Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
Let’s hit the trail with your “Littles” on three easy hikes close to home. Spring, early summer, and fall are glorious times to get outside and hike. Families with even the youngest of hikers can sometimes be flummoxed as to where to go to have a great experience. Appropriate distances and interesting easy terrain are needed—so, let me inspire you with three beautiful doable hikes in three counties here in Western Colorado.
Mesa County boasts a super interesting, close-to-home hike for the youngsters: The Mica Mine Trail. The round trip distance is 2.6 miles and it’s rated easy. It includes some lovely shade and minor rocks to climb over, making it enjoyable for both adults and rambunctious kids. The trailhead for Mica Mine is shared with Rough Canyon and is right on Little Park Road (for a map and route description go to GJhikes.com). Why choose this easy short hike to get out with your kids? Oh so many reasons! There are some beautiful vistas of towering cliffs, and the trail crosses the tiny Ladder Creek enough times that everyone gets to hone their stone stepping skills if the water is running; there are many wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and birds to identify; and at the end there is the holy grail of mica! Enough slivered mica crunches under-foot at the mine itself that it can become a tactile fun science opportunity. No child has been disappointed in my experience. There was recently a rock fall near the trail, but it hasn’t hampered access, and it could be a good geology conversation about the rocky hillside’s “angle of repose” and potential triggers. Jumping into imaginative scenarios with kids adds to the fun as well.
In Delta County check out the beautiful 3.2 mile (round trip) Crystal Overlook hike above the northern edge of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (outside the actual National Park’s North Rim). Travel on Hwy 92 towards Crawford and keep going—eventually you’ll pass the turn off for the Black Canyon National Park, but stay on Hwy 92 through beautiful ranch country and finally onto the Black Mesa. Sixteen miles south of Crawford you’ll see the turn off and trailhead for Crystal Overlook. Park there and head on out on a well-traveled trail. At the trailhead there is a Curecanti National Recreation Area sign that depicts the trail as strenuous and 5 miles long. I beg to differ: it’s only 3.2 miles, and is an easy trail unless it’s very hot. There are three pitches where you will indeed feel the climb, but they are short. And, there are 3 benches for resting and viewing the San Juan Mountains along the way.
Why choose this hike? The visual rewards are just exceptional and younger hikers definitely appreciate the sensory experience. Views of the West Elk Mountains, the San Juan Mountains, and the Cimmaron Valley are inspiring—and then it’s the destination that holds the most magic. The end of the trail is a safely guard-railed overlook down 1800 feet into the Crystal Reservoir of the Black Canyon. Keep on the trail to the very end. Your only choice point will be an unmarked fork that takes you up to a dead-end lookout point bench on the left, or you can skip that and stay to the right to get directly to the Crystal Reservoir overlook. Our favorite thing is to pack a picnic lunch and head out in the morning, enjoying our repast at the high overlook before heading back. Make sure to pack sunscreen and take water bottles for everyone.
Montrose County is very special indeed. It encompasses all types of terrain, vistas, and levels of exertion for hikers. For the younger hiker we recommend the Black Canyon National Park’s aptly named Oak Flat Loop. This trail is within the park’s main south access and departs from the visitor center. Approximately 2 miles in length, it takes you to wonderful vistas of the canyon over mostly easy terrain amidst rock and gambel oak trees. Definitely take this hike counter clockwise so that the steepest part is in the downhill direction with a much easier ascent. You don’t go to the bottom of the canyon—but you do get to beautiful views, and shady areas that do not obscure the sightline, plus you are away from the large groups of visitors in other areas of the park. Why choose Oak Flat Loop? The river and rock vistas; the “below-the-rim” experience; the sense of adventure; eagle and peregrine falcon spotting across the canyon; and the shade.
Three counties, three beautiful hikes. A great way to get out there close to home and introduce the younger generation to the experience of Mother Nature’s rewards. Take a hike, and take the kids!
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. Your whole family may be feeling the stress caused by changes in your normal routine, not being able to see the people you care about, and the stress and uncertainty that comes with economic instability and social change.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to stay connected with the calming influence of the natural world. But in these times of physical distancing, how can you and your family get out in nature while staying safe? Here are a few ideas for maintaining your mental and physical health in the outdoors turning adversity into opportunity during these strange times.
