80 to Blackbird Knob Trail, Black Bird Knob trail to Left Fork and Back.
--Loops using Planation Trail, Canaan Loop Road. A little muddy but the Plantation Trail has many connections to the Canaan Loop Rd, so it is easy to plan a simle loop with very little elevation gain.
--SUPER AMBITIOUS. Chairlift to the top of Timberline, Salamander to FS-80, Breathed Mountain to Red Creek Trail, Red Creek Trail to Blackbird Knob Trail and back. This is more for people without kids but an excellent day hike through the Dolly Sods.
Also a great one at Blackwater Falls is the Elilah Falls trail. As you face the Blackwater loidge at the far left hand side of the parking lot is the trail head. It's less than a mile but takes you across a beautiful little foot bridge with a great view of the falls. Also some increadible rock formations to be seen here. Very mild trek...less than a mile. Well worth the price of admission. Happy hiking!!!
Work those kids... if you don't start preparing them for Philmont... who will?
I used to think 7.5 miles was long.