Monday, November 16, 2020

When nature calls: Trail potty training for kids of all ages

Elf on the potty

When Nature Calls! 

There will be a time on the trail when someone needs to use the washroom. Many trails have designated areas that they have created for a makeshift privy. However, we can guarantee nature seems to call either before or after that point, so what do you do? Be prepared!

What you need to bring: Carrying biodegradable toilet paper is a necessity along with a shovel, wipes, and cornstarch (to get rid of the itch!). We also recommend young ladies carry feminine products just in case.

Where to go: Ideally, use the spots designated on the trail marked either as washroom/toilet/privy. These areas usually have a makeshift toilet and are much easier for a child to use. However, most children have to go when they have to go, so you need to first find a place where everyone can stop and you are able to drop your packs. This is one of the only times that you should ever go off-trail.

Privy sign in the Adirondacks

How to 'go' in the forest: You need to find a place where they can use a tree or stump to lean or sit over. Dig a hole as deep as the hand shovel. Younger children will need more help and may need you to hold them to go. Once they have gone ensure they have wiped properly to avoid any discomfort once back on the trail again.

How to avoid monkey butt: Applying corn starch or Monkey Butt can help ensure there is no chaffing after they have gone. Place the toilet paper in the hole as well (as long as it is biodegradable) and bury it along with the waste.  Use the wipes for hands to ensure they are clean (brings these back out with you). 

How to protect the forest: Try your best to not disturb too much off the trail. Do not bury the wipes or feminine products as they will not biodegrade like the toilet paper. Put them in your garbage bag to carry out all garbage (i.e. your snack garbage). 

How to plan ahead: Children tend to have a harder time going in the woods so it is important to go over this before you hit the trail. On trails far from home, it is best to stop at a coffee shop, gas station or another place with public washrooms to try to avoid going into the woods. 


When nature calls make sure you are prepared with all the essentials.

Be respectful of trail rules, leave it like you found it. Bury waste that is biodegradable and bring out what is not.

Talk to your children ahead of time. Prepare them so they are not shy or scared. 

If your children need to go in the woods, make sure it's presented as 'no big deal' and a learning opportunity for taking care of the forest.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Lion's Head Trail: The perfect family hike in Ontario

Taking a break on top of Lion's Head

COVID-19 has created a lot of extra stress on families.  It is important to spend time as a family just having fun together and away from the mundane of everyday life.  A great way to spend time together as a family during the pandemic is to hike as a family.  It's a great way for both parents and children to put away their phones and to spend time outdoors while physically distancing from others.  

More people seem to be hiking during this pandemic than ever before, which is probably due to closures of so many activities.  And so the challenge has been to find the perfect hike, at the perfect time, and hope to have the perfect weather.  We have been avoiding the popular trails during the weekends and instead opting for 'hard to reach' trails during the weekend and then saving the more popular trails in the mornings during the week when the trails are typically not as busy.   

Although Lion's Head Loop Trail has been on our list for a day hike, we knew it was going to be busy so we went on a weekday when the weather report was gloomy, chilly with the potential for rain.  Our gamble paid off, as the weather kept others off the trail, the hike was unusually quiet, and we even had the sun come out during the hike!

The Lion's Head Trail is just north of Owen Sound and near Northern Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.  The trail is a 15.3km loop, which is part of the Bruce Trail.  The trail provides many breathtaking views from the cliffs, interesting Potholes,  a rock beach, and a diverse array of plants and trees along the trail. 
View from the cliffs at Lion's Head

The trail starts out with a short trek to the Potholes, which were formed by the Glaciers with pebbles caught under the ice and in the layers of the water.  As the ice moved, it would create a whirlpool and the pebbles swirled around and created these amazing Potholes.  Many people frequent this part of the trail so if you go during the busy times, you may not have much time to enjoy this amazing sight.

Entrance to the Potholes at Lion's Head

From the inside of the Potholes at Lion's Head

On the way to the potholes and look out there were wild Forget-me-nots and Trilliums that lined the trail. It was beautiful.


Once you get past that area, you hike along the cliffs for at least 4km with areas that you can sit and enjoy the view of the lake.  Along the shore, the water is a beautiful turquoise colour.  

Views of the shoreline at Lion's Head

The cliffs in many areas are straight down and there are some cracks that you need to step over.  

