Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hiking Close to Home

I love hiking with my kids. There have been days when they've broken down in tears or thrown temper tantrums about something as little as a rock, but all in all, hiking has been a big part of our lives. I hiked while pregnant with all three (up to within 48 hours of giving birth) and was out again with them in carriers six weeks later. So I thought I'd share three great places near Oak Ridge if you'd like to start your own hiking adventures.

It's good to start small. If hiking isn't your forte, you should start with a nice walking trail along Melton Lake Drive. Coming from Pellissippi Parkway, exit at Edgemoor. Just before the big bridge and Bull Run Steam Plant, turn left onto Melton Lake Drive. You can park anywhere along here and walk the trail that extends the length of the road (several miles). This is ideal for stroller pushing mommas, those who prefer a lot of company on the trails, and for those who must have access to a bathroom. The downside is that you will have a constant flow of traffic not far away; at least you have the lake on the other side to balance it out.

If you're ready for a little more nature, head to the UT Arboretum on Pellissippi Parkway. It's just past Commerce Park Drive on the right--before you get to Oak Ridge. They recently upgraded the parking lot, and there's a small nature center for bathrooms. You can see a map of trails on the common board, but you might want to print a map to take with you. For your first adventure, take the White Pine Trail one way and the trail along the creek back (half a mile total). Once you're ready for more, I suggest the Oak Hickory Trail or Lost Chestnut Trail. Some of the trails are stroller accessible, but they might be a hassle. The Arboretum is one of my favorite places year-round.

However, I do like to branch out to other venues. So today I took my youngest two children to Haw Ridge Park (see pictures above). From Pellissippi Parkway, exit at Edgemoor. Just after the boat launch, you'll see a small parking lot on your right with a kiosk that says Haw Ridge Park. There's a map on the board, but you might want to print a map to take with you. This park is mainly frequented by mountain bikers, but I've found one trail to be ideal for kids: West Shore (about a mile round-trip). Even Brooke (age 18 months) hiked the majority of it by herself. (I brought the Ergo just in case.)

The trail begins just to the left of the parking lot. As trails split, always veer to the right to stay along the water and to stay on the easier trails. There are no signs to guide you; so a map is handy. You'll have to leave your stroller at home, but it's not that hard for ages 3 and up. The trail is almost completely shaded and offers refreshing views of the lake at all times. You can either walk until the path turns away from the lake and then turn around or take one trail that goes up and then down pretty sharply.

We spent 1:15 hiking there today when it was cool and refreshing (before 10am). Until fall arrives, I'd suggest getting out as soon as possible. The fresh air did them good because both are still napping. Tip: There are no "official" bathrooms. ;-)

A few general tips for hiking with your kids:
  • Hike with a buddy if you can. It's always safer to hike with two adults, but I often decide on spontaneous trips and do it alone.
  • Always carry a cellphone. I did have full service at Haw Ridge.
  • Always carry water. To cut down on what I carry, I only bring one water bottle that all of us drink from. I can't carry a backpack because Brooke is often on my back. On longer hikes (like to Laurel Falls in the Smokies), I did carry a cooler bag with bottles for each of them. Offer water often; hydrated kids are happy hikers.
  • Make sure they're wearing comfortable clothes and shoes. Pick a pair of tennis shoes that fit but that you don't mind getting muddy.
  • Change diapers right before you start to minimize the need to change them on the trail. I do bring one extra and a travel pack of wipes in the Ergo.
  • Bring a very basic first aid kit: travel Neosporin and a couple band-aids. I haven't done this in the past but will begin this routine. Today Devin got a cut from a blade of grass, stick or thorn--enough to draw blood. He was very distressed and would have benefitted from a quick band-aid.
  • Bring easily portable snacks if you're out for more than an hour. If it's a quick hike, I bring as little as possible, but sometimes food is just what you need to energize them for the return trip.
  • Teach them to listen to their bodies and never hike further up than they can hike back themselves. We often hike a trail near our neighborhood and sometimes we don't get very far. I don't mind because they're learning to do what they can at the time.
  • Wear shorts with deep pockets. I usually wear an old pair from REI (very durable and hide dirt well). They're great because they have deep pockets for carrying those essential treasures like acorns, leaves, or rocks. Tip: The Arboretum has a policy of "no collecting." Just don't take it home with you.
  • Take time to stop and marvel at nature's wonder. We often count centipedes or examine mushrooms (they know not to touch or eat wild mushrooms). The other day we watched a spider pull a mosquito into her web and eat it within seconds. Cool.
  • Use your hikes as an opportunity to share your knowledge about flowers or bugs you encounter. If you don't know something, look it up together on the computer when you get home.
Of all the reasons I could give you to hike with children, my best is that it makes me a better mom. Nature recharges my batteries. At the end of today's hike, my mind was relaxed, my body was refreshed, and my spirit was restored. What more could I ask for?


  1. We miss you guys and our hikes together. Maybe we can get together and do one this fall.

  2. Most definitely! Hiking in the Arboretum in fall will always remind me of Owen! Just email me. ;-)