An Open Letter to Hiking Trail Map Makers, Guidebook Writers and Website Owners

To the Hiking Trail Map Makers, Guidebook Writers, Website Owners and more,

We are fairly new to the hiking scene.

We moved from Northwest Florida where the hiking trails are mostly part of the state park system so they are well marked.  Now that we live in Denver, we have been hiking together as a family.

There is a lot to learn about hiking and hiking with kids.  My husband has section-hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail, so hiking isn’t new to him, but hiking together as a family is  much different.  You have to figure out what you need in your day pack.  You have to decide what to wear and what your children should wear.  You have to decide which hikes are really family friendly.  Hiking with kids is lots of fun but it can be lots of work.

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Bring in the hiking trail maps, hiking guidebook writers, and hiking websites.

In theory, these should be very helpful.  They are for the most part but there is a bit of a learning curve.  You have to be able to read between the lines.  Here are some of the things we have learned.

Parking is limited.  Parking is limited sometimes means there are four spaces.  Like one. Two. Three. Four.  Sometimes it means there are 30 spaces but they are all taken by 9am.  Experience is the only way to figure out how limited it really is.

The trailhead address is not always correct.  Example 1: We typed in the trailhead address.  We drove to said trailhead address.  The trailhead was not there but was located about another mile away.  Example 2:  The website said the trailhead was on 15th and a cross street.  No…the trailhead was actually on 12th street.  Example 3:  See Example 1.

Turn the map.  Sometimes, you need to turn the map.  One would think that the map should be viewed the way it was written.  Recently, we went on a hike that had numerous trails off of one and none of them were marked at the crossroad.  The  trail markers were about half a mile in.  We thought we were taking one trail.  About half a mile in, we discovered that we had taken a trail we didn’t want to take.  Had we turned the map upside down, we would have taken the trail we had wanted.

Parking is not always at the trailhead.  Some trail maps and guidebooks leave out the part that the hike actually begins about a mile from the parking lot.  This isn’t that big of a deal if you are an adult used to hiking.  Unfortunately, when you have children, a mile might be all you were planning.  We did a hike recently where we were supposed to park in a parking lot of a high school.  Once parked, we traversed several hills trying to find the trailhead with no luck.  About a half a mile of walking, we finally found it.  By the time we found the trailhead, are kids were already exhausted.

0.3 miles is sometimes 0.9 miles.  Or 2 miles.  Just because the map says that portion of the trail is 0.3 miles doesn’t always mean it is correct.  We have found that state parks are usually pretty accurate but we have run into a few that are off.

Easy. Moderate. Difficult.  This decision is in the eye of the beholder.  What I find easy, might be found moderate by someone else and vice versa.  We have hit some trails that were marked easy but seemed quite rigorous to me.

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There are ways to counteract some of these issues.

Buy a guidebook by a reputable hiking book publisher.  If you are hiking with kids, I highly recommend the Mountaineer Books.  Hiking with Kids Colorado has not steered us wrong yet and we have hiked about 8 of the 100 hikes so far.

Cross-check your original source.  After finding a hike that interests us, I immediately check our books and several websites.  Do the trailhead addresses match?  Is most of the information the same?

Do a blog search.  The easiest way I have found to search for blog posts about different hikes is to search Google (or your favorite search engine) for the hike name and blog posts.  For examples, search “Matthew Winters hike blog posts” and see what comes up.  I received a number of hiking blogs with descriptions of the hike, parking, and more.  This will give you a real person’s view of the hike.  They often share tips and tricks.  They also share things that worked for them and things that didn’t.

Have you had a trail map disaster?

This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday with Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels.
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Travel Tip: 511 Traveler Information

 

This post could also be titled That One Time Tropical Storm Debby Almost Ruined My Florida Vacation.

Just like most summers, we Floridians sit and watch the Gulf of Mexico (and the Atlantic) churn up the tropical storms and hurricanes every year.  We don’t really worry in June.  We normally start to worry closer to August but not this year.  Mother Nature decided to remind us who is boss early in this hurricane season.

Tropical Storm Debby was a beast of a storm.  She was a large, slow moving storm and once she got near Florida she decided to hang out for a little bit while her outer bands wreaked havoc on pretty much the entire state.

As we watched the forecasts, one thing never changed.  TS Debby was going to be over practically the entire state during our massive Florida road trip.  The trip I had been planning for weeks.  The trip that was going to finally take me to Key West after living 15 years in Florida.

We decided to plan as if we were going on the trip, weather or no weather.  We packed up, prepared for a storm just in case Debby decided to turn, and got ready to leave.  The original plan was to leave Monday evening and drive through the night but we read in the newspaper that parts of I-10 (the Interstate we would be driving on for the better part of 6 hours in the dark of the night) were closed.  We decided to wait until daytime to leave.  While we were reading up on road closures, we just stumbled upon Florida 511.