Explore Somewhere New
A lot of people are home from work right now and the usual standby trails and natural areas are often more crowded, even on usually-quiet weekdays and off-times. This is a great opportunity to find a new, out-of-the-way place to explore the great outdoors. Is there some tucked away trail or park (near home) that you’ve been meaning to explore, but just never made the trip? Make that your destination for the day!
Remember, we shouldn’t be traveling outside of our home areas at this time to avoid spreading COVID-19 to other places, but if there’s a trail within an hour or so of your home base, that’s a reasonable effort to make in order to get away from the crowds and find somewhere new to explore. You can find some of these trailheads on Friends of Youth and Nature’s website under map resources: https://www.friendsofyouthandnature.org/maps.html
Find the Hidden Gems
Nature is everywhere, and even that overgrown open space near your home can hold a lot of interest and educational opportunity. Take the kids out for a grasshopper survey - how many different kinds can you find? What’s the biggest one, or the smallest one, and why might they be different sizes? Which one is the most common? Why do you think that might be?
Take a small shovel and dig into the dirt to see what you find. Are there worms, or pill bugs? Are you finding more in one place than you find somewhere else? Why do you think that is?
How many different kinds of grass or plants in general can you find in the field? Do some have interesting smells? Are there certain plants that seem to have a certain kind of insect, and why do you think the insects like that plant?
Whatever you come up with, you’ll be surprised at your childrens’ imagination, and how much interest and entertainment can be found in a seemingly overgrown, “boring” plot of grass and shrubs.
Get Out in the Sunshine
It’s no secret that a little sunshine can really turn around your mood. With a lot of stress in the world right now, make sure you take time to just simply get outside (and get away from the news headlines and computer!). Put on some sunscreen, and go out with the family into your backyard, even if it’s just for thirty minutes or an hour. Reading in the sunshine is one of life’s little pleasures. Are you home-schooling right now? Take your lessons outside for some fresh air. Plant a garden and discover more about plant life cycles. Throw a ball and see who can create the highest arc. Play fetch with the dog. Which item does “Fido” like to fetch the best? Wrestle in the grass; is it warmer or cooler at ground level? Be a big kid, have fun while you learn, and enjoy the free time you might have right now! Now’s a time to make memories with your family, and help create some positive experiences that will last a lifetime.
It’s too easy right now to stay glued to the news, watching and dissecting every little development. Pile that on top of being cooped up inside, and away from the friends and family you normally see, and you have a recipe for stress, strife, and negativity. Get outside! Have fun! Make the effort to maintain your connection with the natural world throughout this time, and your whole family will be happier as a result. It’s up to you.
Like the pages of a book telling a story, the tracks, trails and impressions in the snow reveal the activities of animals in your neighborhood. Each type of animal has unique tracks which reveal a lot about their lifestyles and habits.
By discovering tracks, scat, and other signs of wildlife in snow, you can turn a winter hike into a treasure hunt for your child. Select a snowy area where you are likely to find an assortment of animal tracks, and keep the hikes short and leisurely. Fresh snow early in the morning is best, before tracks melt away.
Imagination is key! Animal tracking combines science, creativity, and storytelling. You won’t see the animal itself but the tracks they leave behind are pieces of the puzzle for you to solve. What kind of animal made the track, and what was it doing? Where did they come from, and where were they going? Prompt your child’s curiosity and help sharpen their observation skills.
To identify a track start by counting the toes. If it has two toes, it’s probably a deer, elk or moose. If it has four toes and a heel pad, it could be a bobcat, lynx, or mountain lion; it could also be a canine like a fox, coyote, or dog. The easiest way to tell a cat from a dog track is the presence of nails. Cat’s toenails are critical for catching prey so they keep them retracted for protection when not in use. Most canine tracks, on the other hand, have visible nail marks above their pads. Five toes? It could be a raccoon, or another animal that uses its paws like hands.
Next, take a good look at the size and how deep the tracks are in the snow. A mouse is smaller than a squirrel. A smaller and lighter animal will leave a shallower impression. Show your child how much deeper your tracks are compared to theirs.
Among the big cats, a bobcat track is smaller (and likely more shallow) than that of a lynx or a mountain lion, with the mountain lions’ being the biggest print − almost the size of an adult fist. Lynx tracks can be distinctive because their tracks have hair impressions around the pads.
Dog and coyote tracks look similar, but coyote tracks are narrow and diamond shaped while dog tracks are rounder with more space between the pads. Fox tracks are shaped like a coyote but much smaller.
