New guide to hiking with kids offers easy trips for all ages
Wendy Gorton remembers hiking with her dad and sister when they were younger, venturing to far-off canyons on roadtrips to explore.
Gorton has since devoted her life to helping spark the same sense of outdoor adventure in kids — as a babysitter, camp counselor, fourth-grade teacher and now a coach for teachers worldwide, helping them to lead classes in a hands-on, project-based, technology-infused way.
Since settling in Portland four years ago, Gorton has continued to travel but is thrilled to make this her home base, as she releases her new field guide for kids, "50 Hikes with Kids: Oregon and Washington" ($19.95, Timber Press).
Just as the wildflowers start to bloom and the spring weather turns, the book is a perfect companion for Portland-area weekend warriors.
Here's some inspiration, and a secret hike tip from Gorton to consider:
Tribune: Not every parent is comfortable hiking, much less taking their kids hiking — how can newbies best get their foot out the door if they're a bit hesitant or unprepared?
Gorton: As a weekend warrior fitting adventure in when I can and with who I can, I often find myself doubting myself — did I take the right turn? Am I lost? Is the sun going to set on me out here? It's a natural feeling to have, and it's amplified when two or three little faces are looking to you for guidance.
I find that nothing beats a little research, and using websites like Washington Trails Association or Alltrails helps me feel confident in the roads leading there and the up-to-minute trail conditions.
You also can join awesome free hiking groups like Hike it Baby or Friends of the Columbia Gorge or Hoyt Arboretum — I volunteer hike lead for several of these organizations and the leaders are kind, fun, and knowledgeable about the trails and won't make you feel bad for not knowing what you're doing.
I tried to capture hikes between one mile and four miles — just enough to be adventure and not just a short walk outside, but not long enough to where you can't get yourself out of something if anything happens and just before they get too tired.
You also can't go wrong with packing an adventure bag with the "10 Essentials" and having that with you as a common practice.
You also can never feel afraid to fail and scrap a trail or turn around if it's not working — the beauty of hiking with kids is that even 100 feet in they'll find something amazing to play with or wonder about sometimes.
Tribune: From your experience, what are some of your favorite things that come out of hiking (with kids)?
Gorton: Kids are naturally curious and playful and they inspire me when I'm on the trail.
Sometimes when I'm with adults, we'll walk for long stretches just breathing and being with ourselves — with kids, I love that nature is a big canvas before us, inviting interaction along the way.
I love using my imagination, making up stories about fairies in the logs or doodling a weird stump, and my nephews and students I've worked with inspire me so much when I'm outside.
Tribune: What's your personal favorite season to hike in Oregon, and one of your favorite secret hikes in the book?
Gorton: Man, there is something super magical about fall! Oregon's falls are so lovely and warm sometimes, and the colors just pop and make me feel like my eyes are cranked to 200 percent.
I love getting to understand the turn of the seasons and the special species that make their debut for each — helping kids move beyond "It's not a good day to hike out today!" if it's anything but a bluebird sky and 75 degrees — to appreciating the wonder of a chilly day and recognizing the mushrooms fruit after a rain or look for the electric yellow larch tree. Bagley Lakes (near Bellingham, Wash.) was one of these fall wonders — if you're in Portland, it's a five-hour drive but worth it in every way for a long weekend to pass through Mount Baker and see the field of blueberry leaves flush red before you. You cross a dam, rumble over boardwalk, and chill on a rock beach and fiddle around on rock scree ledges — pure joy.
Check it out: Wendy Gorton will talk about her book at 2 p.m. May 12 at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside St. A partnership with Oregon and Washington state parks will include a raffle of free day parks day passes for attendees.