Florida 511 is the free traffic resource of the Florida Department of Transportation.  You can call 511 to get traffic info but we had no idea they had a comprehensive website that was updated practically to the minute.  Not only do they list road and traffic updates on the site, but the updates are also tweeted out over Twitter.  You can choose to follow certain Interstates eliminating the noise you don’t need.

Throughout our very rainy drive, we followed the alerts on Twitter and the website to learn about the closures due to flooding or sinkholes.

Not traveling in the state of Florida?  Check 511: America’s Traveler Information to find an active program where you are traveling.

*Photo courtesy of Oregon DOT via Flick Creative Commons.

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Traveling with Kids – Mishaps and Disasters!

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The other day a friend told me that I definitely paint a pretty picture of family travel but that it truly can’t be as full of singing birds and perfect sunny days as I make it seem. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I guess I want to share the happy side of traveling with your kids because we are such advocates of it.  I am always honest but usually if we have an awful experience, I just choose not to write about it.  I try to be an optimistic person in my every day life so naturally that is going to come out in my blog.  That being said I realize that I have left out a major part of traveling with kids…the mishaps and disasters!  I give you my (and my husband’s favorite) traveling with kids mishaps and disasters (in no particular order of miserable-ness!)!!

  • I am pretty sure that if I googled “screaming toddler in a puffy pink jacket” that I will find a video of me trying to jam my temper tantrum throwing, screaming, flailing, red-faced two year old into a backpack stroller in front of a hundred laughing tourists (all of whom were taping the entire process with cell phones or video cameras) on the Hofburg Palace grounds in Vienna, Austria.  I eventually got her strapped in and we were able to run in the opposite direction but those ten minutes truly haunt me everytime she starts to act up in public. This probably falls into the top ten embarrassing moments of my whole life…well, most of these probably fall into that category.  If you have seen the video, please email me the link…on second thought, never mind.
  • In the summer of 2008, we flew to Colorado, rented a car and in the time span of one week drove from Denver, Colorado to Casper, WY and then to Jackson Hole, WY through Yellowstone to Cody, WY, back to Casper and then to Denver to fly home. It was this trip where we learned that a minivan is a must when we travel. We only have two children so we were trying to save money by renting a compact. Our children saw nothing but the inside of the car for the entire trip because they couldn’t see out the windows. I think my daughter cried the entire week we were there and my son had me take pictures out the window and show him the camera screen so he could see what he was missing. And to top it all off, I had stopped to buy a bottle of wine halfway through the exhausting trip only to have the thing shatter into a million pieces on the front step of the store.  That was my breaking point and I cried.  Some kind woman handed me a wet one from her perfectly behaved child’s stroller to mop up my tears and the blood from my fingers.
  • When my son was two (I am sensing a two year old theme here) I took a red eye flight leaving California around 8 at night and arriving in Atlanta, Georgia at 4:30am with a connecting flight to Pensacola, FL at 6:30.  You might ask why I remember these details so vividly.  This goes down as the worst. flight. of. my. life (next only to the one where Little S screamed the entire time because of a busted ear drum).  Big S had a night terror thirty minutes after taking off.  He screamed at the top of his lungs for two hours (if you have ever seen a child experience a night terror, you know what I mean…yikes!) and sobbed for the rest of the flight while I took turns taking up space in the bathroom and standing in the galley.  Thank goodness for amazing and sympathetic flight attendants.
  • While we were in Amsterdam, we had just arrived by train from Brussels.  We hurried out of the station to grab the GVB tram (the local public transportation) that we thought was correct.  The doors closed on our stroller so while my husband and I were inside the tram, my son was on the outside.  I had a moment of panic before someone got the driver’s attention so he could stop the tram and open the doors so we could get the stroller inside.  After all this, we found out we weren’t even going in the right direction. 
  • When my son was 10 months old we attended a family vacation on my husband’s side at Disneyworld.  Big S got incredibly sick with explosive diapers while we were at the Animal Kingdom.  By 10 in the morning, we had gone through all of the changes of clothes and every single diaper in the diaper bag.  On the Disney bus back to the hotel no one would sit near me (including my family) because I was covered in poop and vomit holding a baby that was covered in poop and vomit.  Everytime I see a picture of the T-Rex near the dinosaur ride I think about those miserable diaper changes.
  • During a layover in Atlanta my son knocked a brand new 32 ounce soda over.  Unfortunately the soda was sitting on the ground at the top of one of the many ramps that are found in the airport so instead of creating a small pool that would have made cleanup easy, the soda rolled about 12 feet down the ramp spreading all over and then pooled. 

So there you have it…some of our favorite disasters!  There have been many more and I will continue to share them.  These mishaps could have kept us from our next vacation but we wouldn’t have as many great stories to tell! 

What is your favorite family travel disaster moment?  Do share!