Raising Outdoor Offspring

“Do you think we do too much on the weekends?” I asked my 12-year-old son as we sat around the campfire during a late-summer backpacking trip to Deer Lake.

“Yeah, I really haven’t hung out with my friends much this summer.”

“So, do you still want to float with Grandma and Grandpa next weekend?”

“Yeah, I want to—that’s tradition.”

If there had been other people around, they would have seen the pride on my face. Not only were we up at this pristine alpine lake, next week we would be rafting the Missouri River—the fifth river of the summer.

The time and energy that goes into planning and executing outdoor trips is intimidating enough, and adding offspring into the equation makes it even tougher to get into the great outdoors. Forcing the kids to go will get them out there, but it doesn’t make for an enjoyable weekend. Here’s what’s helped me raise two burgeoning outdoor enthusiasts who want to get out there on their own accord.

1. Start ‘em young. The summer my daughter Kaitlyn was born, we went camping four times. Two of those trips ended with breaking camp in torrential downpours, but it’s the thought that counts. We purchased our first raft three years later when Brandon was born. The maiden voyage was a comical sight—Brandon like a bug on his back, in a bright orange life jacket with just his tiny head sticking out and Kaitlyn bobbing around on the benches. Getting them into the woods and on the water before they can walk makes backcountry adventuring an integrated part of the family lifestyle

2. Create annual traditions. Nearly every summer for the last 14 years, our family and friends make time for a four-day camping and floating trip on the Blackfoot River. The annual get-together is something to look forward to every summer and to talk about throughout the year. A big annual event becomes something to look forward to, and not an obligation. 

3. Make it kid-friendly. Kids want to catch fish when they’re fishing, so look for places where they’ll have success and feel the thrill of a catch. Along the same lines, don’t drag the offspring up a mountain beyond their capabilities, or shove them down a terrifying ski run. Make it fun and grow together

4. Keep your expectations reasonable. When we wanted to get our kids on skis, I figured I could teach them myself, saving the cost of instruction. Fast-forward to a fresh powder day and a frustrated father stuck on the bunny hill trying to teach two kids how to snowplow. A little research prior to our next attempt turned up a program available at most ski hills called “Ski in Three.” Three ski rentals, three lift tickets, and three lessons from an actual instructor, for a great price. Drop the kids off for their lesson, hit the big runs, and rejoin in the afternoon to hit the slopes together.

Even with all that, sometimes you have to inform the kids that family trips aren't optional. That's part of being a parent. Let them bring a friend if possible, but 9 times out of 10 they’ll have fun once they peel their faces away from the screen and take in all that Mother Nature has to offer.