Rock bridge on Lion's Head

The trail is very safe and we had no concerns.  But it is important that you stay on the trail and use common sense. 

Once you move away from the cliffs you make a bit of a decent and what seems like a quick turn around a corner(About the 6.5km point), you are on a beach covered in smooth stone from the lake.  It was a great place to have a break and enjoy some snacks.  

Enjoy a snack on the shore on Lion's Head Trail

This trail is well-marked and it is easy to follow.  In areas by the shore where there are fewer trees, there are these wonderful cairns to guide the way.

Cairn guiding the way

The trail then moves away from the lake and heads back into the forest,  lined with forget-me-nots and trilliums.

Trillium floor

The next section has some uphill but then levels off once on top of the cliffs.  

Back on the cliffs at Lion's Head

To finish the loop, we walked along a side trail towards the parking lot.  It was about 4.3 km from the reconnection point.  Part of this trail was obviously an old road which allowed us to walk side by side and chat.  It was great.  The sun was shining through the trees and on the flowers. 

Sun in the Trees


According to, Lion's Head loop is rated as the most popular day hike in Ontario and it makes perfect sense to us why it is the most popular.  

Lion's Head can be extremely busy and overcrowded due to its popularity.  Avoid doing this trail on weekends and plan to complete the trail in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds.  

The sights are amazing, the trail is moderately difficult but not too demanding, and the trail is full of fun surprises.  It is a perfect trail for an extended day hike with the family.  It's a trail that is long enough to pack a lunch, but not too long that you have to worry about breakfast and dinner too!  If you are in Ontario, it is a "must hike trail".  

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Top 10 ways to keep the hiking trails safe during COVID-19 pandemic

Hope you are all safe and that you are getting the opportunity to get on the trails with your kids.  It's now more important than ever to get the kids off their phones and out of the house!  As people continue to flock to the trails in record numbers, there are some changes (besides closures) we need to consider to ensure we all remain safe and doing our part not to spread the virus while hiking.  We are in no way experts nor do we claim to be, and please follow guidelines set out by your governments and health authorities.  These are suggestions and common sense ideas for hiking during the COVID-19.  

1) Stay Active as a Family: While many of our favorite trails have been either closed or inaccessible due to travel restrictions, we have been using these times as opportunities to train for the trails as a family.   We developed a routine for jogging, strength training, and daily walks to be ready for the trails. It has been fun working out with the kids.  Being active strengthens our bodies and our family bond.  When one of us struggles with an exercise, everyone cheers them on.  We don't have all the gym equipment, so we developed stations, such as push-ups, squats, crunches, burpees, jumping jacks, wall sits, running up hills, etc.  Every day is different and it has been great on our bodies, minds, and spirits to remain trail-ready, even when we can't get to our favorite locations.

2) Respect Closures:  While it feels awful when your favorite trail is closed due to the pandemic, but you are taking a huge unnecessary risk by going on a closed trail.  You can get lost or hurt and nobody will be coming by to help.

3) Minimize Contact with Locals: Given that most hikes can take us hours from our homes, it is typical to stop in small towns for gas, food and to shop for local treasures.  But during the pandemic, you may be exposing people in these small towns to the virus.  While big cities may have the hospitals and support to assist people who have been infected with the virus, this is not always the case in smaller towns and so you may be creating even more risk for them.

4) Parking Lot Etiquette: The parking lots are often the busiest area of the trail, as some people getting ready to head out on the trail, while others return to the parking lot at the end of their hike.   Considering the parking lot can be hard to physically distance, wearing a mask provides protection for yourself and others.

5) Leave No Garbage: Take your garbage home with you!  Yes, there are usually garbage bins in parking areas, however, with the virus in mind, you don't want to be spreading the virus by touching communal objects like garbage binds.  We also need to do our part for keeping the staff safe by not increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

6) Leash Your Pets:  Most trails already have this rule in place for good reason, however, during the pandemic, it is more important than usual to keep your pet on a leash and in close proximity.  Your pet may be friendly and loves everyone, but your dog should be obeying the physical distancing rules and you are the only person to make sure your pet is not violating the space of others.  