Another clue is the animals stride or the repeating pattern of their prints in the snow. Animals walk in four basic patterns: walking, galloping, bounding and pacing or waddling. Those patterns are influenced by the length of an animals legs and their overall body shape.
A walking pattern is characteristic of animals with long legs like a cat, dog, coyote, deer or elk. These animals are very efficient and will often place their back foot on top of where their front foot was. Their stride pattern is a series of single prints generally in a straight line.
Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rabbits and snowshoe hare are gallopers because they leap from one location to another. Rabbits and squirrels are similar in that their larger hind paws land in front of the smaller front paws, making four distinct prints per track− two parallel long prints in front of two small round prints. Tracks of snowshoe hare are similar to rabbits but much larger. Look for the round toe impressions of rabbits compared with the long finger marks of squirrels.
Bounders are animals that have a bounding stride like weasels, mink and otters. Their front paws hit first and then their back paws land where their front paws were. Their tracks appear as two paws that fall side-by-side. Weasels often drag their tails, leaving a central furrow.
Pacers or waddlers are short–legged, heavy-set mammals (beavers, porcupines, raccoons, skunk, and bears) that have a distinctive track with four paw prints. They waddle, shifting their weight to the right so their left front/back paws can move forward, then shift their weight to the left so their right front/rear paws can move forward. You can’t miss a bear track – its paws are huge with five rounded toes and a wide heel pad.
Don’t forget bird tracks. You can usually only see their footprints, but sometimes you can see the wing marks where one landed.
Take a look at the bigger picture surrounding a set of tracks. Look at the direction of the tracks, and where they end up. A good tracker will be on the lookout for other clues such as blood and/or wing marks indicating maybe a hawk caught something, a spot where an animal burrowed, seeds of a pine cone scattered about (squirrel lunch), or yellow snow− animals pee too!
If you want to expand your identification skills, there are apps to help you such as iTrack Wildlife Apps by Nature Tracking. All are easy to use, contain high resolution photos with detailed information and work offline.
Remember to be safe. If you spot the actual animal, give it space and an escape route. Always observe from a distance. If you are causing a change in their behavior, you are too close!
Whatever tracks you and your child find are clues to an awesome winter treasure hunt, and will spark wonder and discoveries about the animals in your neck of the woods!
Who among us hasn’t learned the hard way that, when adventuring outside in winter, preparation is worth its weight in gold. Whether you’re suffering a highway shut down or a snap storm that puts you on the side of the road while on a car trip or you’re suffering from cold and wet blue jeans and boots while sledding on a local hillside; cold weather can be miserable. My husband remembers as a child having his dad cut up bicycle inner tubes to tie around the tops of his irrigating boots so his feet would remain dry—it did nothing to alleviate the unforgettable cold and the freezing feeling.
We want children to remember the fun of sledding, skiing, snowman building, the discovery of winter animal tracks, and the joy of successful snow angels and snow forts. The key to remain warm and dry in the midst of wet, cold snow is being prepared.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for cold-weather comfort:
Aside from clothing choices, you should always bring snacks and water. My grandkids now remind me every time we have an outing “DON’T FORGET THE SNACKS” because you guessed it—I have forgotten them. Generally think about carbohydrates that provide quick energy and quick recovery. Kid friendly food bars make this easy, but also a nut or nut free butter and jelly sandwich is perfect. Dried fruit provides quick energy and is healthy too. Water is important. Given the length of time that most kids actually spend playing outdoors in winter it’s okay if they drink water before and after the activity instead of during all the fun. To help increase the quantity you could have a warm thermos of hot cocoa, tea, or soup. Any fluids will help replenish their active selves.
Stuck in the car on the side of the road, or waiting for a road closure to reopen? Tuck all the above in the car before you take off, and include a pack of cards or drawing paper and pencil. Electronics are the entertainment du jour but they may be short lived or out of range in the event of a road closure. There are many interactive games that don’t require electronics. Remember “hang man” and designing your own mazes on paper? How about writing haikus (3 line Japanese style poems) starting with a description of the view out their window.
In western Colorado, we have an abundance of sunshine and with a little bit of driving to the Uncompahgre Plateau, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, or the Grand Mesa National Forest, we also have an abundance of snow. The combination invites adventure and fun—so grab your sunscreen, snacks, and the right warm clothing and get out there!
