National Forest Foundation

Summit Safety: Four Things To Remember On Top of the Peak With Kids

Hiking and Backpacking

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With more families taking to the mountains, it’s important to stay safe. Trail safety is an important topic that is often covered; however staying safe on the summit is just as important! 

Summits Can Be Dangerous

Photo courtesy of Lyndsey Vaillancourt

Sometimes, the most kid-friendly trails up a mountain can end with a dangerous summit. I have encountered many trails that are very kid-friendly only to end with a summit that features sheer cliffs with over 100 feet drops. If you hike a peak that is unknown to your family, avoid letting children run ahead to the summit until a responsible adult can check out the surroundings. Keep an eye on younger children and try to keep them within arms reach when you are at the summit with large drop offs. 

Weather will be different

Photo courtesy of Lyndsey Vaillancourt

At the base of the mountain it could be sunny and hot, but by the time you make it to the top, you might find yourself in the middle of the clouds, with winds and cooler temps. Always plan for poor weather by carrying or dressing in extra layers and bring a rain jacket. Storms can appear out of nowhere; always keep an eye on the sky and plan to retreat below the treeline if necessary. 

Be Wary of Animals

Wildlife (such a grey jays and squirrels/chipmunks) often learn that humans equal food. Just the other day, my daughter had a squirrel stalking her as she ate her sandwich. I have heard tales of gray jays swooping down and stealing snacks right out of unsuspecting hiker’s hands. We once watched a family feed some ducks at a trailside pond and then got mad when the ducks wouldn’t leave them alone. It can be hard to resist, but avoid feeding the wildlife. 

Sometimes the summit can be a small spot. Children should be cautious of any dogs they meet, especially if in a small area. Always speak to the dog owner and pay attention to the dogs behaviors. Some dogs might appear friendly and well behaved, until your child takes out a slim jim for a snack and the dog decides they want it! 

Going Up is Optional. Down is Mandatory. 

Photo courtesy of Lyndsey Vaillancourt

The end goal of hiking should never be about reaching the summit. The real goal is getting your family back to your car or campsite without harm. Sometimes you have to turn around before you reach the top. Before you start hiking set a turn around time. If your family hasn’t reached the top by then, its best to evaluate the timing of the day and decide whether or not to head back.. Remember, the mountains will always be there another day! 

About the Author

Lyndsey, born and raised New Hampshire resident, lives in the Monadnock Region and frequents the White Mountain National Forest further north. She started hiking with her daughter Aubrey when she was just a few months old. Aubrey is now 4.5 years old and has already started her NH 4,000 footers and 52 With A View lists. Lyndsey has been an Ambassador for Hike it Baby since 2015 and recently started a new group Kids Who Hike NH. She also writes her own blog about hiking with her daughter www.summitmommy.com


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