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First Day Hike

This activity is part of our January Calendar full of ways to connect with nature each day this month, including how to kick off the new year with a super First Day Hike! First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors. On New Year’s Day, hundreds of free, guided hikes will be organized in all 50 states—and we encourage everyone to join one or just enjoy a family First Day Hike of your own. In 2021, nearly 55,000 kids and adults rang in the New Year, hiking more than 133,000 miles collectively! Whether you join one of the official First Day Hikes in a state park near you or enjoy a First Day hike with family or friends, enjoy these tips to make your First Day Hike work for you!

If you don't have one yet, visit tinkergarten.com/calendar to get your free copy!

The Guide

Step 1: Define "hike" for you and your crew. We used to push our team, or at least raise our own expectations on family hikes with our three kids. Then, we finally decided that, given how unpredictable kids and life can be, that we'd stay flexible and be happy if we just got everyone outside and walking. Some "hikes" turn out to be real, long walks with payoff views and a feel of harmony among our hikers. Others end early for one of many reasons that any parent can relate to—and that's okay, too. May your First Day Hike be exactly what it is—and hooray just for getting out there!

Step 2: Pick a trail. Pick a trail that has the level of difficulty and distance that works for your team. If you're not sure what your kids can handle, start small and know you can always repeat the trail if you find kids still want to keep hiking! 
  • Tip: If you want to find a First Day hike, search for "First Day Hike {{Your State}}." You can also visit the State Parks website and use their interactive map.
  • Tip: It can be hard to understand the accessibility required for the hikes listed on the State Parks website. Visit www.accessiblenature.info to find the difficulty, length and accessibility needed for various hikes. And, we love this quick reel about why accessibility is so important from @mightymissmaya.
  • Tip: We love using the AllTrails app (apple | google). The app is free, and it makes it fun and easy to find, select and follow trails—both big and small—wherever you are!  
Step 3: Pack snacks. Fuel for your journey is so important—especially with kids. It not only helps make sure that kids have energy to hike, but it can be motivating and rewarding, especially if you make special, celebratory "First Day Hike" snacks. If you have time, welcome kids to help you make and pack the snacks so they feel part of it and learn to enjoy making healthy choices. 
  • Tip: Make our own trail mix bar! We love to give each member of our family their own reusable trail mix container for the hike. Then, we line up whatever trail mix ingredients we've got (we love to buy in bulk!), like nuts, dried fruits, chocolate chips, pretzels, dried cereal, etc. Each person can fill up their container with the ingredients they like best (as long as it's not ALL chocolate chips!). We got this tip and our steel containers from our friends a EcoLunchbox, and we love it!
Step 4: Gear up. January 1st in most places is chilly, and weather can be unpredictable. Check the forecast in your area and dress in layers to match the weather. Bring a backpack or bag that is easy to carry so you and kids can shed layers if you warm up as you hike, but make sure to bring layers. Once hikers get cold, hiking gets really hard. Cold enough, and it gets dangerous. 
  • Tip: Want all kinds of tips about which winter gear items Tinkergarten families and Leaders love, what layers to wear and even how to get wiggly kids into their winter gear, and more? Check out our Guide to Winter 2022 at tinkergarten.com/winter

Step 5: Make it special. As you head out, let kids know that this is no ordinary hike—it's a First Day Hike! You and thousands of other people are out today, walking to welcome the new year. How exciting! Maybe even set a goal to hike even more in 2022 than you did in 2021, while you are at it!

Step 6: Enjoy the hike! Here are a few of our favorite ways to make hikes with kids extra sweet:
  • Bring friends. Friends, both the two and four-legged kinds, help sweeten the mix with kids, adding good energy and playmates to keep kids engaged socially as they enjoy all of the benefits of hiking. Plus, when you invite friends, you get even more people you love out in nature—hurrah!
  • Take sensory breaks. Every so often, stop and close your eyes. Wonder what you smell, hear or feel. Our kids love these chances to “see with our other senses,” and it supports their sensory development, too (win-win).
  • Encourage (and manage) collections: Collecting is marvelous for kids, and it can make time outdoors fun and engaging. But kids and parents can get weighed down with so many treasures. To keep this manageable and teach kids not to remove too much from the trail, identify a small bucket, bag or container for collecting. Then, the rule is, you can stop to observe and love any object, but you can only tote along what fits in the container at any given time.
  • Include a tea party: Winter hikes can be chilly, so it can help to warm yourselves from the inside in addition to get warm as you move. Plus, who doesn't love a tea party in the forest?! Warm up some herbal tea or hot cocoa, fill up thermos, grab some small mugs and include a sweet sip as part of your First Day Hike. Get more tips on how to enjoy a winter tea party here
  • End with gratitude: At the end of your hike, stop to share what made you most grateful today. Even if someone was pushed into a prickly pear, you can still end on a high note of shared thanks for the endless gifts nature provides.
Step 7: Share & Inspire! Share your photos, stories, successes and failures—whatever helps help friends and other families see that they can get out there and enjoy a real first day hike, too! We'll be sharing on our Tinkergarten facebook page, in our free Outdoors All 4 community, and on Instagram (#tinkergarten, #firstdayhike) all day long!

Want even more tips and inspiration? Check out these nifty resources from organizations we admire:



Why is this activity great for kids?

Hiking is a marvelous way to connect to nature, move our bodies, to get the sensory input we need in our muscles and inner ear. We also can't think of a better way to kick off a brand new year—and that's why we love First Day Hiking. Whatever "hikes" look like for you, we wish you joy, connection and a wonderful start to 2022!
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