For more winter-specific and general outdoor activities with kids, visit www.friendsofyouthandnature.org
For more fun snow play ideas, search “ snow activities for kids”, or check out these links:
Cookies, Girl Scouts, and trout may seem like an unusual combination, but, last month, 18 Girl Scouts from Western Slope chapters became STREAM Girls. This Colorado Trout Unlimited workshop is designed to introduce youth to their local watershed through river conservation and recreation. STREAM stands for STEM, recreation and art. Ross Reels, Able Women, and the local Trout Unlimited (TU) chapter ̶ the Gunnison Gorge Anglers hosted the workshop.
The day started with an icebreaker where the girls were grouped by their favorite Girl Scout cookie. Barbara Luneau, TU youth programming volunteer, engaged the girls in a watershed discussion. She explained the path of our rivers from their headwaters to their terminus. The Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers are tributaries to the Colorado River, which comprises the third largest watershed in the country. The Columbia River Watershed is second, and the largest watershed in the U.S. is the Mississippi River. “Our rivers here are very hard working with many demands for drinking water, irrigation, livestock and recreation. These rivers are closely managed to meet everyone’s needs,” Luneau explained. “How much water do you think makes it to the Gulf of Mexico? Very little!”
The new Colorado Outdoor facility in Montrose provided easy access to the Uncompahgre River, where the girls explored the river corridor. Volunteers guided the girls with probing questions to help them use all their senses to observe the nuances of the river and adjacent riparian habitats as if through the eyes of a scientist, angler, and artist. The girls described the river sounds and smells, and sketched their observations in their STREAM Girls field notebook.
Ready to learn how to measure stream flows, the girls stepped into a small channel of the main river wearing hip waders. The scouts timed the travel of a ping-pong ball from a release point upstream to its catch by a scout 30 feet downstream, repeating this three times for an average. The girls rocked at the math, calculating channel area (average width and depth), velocity (distance and time), and finally flow in cubic feet per second. “This is math under pressure ̶ adding, dividing, and multiplying without a calculator!” said Luneau.
Kick nets were next on the agenda. The girls stirred up the stream bottom with their feet so aquatic insects drifted into the nets. With giggles and laughter, the girls enthusiastically scuffled about while trying to keep their balance! They rinsed the nets into buckets, and transferred samples into trays for critter identification. Referencing an insect guide, the girls identified species by using characteristics like shape, tails, location of gills, and cases. Of course, this activity also required math skills to determine overall stream health using the diversity of specific bugs (Caddis flies, Mayflies and Stoneflies) and their abundance. Luneau explained that high numbers of these bugs, which are highly sensitive to pollution usually, indicate a healthy stream. Guess what? This section of the Uncompahgre River scored well!
With a grasp of stream flows and aquatic insects, the girls had a better idea of where trout hang out and what they like to eat ̶ basics for a successful angler. This is where the Gunnison Gorge Anglers stepped in to help each girl set up her fly rod and learn to cast. The girls and instructors began casting around the pond. Each Scout looked like they were determinedly practicing the summoning charm from Harry Potter, “Accio -trout” that will magically bring whatever item is summoned.
Fly fishing is all about tricking the fish into biting your artificial fly thinking it is the real thing, and the art of fly tying is to imitate the look of those tasty morsels. After identifying the common aquatic insects, the Scouts had a better idea of what those morsels look like. Now, sitting at a fly tying station, each scout was patiently guided by a CTU volunteer on how to tie a midge or a winged emerger. With quiet concentration, the girls carefully created art for fishing.
To recap the day, the Scouts returned to the river to complete a scavenger hunt for the key ingredients of a stream, and began working on a necklace. Colored beads represented those key ingredients: water, wood, rocks, and plants with the added charms of mayflies, feathers, and bugs. Kate Senn from Ross Reels, a Girl Scout alumna, awarded the Scouts their new patch, and congratulated each with their special Scout handshake. What was their favorite part of the day? “Going into the water with the waders; … finding all the bugs; …being able to see what’s in the water,” were a few of their responses. The day undoubtedly inspired new, young anglers, but their experience of standing in the river and understanding the river dynamics will be remembered long and vividly. Kudos to all Colorado Stream Girls ̶ our rivers need more stewards.
