By Megan Schrader
For IN Fort Wayne publications

It’s summer vacation, and many families are looking to spend some quality time outdoors. With 100 miles of trails in Allen County, families don’t have to go far to take a hike.

Before embarking on a hike, parents should consider the varying needs of different age groups. A few tips and tricks can ensure the whole family remains safe while enjoying hiking the trails.

Hiking tips for youngsters

According to Wilderness.org, part of preserving wilderness for future generations is teaching youth to appreciate and enjoy nature.

A trail with several features such as a lake, stream, waterfall or rock formation can help keep them interested by giving them a goal to reach.

Food can also be an effective motivator. Hiking burns energy quickly, so be sure to back food to refuel. Plan frequent breaks to snack and hydrate.

Salty snacks and water or sports drink should be consumed on any hike lasting longer than 30 minutes, according to the National Park Service’s website.

“You can use energy breaks as a way to keep your child moving by saying, ‘At that footbridge, we’ll take a break and have a snack,’” according to Wilderness.org. The website also suggests packing a medley of snacks in case your child becomes a picky eater on the trail.

For small children’s first few hikes, pick trails that aren’t too long or strenuous. A tired, fussy toddler is hard to deal with. A tired, fussy toddler in the middle of the woods with an hour hike back to civilization is harder.

Follow Little River Wetlands Project on Facebook to learn about children’s programming such as “Short Hikes for Short Legs,” a series of interactive and educational hikes appropriate for kids ages 3-5 years at Eagle Marsh.

Younger families might consider packing additional kid-friendly supplies such as wet wipes or tissues, lip balm, binoculars, a magnifying glass, field guides (to point things out to kids), a camera and safety whistles for each child (teach them what they are for and when to use them).

Hiking is all about experiencing and learning about nature, so let children get up close and personal.

“If you let little kids lead you on the trail, you will be amazed at the kind of teachers that they are,” ACRES Land Trust outreach manager Lettie Haver said.

Teenage trailblazers

Getting teenagers outside usually means dragging them away from some form of electronic device. Once they’re unplugged, however, it can often be smooth sailing.

“That would be my advice to parents, to just recognize that that verbal complaint doesn’t have to be legitimized,” Haver said with a laugh. “You can take your kiddo out there and discover that they can have fun and just in one look, their protestations melt.”

Parents should involve teens in the planning, like choosing a location. Letting them give input and incorporate their ideas and interests into the plan will make for a more successful outing.

A more challenging trail with hills and rougher terrain, or an endpoint with a big, exciting feature is often a good motivator, where as a stroll through the ordinary woods may not interest them as much. Additionally, having a shared goal or challenge between parent and child can also be a good motivator.

“Letting a teenage son or daughter invite a friend along has long been a staple parenting strategy,” according to TheBigOutside.com. So when planning a hiking trip, have them bring a friend along, but if the hiking is particularly strenuous, make sure the other child is up to the challenge.

“I would just ask kids to follow their own natural curiosity for the wonders of this world and to pay attention,” Haver said.

Tips for all ages

When hiking, remember to dress in layers. Mornings and evenings get cold, but midday when the sun is beating down will make you glad you wore a T-shirt under that jacket. Choose lighter, synthetic fabrics over dense, water-absorbent cotton and the right shoes depending on hiking location, length and anticipated weather.

“I would encourage all people to enjoy natural places,” Haver said. “There’s just so much fun to be had and so many adventures, quiet time, there are places of reflection, there are places where you can hang out with friends and family, and you can discover the richness and diversity of life on earth. It’s incredible and the more you see and experience that, the more you begin to recognize about yourself too as part of this living system.”

Take a hike

Fort Wayne Trails: Allen County is home to more than 100 miles of trails. Download a map at fwtrails.org/maps.

Lindenwood Nature Preserve: The 110-acre nature preserve offers four hiking trails of varying length (one is wheelchair and stroller accessible). No pets or bikes allowed. For more information, visit fortwayneparks.org.

Eagle Marsh: Located on the southwest border of town, the 756-acre wetland nature preserve offers more than 10 miles of trails. For more information, visit lrwp.org.

Metea Park: This 250-acre county park offers a nature center, five miles of trails, a 1.5-acre lake with swimming beach and picnic areas. Admission is $2 per person age 7 and older. Children younger than 7 are admitted for free. For more information, visit allencountyparks.org.

Fox Island: This 605-acre county park features a nature center, seven miles of trails, bird observation building, a swimming beach and a doggie beach. Admission is $2 per person age 7 and older. Children younger than 7 are admitted for free. For more information, visit allencountyparks.org.

ACRES Nature Preserves: There are 14 ACRES nature preserves to explore in Allen County. The trails are free for everyone and open from dawn to dusk. Visit acreslandtrust.org for more information and rules.