I had an early start to backpacking as a kid, hiking major trails like the Chilkoot and the West Coast Trail, along with many unnamed trails and mountains in the Yukon Wilderness. I learned to push on past what I thought were my limits, to survive on the basics, and develop a deep appreciation and respect for the wilderness. Those are values that have stuck with me and those memories of adventure are partly what drew me back to backpacking as an adult.
I feel that it is valuable to give my kids an opportunity to have the same experiences. While I do not have the same Yukon wilderness here in Texas, I have found trails to start introducing my two older boys to the world of backpacking, and to start developing their camping and hiking skills.
Ideally you want to pick a trail that is not too technically difficult, but still presents a challenge. Obviously this will depend on how old the kids are and how in shape they are. My two boys are 11 and 9 and not conditioned to long backpacking trips.
I settled on the Cross Timbers Trail. It is a 14-mile hiking trail that snakes along the shores of Lake Texoma. While the terrain is not challenging, there is variety in the landscape and is scattered with small hills.
I planed on doing 5-7 miles on the first day, camp and then hike back out the second day. The nice thing about Cross Timbers is that there are a lots of campsites along the trail which you do not have to reserve in advance. This gave us allot of flexibility in being able to adjust our plans as we went.
I plan on using my 2015 REI Dividend on gear for the kids, but until then we have had to improvise with their equipment. For packs, my eldest inherited my pack I had as a kid. A Mountain Equipment Coop backpack that has seen lots of use over 20 years and still going strong. It is not the best fit for him but still works. My 9 year old we had to use a classic school pack. Not much went into his bag.
I had just upgraded my tent to an MSR Hubba Hubba leaving the kids with the Eureka! Sunriver 2. This tent was realistically too small for two adults, but was perfect for the two kids.
Sleeping bags came from our old camping box. They were large and way too heavy, but better than nothing. For clothing I made sure they had a clean shirt and shorts for sleeping in a long sleeve for the evenings and early mornings.
We arrived at Juniper Point early in the morning. I like starting the Cross Timbers trail from this direction because you can park for free at the trail head. After slightly adjusting gear between our packs (made sure the boys were not carrying too much weight) we quickly posed for pictures in front of the trail head sign.
There is also a logbook in an old wooden box you can sign in with. Sometimes there is even a map to the trail squirreled away inside. The boys where disappointed when the only map left was too wet to take.
The heavy rains the day before had not only destroyed the map, but also made the trail into a massive mud pit. This made climbing some of the hills tricky, as our feet would slip out from under us. But the boys did well with only one major fall that only resulted in a shirt and face full of mud.
After the 2 miles mark the boys began to drag their feet and complain about how heavy the packs were. We slowed our pace and took lots of breaks. I also made sure that they were getting generous amounts of trail mix and water. Sometimes even when they said they were not hungry I mad them eat one handful of trail mix to keep them going.
Telling stories also helped distract them from their weariness. I started with a “chose your own adventure” story that I made up as we went along. I also told them stories from my childhood, and about the hikes I did at their age. Story telling helped them get past the last mile which they found the most difficult.
We made it about 6 miles before we found a nice campsite near the waters edge, and after seeing the campsite the boys seemed unable to go any further. As this was our first real overnight hike together and they had spent the whole day fighting muddy hills, I let them drop their packs claim the campsite as ours.
After washing some of the mud off our legs and clothes in the lake we began setting up camp. I showed them how to set up the two tents which we placed close together.
We then collected firewood, and began on dinner. I had bought three different types of freeze-dried meals that we all sampled and voted for the best tasting. Beef stew came out as the unanimous winner.
After dinner the kids explored around the campsite, and seeing how much energy they had I wondered if we could have hiked further. Finally dusk set in and we lit a campfire. It did not take long for the kids to become sleepy and head to their tents.
That night we had large gusts of winds sweep violently through the trees, sounding like the roar of an angry mob. Mixed with the sounds of coyotes in the distance and the thick blackness of night, my 9-year-old boy decided to move into my tent with me.
In the morning we had a quick breakfast and broke camp. On the way back the kids took less rests and made much better time. They felt sure that they had grown stronger over night, but the real secret to their new found strength was the fact I put less weight in their packs that morning.
Despite not having all the right gear for the boys we had a very successful backpacking trip. It was a positive experience for all of us. For the boys it was a chance get outside, have an adventure, and learn new skills. For myself it was rewarding to teach and to share the experiences I had grown up with. For all of us it was a treat to have two solid days together with plenty of time to talk.
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