Colorado Trout Unlimited provides a voice for our rivers. CTU works to conserve, protect, and restore Colorado’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. CTU offers a week long River Conservation and Fly Fishing Camp designed to educate 14 to 18 year old students. For more information visit: https://coloradotu.org/youthcamp.
Gunnison Gorge Anglers, a chapter of CTU, hosts multiple activities including youth education, fly casting and fly tying lessons, and stream improvement projects. For more information visit: gunnisongorgeanglers.tu.org
Able Women is a non-profit public outreach initiative designed to spread the word about fly fishing and the many emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits it brings to women. Find out more at: ablewomenflyfish.com
At 8 years old I was slogging my way up the trail behind my parents, tired and disgruntled. “I hate hiking,” I thought. “Why would anyone want to walk uphill for hours for no good reason? I could be watching TV right now.”
Finally, we reached the top. Out came the lunch we’d packed, and we sat on a peaceful summit admiring the view and enjoying our hard-earned lunch, which tasted so much better after the work we’d just put in. Maybe this “hiking” thing wasn’t so bad, after all!
As an adult I enjoy hiking, climbing, mountain biking, camping, skiing, and pretty much anything else that gets me outside and breathing hard in the fresh air of Colorado. It’s how I stay fit, and even more than that, it’s how I maintain my happiness and mental health through the stress of running a business and staying involved with my community. I know that time spent in the outdoors is a huge part of what makes me a whole person.
But what impact, in a quantifiable sense, did my early introduction to the outdoors have on who I’ve become as an adult? How has it affected me physically, mentally, emotionally—and even morally? As it turns out, there’s actually hard science we can look at when seeking to connect childhood exposure to outdoor activities with these long-term outcomes.
It’s no secret that children are more often neglecting physical, outdoor forms of play in favor of the digital world. Computers, mobile devices, video games—all these new types of entertainment have been designed with an express focus on activating the reward centers of the brain in order to increase the devices’ use, and even to create dependence in their users. One of the main struggles for parents in the modern age is reducing kids’ screen time.
These digital temptations are purely passive forms of entertainment, and they don’t promote physical coordination, strength, endurance, or any of the other attributes necessary for a healthy body. Outdoor play, on the other hand, encourages all of these things, and it is a natural method of encouraging this kind of physical activity in young people.
A 2015 metanalysis of studies regarding the effects of time spent outdoors on children found that, “outdoor time is positively related to physical activity and negatively related to sedentary behaviour in children aged 3–12 years.” The more outdoor time children have, the more physical activity they take part in and, conversely, the less sedentary behavior they display.
Like myself, many adults spend time recreating in the outdoors because it brings them a sense of happiness and well-being. We could look at this from a historical perspective; humans are animals, and the natural environment would certainly seem more conducive to our mental health than the business and overwhelming stimuli of a big city. And if adults, who have had their whole lives to grow accustomed to the ways of the modern world still need to get away to nature every now and then to stay happy, surely children must benefit from these quieter environs as well.
Unsurprisingly, a 2018 study showed that the more time children spent in nature and the greater sense of connection that they personally felt with nature, the less likely they were to experience psychosomatic symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, headache, stomach ache, backache, etc. The benefits started with as little as 30 minutes of outdoor activity per week, and peaked at around 14 hours per week.
Morality and Stewardship:
Physical activity, cognitive development, even emotional well-being—these things are relatively easy to quantify in research. But what about something like an individual’s moral drive to preserve natural areas, or their innate desire to be good stewards of the land? Can we quantify these outcomes?
As it turns out, we can! Though it’s more difficult to show a correlation between time spent in the outdoors during childhood and an individual’s likelihood to become a good environmental steward, it has been shown that the amount of time spent in the outdoors has a direct correlation with a child’s feelings of connection with nature. This sense of connection with the natural world then has a direct influence on behaviors related to environmental stewardship in children.
So, the more time we can get future generations to spend in the outdoors, the greater sense of connection they’ll feel with nature, and the more likely they will be to work at environmental stewardship and preservation.
Through personal experience and anecdotes, it can sometimes seem obvious that time spent in nature by children is a valuable thing in and of itself. But it is so impactful that research has similarly been able to show quantifiable, real-world effects from time spent outdoors on children’s physical and mental well-being, as well as their likelihood to internalize messages of environmental stewardship and the importance of preserving natural areas for the future.
