Crisp air. A palette of gorgeous colors surrounding you. And busy critters, giving us our last glimpses until spring. Fall is an ideal time to head outdoors with your kids. What better way to experience nature in this season than a hike in this season of stunning visual change.

The meaning of the word “Autumn” is "the passing of the year, so a fall hike is a wonderful way to send off 2020 and prepare for a new start in 2021. To make it your best day of the season, we’ve pulled together these tips for your best fall hike ever.

Before you head out, head online with your kids to do some pre-hike research on the timeline for peak fall colors in your area. Your kids will love this interactive map from SmokyMountains.com which allows you to check leaf colors by state, or by national forest.

 


Before you head out

Leave the dark and drab colors at home and wear bright colors on your fall hikes. Remember that the hunting season begins in the fall in many areas. Bright colors will make you and your child stand out more. Pack a blaze orange vest if you will be near an open hunting area—they’re cheap, widely available at sporting goods stores, and could save your life. If you hear gunshots, judge the distance, keep your eyes open, and remain visible. And to be on the safe side,  plan your hikes in national or state parks.

A comfortable kid is a happy kid so dress yourself and your kid in layers! In the fall, the mercury can drop faster than the leaves. Be prepared for the weather by checking ahead of time. What may start out as a brisk day can turn sunny and warm at midday and chilly at sundown. Bring extra layers for you and your kids so everyone is at “just right” temp all day. Also, pack rain gear because you just never know!  

No need to pack extra food or water but your child may forget to stay hydrated in the cool fall air. Even though you may not feel like you sweat as much, it’s still important to stay hydrated.

On the hike

Those brightly colored leaves are eventually going to fall from the trees and blanket the trail you’re hiking with a mosaic of multi-colored splendor. While it’s stunning to witness, it can create confusion if you can no longer follow the path easily.

If you got a late start to your hike, keep in mind that the sun sets sooner in the fall, and does so each day after the Autumn Equinox. Remember to check the timing of sunset before heading out and allow yourself enough time to be off the trail before it gets dark.

Trips and falls are the most dangerous thing that hikers experience. In fact, just about half of all nonfatal outdoor injuries are related to falling. A hike during the fall means a hike through fallen leaves, often slippery if wet, and sometimes obscuring rocks and roots to stumble over. Make sure your kids are aware of the additional hazards of hiking through a leaf-covered pathway. Help them understand the importance of going forth with less abandon and more caution. Teach them to keep on the lookout for round, slippery objects like acorns and other nuts. As a group, you should all be mindful of your surroundings and tread cautiously downhill where you’re more likely to take a spill. You might want to bring along trekking poles for your fall hikes as four legs are better than two. 

Leaves on the trail can also pose a challenge to navigation. Teach your child navigational skills by teaching them how to use a map and compass. Of course, your smartphone can easily be equipped with a trail map or other navigational app so you stay on course.

Animals are busy this time of year. They have to prepare for a long winter and are prepping food supplies or shelters and are more likely to be outside in the fall. If you’re hiking in an area with moose, bear, elk, or any other large mammal, make enough noise to alert them of your presence.  

Post-hike

A word on ticks. Just because the weather is cooler, doesn't mean that your hikes will be tick-free. These Lyme-disease carrying parasites are becoming prevalent all over the world and have been reported in all 50 states. Some species, like Blacklegged (deer) tick can remain active in their adult stage from fall to spring as long as the temperature is above freezing. Around 50% of adult deer ticks carry the Lyme bacteria. For this reason, it is crucial to do a thorough tick check on your kids when you finish your hike. 

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