by Amanda McGuire, Charlotte Staff

“As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was going to happen.”

Getting your kids into the Great Outdoors can lead to a lifetime love of nature and a variety of outdoor activities. Hiking is a great way to introduce even small children to the outdoors.

Plan Ahead: Do your research and choose a trail that will offer you and your kids plenty of chances to engage with nature. You might be able to tempt older kids with the promise of a great view or a waterfall at the end of the hike, but younger kids may need more “highlights” along the path, like a lake, stream or boulders at the midway point. Get out a map and making planning a family affair, so that kids can see where they’ll be going and what they’ll be seeing along the way.

Be Prepared: Be sure to bring plenty of snacks and water for everyone, as well as the proper clothes and shoes for conditions. Consider long sleeves and sunscreen for sunny days, bug sprays or permethrin-treated layers for woods and grasslands, and rain gear for way days. Kid-sized packs or Camelbaks will allow them to feel involved by carrying some of their own gear or lunch.

Keep it Fun: A hiking trip is the perfect time for games of all sorts. Trails offer unlimited opportunities for scavenger hunts or spirited rounds of I Spy. It’s also a great chance to indulge imagination by pretending to be explorers or adventurers. If you’ve got a GPS unit, try your hand at geocaching.

Slow Down: Children see and experience the world differently than adults do, so slow down and take it at their pace. Keep in mind that the goal is not to finish the mileage or bag the summit, but to experience nature along the way. Take time for long breaks to explore fallen logs, check out the bugs living in puddles, or have a long talk about what the birds might be saying to the squirrels.

Leave No Trace: Teach kids about the importance of protecting their natural heritage by introducing them to the Leave No Trace and PEAK (Promoting Environmental Awareness in Kids) principles.

Start your kids young, and you’ll be giving them the gift of a lifetime in the outdoors, but more importantly, you’ll be sharing a family experience that just can’t be replicated elsewhere. Remember that the journey is the destination, for both you and the kids.