Sunday, September 22, 2019

Fall family hikes

Lookout on Track and Tower in Algonquin Park

Fall is the perfect time of year to hike with children.  Hiking in the fall provides the opportunity to experience the amazing scenery of changing colours.  The trails are also usually not as busy, compare to the summer so there is more opportunity to see wildlife, especially early in the morning.  The cooler weather also means less bugs to annoy children on the trail!  

Making the most of your fall hike will take some additional preparation due to the changes in weather, the conditions of the trail and the less daylight with the shorter days in the fall.

Optimal peak viewing means planning 

Depending on your location, the changing leaves can begin as early as September.  Knowing the perfect time to view the changing leaves at peak season requires both a little planning and a lot of luck.  

The first thing you want to do is check with your local trails to find out the expected times of peak viewing (when the colours are in full display).  In Ontario, for example, a great source for locating the peak viewing can be found on the Ontario Parks website.  The website provides a map of the changing colours throughout the province of Ontario and also reports the types of trees expected to view, the percentage of colour change in specific areas and the amount of fallen leaves in that area.  The website also has an interactive map with colour of the leaves icon in each region to represent each specific provincial park and its updated fall colour report (updated almost daily in the fall).

You will want to also look at the weather forecast because the changing colours are the most spectacular on sunny days with the sun reflecting off the colours and creating a spectacular contrast of the reds, oranges, yellows and purples. 

But be careful not to wait too long to get on the trail to view the changing colours as one big windstorm (which often happens this time of year) can dramatically shift the ratio of fallen leaves and coloured leaves still remaining on the trees.

Cooler fall weather means packing the essentials to stay warm

The cooler weather in the fall makes it ideal for hiking with children.  With less bugs on the trail, children will enjoy not having to deal with the constant buzzing in their ears.  

The cooler air in the fall is refreshing, which makes long hikes more enjoyable. But weather can change drastically in the fall, from a warm sunny day to a very cold rain with a wind that tells you that winter is just around the corner.

Layering is key for fall hikes so that layers can be added or taken off depending on the changing weather so that you always keep warm and dry.  

In your pack, you should always bring rain gear, a fall coat, hats, gloves and an extra pair of socks so you are prepared for all types of weather.  

Just because the weather is cooler, you should not put away your sunscreen as the sun can still burn, even on cool and clouding days.

In the hot sun, you may not need to remind your children to keep drinking water because the heat on the trail will make them turn to their hydration system to cool off and to replenish the lost water due to sweating.  In cooler weather, the need to stay hydrated may not be as apparent, but is just as important.  

For short hikes, you can bring a couple of water bottles (enough for everyone in your family to stay hydrated on the short trip), but you should still bring your water kits (life straws and/or water filtration) just in case somebody in the group needs more water.  On longer trips, you should use your water reservoir kit (e.g. camel back) as these provide the most convenient way to bring water on the trail and children especially benefit from sipping from the tube while hiking rather than needing to wait until the next break.  

How much water is enough?  While every body type and age will have different requirements, it is a good general rule to have one litre of water per person for every hour of hiking.

Fall trail conditions means mud

With less daylight and cooler days, the trails may not have time to completely dry.  It is likely that you will be walking in patches of mud along the trail.  Wearing the proper hiking footwear is essential.  Whether you decide to wear hiking shoes or hiking boots, they should be waterproof, sturdy, with good traction and good support.  For tips for choosing appropriate footwear on the trail, see our earlier post.

You will also want to stay on trails that are known for clear and consistent trail markers.  Once leaves fall from the trees, the trails can be difficult to navigate and so you will want to look to the trees for markers (e.g. paint, signs, markers).  It is also a good idea to bring a current map of the trail and a compass in case you get lost.  

Shorter days means earlier starts

With the days getting shorter, there is less time to hike during the daylight hours.  Departing early in the morning for the trail, especially on longer hikes, optimizes your chances of coming out of the trail before it's dark.  

When hiking with children, you should be realistic about the time it will take to complete the hike.  Many review sites post expected times to complete, but it is not always clear whether these suggested times refer to more experienced hikers without children.  

As a general rule, depending on the ages and abilities of the children and the type of terrain, you should expect to travel one mile an hour with children to allow for breaks, lunch, snacks, looking at the leaves, and more breaks!  So if the trail is 8 miles, you should expect that the trail will take approximately 8 hours to complete.  So you will want to plan accordingly to make sure you start early enough to complete the trail before dusk.  

Sometimes, despite your best planning, you will find yourselves having to come out in the dark so you should always pack working headlamps and extra batteries just in case you need to find your way to the car with no other source of light to show you the way.


Fall hiking is spectacular and a great opportunity to spend time with children.  Spending time together as a family provides the opportunity to check in, to decompress from the start of a new school year, to reconnect and to enjoy the most amazing colours on full display.  

Hiking in the fall requires much of the same preparation needed in other seasons for safe and enjoyable family adventures in the outdoors.  But specific attention to the weather, trail conditions and the hours of daylight will ensure you make the most of your spectacular trip.

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