July 8, 2016

By Shelli Johnson/YourEpicLife.com

After I wrote the headline for this article, How To Get Your Kids to Hike in Wind River Country, I wondered if “Get” was the appropriate word. I wondered if How to Encourage Your Kids to Hike in Wind River Country would be better. But then I decided to go with the honest headline.

I was raised in Lander, Wyoming, right in the heart of Wind River Country. I grew up exploring the region’s great outdoors. One of the reasons I wanted to move back here in 1995 was due to the fact that there are so many outdoor opportunities. In fact, as locals, we have an opportunity to have a vacation of a lifetime on a weekly basis. I am not exaggerating. We also chose to live in Wind River Country because it’s a great place to raise a family, and when we moved here, we hoped we would get to do that.

My husband, Jerry, and I have been married for almost 24 years. We waited seven years before starting our family, which now includes our three sons, Wolf, Hayden and Finis, and our dog, Buddy.

Hiking the Popo Falls Trail. Photo: Kyle Duba
The Johnson Family hiking the Popo Falls Trail. Photo: Kyle Duba

When we started our family in 2000, we had the same fear that many new parents have – that we would no longer be able to do the things we enjoyed. That the price of having children would be giving up our interests.

So, in advance of our first son’s arrival, we made a pact to continue hiking (and to enjoy the outdoors) despite the challenges of child-rearing. That pact was critical, because getting a child, or children, out the door to go hiking is an adventure in itself, and not a fun one. Remaining an active, outdoorsy family requires intention and commitment. And fortunately, when you live in Wind River Country, a place blessed with hiking opportunities that start within a short drive from your home, “There’s nowhere to hike with kids” is not a valid excuse.

Johnson Boys- 5 years ago Photo: Shelli Johnson
Johnson Boys- 5 years ago Photo: Shelli Johnson

But when leaving the house with children in tow, everything is harder. Getting out the door with a sometimes unwilling child, and all of the necessary gear required in caring for and keeping a child alive can be a daunting task. In fact, I would say that getting out the door is the crux; the hiking is the easy part. But the challenge and work of getting out the door discourages many from carrying through with their intention to go hiking.

Our sons are now ages 16, 14 and 9, and they love hiking and doing anything outdoors. Some of my most meaningful conversations I’ve had with each of my sons have occurred as they were walking down a trail in Wind River Country. At least in my own experience, children more freely share their thoughts when walking down the trail, and not prompted. When hiking, the words just flow from them, and we’re able to catch glimpses of their personalities and their passions by what they share, and how they act in the wilderness. I also like to see how they are with each other. They are more playful with one another, and the interactions between them are more numerous and interesting.

I believe our children’s passion for exploring Wind River Country’s trails is very much due to our working hard to “get” them out the door when they were very young. We developed some tips and tricks along the way that made that possible, and I’d love to share them with you here.

Tips & tricks for getting your children out the door and on the trail:

  1. If you want to go hiking as a family, don’t ask your child or children, “Do you want to go hiking?” Rather, say, “We’re going hiking.” Trust me on this. You’re in charge, and if you’re serious about wanting a family that hikes and spends a lot of time outdoors, be the captain.
  2. Bring yummy snacks for them,
    Solo Hiker Photo: Shelli Johnson
    Solo Hiker Photo: Shelli Johnson

    even if they’re not healthy. We’re a super healthy family. We eat healthy most of the time. When your kids are young, and you’re trying to foster a love of hiking, break the rules every now and then. We would buy each of the boys their favorite snack while heading to the trailhead. Call it bribing. Whatever. For us it was an inexpensive yet brilliant tool for helping to enthuse our boys during a hike they didn’t think they wanted to go on.