At Friends of Youth and Nature, we believe strongly in both the individual impacts that activities in nature have on each young person, as well as the broader long-term goal of creating another generation who feel strongly about the importance of maintaining and safeguarding our public lands for the benefit of all.
Our goal is to continue supporting programs that have both a personal and philosophical impact on the future of our natural areas, in order that we and future generations may enjoy these spaces for many years to come.
 Gray, Casey, et al. “What Is the Relationship between Outdoor Time and Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, and Physical Fitness in Children? A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 12, no. 6, 8 June 2015, pp. 6455–6474., doi:10.3390/ijerph120606455.
 Piccininni, Caroline, et al. “Outdoor Play and Nature Connectedness as Potential Correlates of Internalized Mental Health Symptoms among Canadian Adolescents.” Preventive Medicine, vol. 112, July 2018, pp. 168–175., doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2018.04.020.
 Andrejewski, Robert, et al. “An Examination of Children's Outdoor Time, Nature Connection, and Environmental Stewardship.” ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst, Proceedings of the Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium, 2011, https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=nerr.
Color Sunday has come and gone, and less dependable weather makes it harder to get outside with children. Luckily many local parks are easy to access and provide the means to experience nature safely close to home. This can be a family fun challenge: create a parks checklist and have a goal and reward for getting to them all!
The City of Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department has a wonderful resource listing all 36 parks alphabetically in the Grand Junction area (https://www.gjcity.org/residents/parks-recreation/parks/). Under ‘Parks” click on each park name and it will give you specifics about the size of the park and amenities available. For example, Autumn Ridge Park is a smaller park of 1.5 acres with picnic tables and grills; Canyon View Park is 110 acres with sports fields, playground, shelters, trails, restrooms and more.
Fruita has a similar website (https://www.fruita.org/parksrec/parksites) that describes each of its 12 parks including a bike park with beginning and intermediate skill-building bike pump tracks. The section on this website under parks and trails lists popular hiking and bike trails, giving you the opportunity to take in gorgeous scenery and local wildlife.
On the east side of the Grand Valley, several five-star parks are available in Palisade. Enjoy walking or riding bicycles under the trees along the paved path at Riverbend Park, having a picnic near the play equipment at Veteran’s Memorial park, or romping in the green space at the Palisade Community Center park. Addresses can be found by googling Parks and Recs near Palisade, CO.
The City of Montrose website (https://www.cityofmontrose.org/266/Parks-Trails-Sports-Facilities) lists 29 fabulous parks, open spaces, concrete and single-track trails, and a water sports park. By clicking on the ‘interactive map’ and ‘view larger map’ you can see each park with amenities, including the 4.25 acre Montrose dog park located in Cerise Regional Park where you can let Fido play in a safe fenced-in area.
Six parks in and near the town of Olathe are listed on their website (http://www.townofolathe.org/town-of-olathe-parks.html). A variety of facilities are available from Olathe Community Park at the south end of town to the Onion Park on Olathe’s north side. The Olathe Town park on 5th street has a spectacular new playground purchased through a Colorado Health Foundation grant.
The City of Delta has 11 parks on their interactive map (https://cityofdelta.net/parksites). Clicking on the name of the park, either on the map or on the list provided, takes you to a detailed description of each fabulous park, including year of establishment and amenities present.
The North Fork area includes a listing of 18 parks near the towns of Crawford, Hotchkiss, and Paonia (http://www.northforkrecreation.com/parks.html). These descriptions include the Black Canyon National Monument and Crawford State Park, as well as the Delta County Fairgrounds adjacent to the Doctor Maloney Nature Park and its new disc golf course. Crossroads Park next to the North Fork Pool on Bulldog Street, has two new bike skill-building pump tracks, as well as single-track trails maintained by the North Fork chapter of the Colorado Mountain Bike Association (COPMOBA).
The Surface Creek area, including Orchard City (Cory, Austin, and Eckert) and Cedaredge, have some beautiful parks and recreation facilities. Information can be found on the internet about these facilities: Orchard City Town Park (https://www.orchardcityco.org/36/Orchard-City-Town-Park), Cedaredge Town Park (350-398 SW 2nd Ave, Cedaredge, CO 81413), and the Surface Creek Trail in Cedaredge (https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7058563/surface-creek-trail).
These are just a few of the great variety of outdoor resources available close to home. Remember to obey local park rules and be respectful of others’ nature experiences. Get outside with your kids and enjoy all these amazing parks have to offer!
Color Sunday, September 29, 2019, is just around the corner, and with it come the opportunities to get out into nature and experience the amazing yellows, oranges, and reds that come with aspen fall foliage. Aspen trees are amazing for more than just their beautiful leaves. They provide winter feed for elk and habitat for black bear and other species unique to Colorado. The following are three of our favorite family hikes on nearby public lands. Pick a trail near you or go to the FOYAN website for more hiking ideas in your backyard.
If you live in or near Montrose, one of our absolutely favorite fall hikes with children lies just to the south near the town of Ouray in the Uncompahgre National Forest. An easy 3.5 mile loop combines the Portland Trail with a portion of the Upper Cascade Falls trails. It explores the basin below a huge amphitheater of eroded cliffs rising through mature aspen trees above the eastern side of Ouray and features scenic viewpoints to appreciate this formation along with the peaks of the San Juan Mountains rising to the south and west of town. Our children always enjoyed looking for magic: bear claw marks on the aspen bark, feathers on the trail, and snail shells nestled in the rocks along the path. You can always soak off the trail dust in the Ouray pool afterwards!
How to get there: From Montrose drive south on highway 550 for 45 minutes to Ouray. Continue past Ouray for about a mile to the Amphitheater Campground and turn left onto the campground access road. The turnoff is past the second switchback leaving town. Follow the paved road into the campground keeping left at all intersections. The trailhead, marked for the upper Cascade trail is located at the top of the campground. Check out more details about this hike, and possible extensions into a longer hike at: hikingwalking.com and search for the Portland Trail description, under featured destinations of Southwestern Colorado.
Delta County residents can travel east to the West Elk Wilderness area taking the Kebler Pass Road (Colorado 12) towards Crested Butte. The Cliff Creek Trail, featuring a hike to Beckwith Pass, is a 4.7 mile round trip to the top of Beckwith Pass and back, and wanders through one of the largest Aspen groves in Colorado. This hike is rated moderate because of its elevation gain of about 1000 feet over 2.35 miles to the summit of the pass, but it is easy even for young hikers if you take it slow with a few snack breaks. The wildflower fields, mature aspen stands, and amazing views are worth the trip! This year the wildflowers have outdone themselves and are as tall as most hikers as you make your journey up this magical trail.
How to get there: From Hotchkiss drive east on Hwy 133 to the Kebler Pass turn off, following Hwy 12 for 17.9 miles. You will pass the Lost Lake Campground turnoff and turn off on the signed Cliff Creek trailhead. Drive up the dirt access road for 0.2 miles to the trailhead parking area. A trail description and trail map can be found at www.hikingwalking.com under central Colorado featured trails, Beckwith Pass via Cliff Creek.
Mesa County residents have the Grand Mesa National Forest right in your backyard! After driving up through the Pinyon-Juniper, Oak brush, and finally into the Aspen, you reach one of the most beautiful hikes on the Grand Mesa. The 2.8 mile Mesa Lakes trail loop begins at the Mesa Lakes Campground above Powderhorn Ski Area. You can add another 0.7 miles with a short out and back to Lost Lake, which involves a moderate climb with stunning views. This trail has the added value of fishing opportunities at Mesa Lake, South Mesa Lake, and Lost Lake.
How to get there: From Grand Junction, head west on I-70 to exit 49 for Highway 65 South towards Mesa/Collbran. Go 25 miles to Mesa Lakes Lodge. Drive into the lodge area and turn left just before the cabins. Follow the paved road to a parking area just beyond the trailhead. A map and short description of the Mesa Lakes trail can be found on www.alltrails.com/trail/us/colorado/mesa-lakes-trail.
Fresh air, exercise, family bonding, and exploring nature are just some of the benefits of hiking with your children. If you are at all uneasy about this family outing, here are a few tips and tricks that will help you have fun and ensure your kids will want to go again and again!
For the kick-off hike, pick an easy and interesting trail, go slow, and be enthused – it’s contagious! A destination hike can motivate kids to keep going to reach an endpoint - an overlook, cave, rock art, or waterfall. When you reach that point, have lunch, a special treat, or a fun activity like an energizing jump into a swimming hole. Also, at the end of your hike, have a good refreshing treat waiting in the cooler.