  3. Take many rest stops. Don’t hike your kids into the ground or you can be assured they’ll be even more reluctant to hike in the future. Our most frequented trails, including the Popo Agie Falls, Blue Ridge Lookout, Stough Creek Lakes, etc., are dotted with landmarks that have names assigned by our boys, such as Butterfinger Boulder, Kit Kat Flat, Root Beer Rock, Starburst Tree, and so on.
  4. Once on the trail, let the kids have some autonomy. If your child wants to explore a flower or climb a small rock, or collect cool-shaped sticks, let them. Get low on the ground with them to experience what is stirring wonder in them. Children will start to fall in love with nature and the outdoor experience if only we let them.
  5. When each son was really young, barely able to walk down the trail on his own, we invented a system called “Trail Fairy.” I’d be in in the front, and Jerry would be in back, and we’d signal to the other if one of the boys was complaining or falling back. During these low points, one of us would fling a baggy into the air that would magically fall from the sky and land alongside the trail in front of said sulking son. Inside the baggy would be a small treat with a note from the Trail Fairy that complimented him on his amazing hiking abilities. This trick worked every single time for all of our sons, especially when they were very little. You could see the improved confidence and energy in their pace after receiving the message and treat from Wyoming’s Trail Fairy.
  6. As the kids get older they don’t need as much attention on the trail. They’re better at keeping themselves safe. They will be in awe at every little thing – at the things that most of us adults miss because we’re not paying attention. Again, it’s just getting them out the door that is hard; most kids will love the experience of nature once on the trail.
  7. Finally, when you have young children, and you want to do things outdoors with them, choose your mindset. Know and accept that it’s going to be difficult to get out the door – that to hike with a small child or children is work. Accept that the drudgery of getting out the door is just a necessary price for something that will be fantastic. In my experience, just having this mindset makes a huge difference in whether you’ll get out the door and onto the trail or not, not to mention it will keep you from turning into a monster as you head out to hike.

Our favorite Wind River Country hikes for young families:

  1. Popo Agie Falls (3 miles round trip. Highlights: Beautiful trail that is close to town. Views of rivers, mountains and wildflowers included, and cascading waterfalls are await. An extra bonus for those who are a little daring is an opportunity to slide down a waterfall.)
  2. Blue Ridge Fire Lookout (1.6 miles
    The Family in 2011 Photo: Shelli Johnson
    The Family in 2011 Photo: Shelli Johnson

    round trip. Highlights: Short and easy hike, with the prize being a climb to the top of a historic fire lookout that affords panoramic views. Due to heights, keep the kids on a short leash!)

  3. Roaring Fork Lake (1.4 miles round trip; Highlights: Easy trail through the forest. Beautiful lake awaits. This is a great hike for hikers of 3 generations.)
  4. Roaring Fork Saddle/Pass (6 miles round trip. Highlights: The first three-quarters of a mile is easy, and takes you to beautiful Roaring Fork Lake. Then you cross an outlet and start through the forest, gradually climbing in elevation til you reach an opening, a large meadow that has a bridge over it. Once over the bridge, get your big lungs out and get ready for a grunt of a hike up several switchbacks for about a mile. Don’t worry, when you top out at the Roar Fork saddle you’ll be out of breath, but you’ll also get your breath taken away from the views. This saddle provides what I think is the best view of Wind River Peak, which stands 13,192’ tall, and is the tallest peak in the southern Wind River Range.
  5. Lower Silas Lake and Upper Silas Lake (Lower is 3.5 miles roundtrip, and Upper Silas Lake is 6 miles round trip. Highlights: Nice hiking through forest, two mountain lakes that offer good fishing.)
  6. Lake Louise (6 miles round trip. Highlights: Spectacular views as you gain elevation and distance. Lake Louise is stunning!)


Shelli Johnson, owner of Epic Life,  is an entrepreneur, life and leadership coach, leadership development facilitator, keynote presenter, writer, adventurer and guide. She is married to Jerry, and is the mother of three sons, Wolf, 16, Hayden, 14, and Fin, 9. They live in Lander, WY, where they frequently hike in the foothills and mountains of the Wind River Range. #WindRiverCountry


Posted in Notes From the Field