Plan lots of stops to observe and play. The best kid-friendly hikes usually involve scrambling over rocks or boulders, wading through shallow creeks, or walking around a lake. Your kids can practice skipping stones, discovering aquatic bugs under wet rocks, naming wildflowers, or spying fish darting about. Definitely have dry socks and shoes at the car!
Glance off-trail and look around often. A shiny object can get a curious child off course - that’s a good thing! Observation is a great skill, and improves with practice. The more you look, the more things you will see. Point out a lizard scurrying in the shade of a rock, a strange sound in the forest, the soft feel of moss on a log, the earthy scents of a decomposing log. Guide your child’s interaction with nature and try to appeal to all their senses.
A hike can combine the best parts of being in nature – freedom, adventure and discovery. Take breaks often. Pick a boulder or a log to rest, enjoy the view, and have a snack -the best part of a hike! Pack lots of light snacks – nuts, protein bars, and fruit. Surprise your kids with a few unexpected incentives to keep them going like Skittles, gummy worms, or Smarties. Take more water than you think your family will drink and drink it often.
Remain upbeat through the meltdowns and whines. Your kids will feed off of your energy, but be flexible. Change your plans if things are not working out. Remember that you are trying to introduce your family to a nature outing; they won’t want to go again if they aren’t having fun.
When boredom sets in, distraction is the name of the game, and there are lots of trail games to keep everyone occupied and hiking. Your family is also having fun together! Here are a few to keep in mind.
Some additional trail tips:
It’s half way through July, and there are a million things to do outside if you’re a kid! If you are feeling a little bored, check out “the list” your friends made of 100 things every kid absolutely has to do before they are 12. You would be surprised at the things you have already done, but there are so many more new ”to do’s” to check off. For instance, have you peeked under a rock in a creek to see what’s underneath, walked a tight-rope on a log, dug for worms, danced in the rain, waded in a stream or spotted the big dipper? These are just a few of those 100 things. Need the list? You can download it from Generation Wild – The List. Most of these things you can do in a park, or in your backyard. You don’t have to go far to have fun outside- you just need to go! How about making a worm hotel, or a sock garden? Bake some tasty s’mores in a sun oven or make a soda bottle sprinkler? You can get video instructions on these backyard hacks and more at generationwild.com.
Parents, being outside surrounded by nature can have amazing effects on your kiddos but sometimes it is tough to figure out how to motivate your kids to go outside and play. The Generation Wild Movement, sponsored by Get Outdoor Colorado has plenty of fresh ideas to help you raise an outdoor kid, from kids nature books, to cool apps like Sky Guide which makes stargazing simple, or Merlin - a free app that identifies any bird in North America.
Interested in expanding your home range? Some say we have the best backyard around the west with acres of outstanding public lands. There are almost 40,000 miles of public trails in Colorado and many of them are not far from your neighborhood. Colorado Trail Explorer (COTREX) is an app that is your guide to finding and exploring those trails. COTREX features maps for the trailheads across federal, state, local, and private lands with public access in Colorado. Shared knowledge by local users on hiking and Mountain biking trails is an incredible source of the best up-to-date information. The Western Colorado Hiking Project includes 25 featured hikes and 5 (not to miss) gems while the Western Colorado Mountain Biking Project provides information on 280 bike trails in the area including 37 featured rides.
Friends of Youth and Nature (FOYAN) is a non-profit that is a one stop shop to connect you and your kids to outdoor adventures: hiking and mountain bike trails, organizations that provide really cool nature adventures and places to rent gear in Montrose, Mesa and Delta Counties. FOYAN also provides links to maps and apps that will help you find the best places to explore. Take a look at the FOYAN website (friendsofyouthandnature.org) and find out who is sponsoring nature and outdoor programs near you.
Nature is good for kids in so many ways! It promotes confidence, creativity, imagination, a sense of wonder, and teaches responsibility. And, believe it or not, studies show interaction with nature reduces stress and fatigue in our children. Maybe the adults could use a bit of that Nature RX as well! There’s no shortage of outdoor adventures waiting for your kids in western Colorado. These resources will help you and your kids make the most of this summer.
Blogs for spring!
Ethnobotany with Kids
Kids in the Garden-Oh Yeah! (8/2020)
DIY Summer Camps for Kids (7/2020)
Birds of a Feather (6/2020)
Hiking with Children 101 (8/2019)
Kids, Dogs, & Hikes: A winning combination (11/2020)