7) Use Rest Areas with Caution:  Hiking is about the journey and the destination.  Resting at a lookout or a top of a mountain is part of the reward of the sweat (and sometimes tears) of making it to the destination.  But these spots can be busy and so you need to be respectful of others and the rules of physical distancing.  You need to be respectful of others so they have the same privilege.  Keep your gear, boots, and lunch in a contained space so you respect the space of others.  While it's a great time for children to explore, make sure they stay clear from other hiking parties to ensure social distancing. Also, make sure you bring your mask and use it if you are not able to distance in busier rest areas. 

8) Carry in/Carryout: All garbage leaves with you!  I know when we are hiking, in the past, any garbage we have seen, we have picked up and brought out with us.  In our packs, we have ziplock bags for exactly that.  However, during the virus, it is a high-risk activity to pick up the garbage of others unless you can do it without contact.  It's also a good time to mention my pet peeve about people who spit sunflower seeds on the trail....if you are infected with the virus, you are basically leaving a virus trail every time you spit your seeds.  And besides, we go hiking to get away from the virus, but there is nothing that can bring us back to reality than seeing a used dirty mask on the trail.

9) Nature Calls: Someone will inevitably need to use the washroom at some point in the trip and many of the toilets near trails may be off-limits.  Make sure everyone uses the facilities before leaving the house and before getting to the trail. When nature calls on the trail, use either the dig deep and bury method or even better take, carry the portable waste bags with you and bring it home with you.  Please move a fair distance off the trail if you will be using the dig deep and bury method and leave no trace as much as possible.

10) Hand Sanitizer and Personal Wipes: This is something that most likely you do anyway regardless of Coronavirus.  Carry hand sanitizer and wipes and use often (after touching common objects like benches, water fountains, pencil to sign-in to trails), and especially before touching food.  You will need to carry out the wipes, as many are not biodegradable. 

Bonus Item: Step Aside: Trail etiquette dictates that you step aside to let uphill hikers have the right of way.  While this is still the case, you need to also make sure you have sufficient distance to pass by at all times (including flat ground).  Use common sense to allow either party to pass with as much space as possible to help reduce the spread of the virus while enjoying the trails.  If you are going to move off the trail, be careful of the sensitive vegetation so that you don't do further damage to the forest floor.

When in doubt, use common sense to stay safe on the trails.  By not taking specific precautions you are putting yourself at risk and everybody around you.  Hiking is one of the few activities that we can still do while physically distancing... and we need to make sure we protect the sport and ourselves so we continue to have hiking as an option.  Feel free to share this blog with anybody you think needs a refresher course on trail etiquette during the pandemic.  And as always, we would love to hear from you.  What has been your experience while on the trails during the pandemic?  

Monday, June 8, 2020

Making positive family hiking narratives

Beyond the constraints of obligations, electronic devices and large social networks that pull families apart in different directions, hiking and spending time on the trails provide families with the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time together and to create positive and lifelong memories.  

Hiking with children allows parents the opportunity to pass on experiences that capture central values for family life and well-being, which can be realized by their children as they grow older and can pass to future generations.

Positive shared memories and important family narratives of belonging and are instilled during the hiking trip. The shared experiences of sunrises, views from the top of mountains, taking shelter in rainstorms, traveling to new hiking trails, learning about animals and following tracks, and spending time together in real-time will have lasting effects long after you have reached your destination for that specific journey. 

Families can lose their bearings, especially when children spend too much time in structures activities, in their rooms, on their phones, tuned out of the family and when parents become too busy in the daily activities that they end up ignoring the importance of spending time with their children in unstructured and spontaneous fun. 

Hiking and spending time outdoors provides families with the unstructured opportunity to connect without the distractions of daily life.  

While on the trail, families can experience a sense of presence, even though each family may have different patterns of hiking (children sometimes run in front eager to get there, sometimes slowly follow their parents, or each parent walks with one child, or they all walk as a unit holding hands).  Hiking is so much more than just walking.  Its also stopping for breaks, taking family pictures, talking on the trail, having lunch together, enjoying the view, playing games, singing, bird watching, etc.

Remembring and talking about the events provides another opportunity to strengthen the family narrative and to benefit from these experiences.  Watching a slideshow of the pictures of a trip or talking about the points to remember can help to concretize these experiences deep in the memory bank and provide children with deep feelings of connections and positive sense of self and family, which will help to create strong, resilient and passionate young adults.  

When parents and the children communicate about their travels and time spent together by asking each other questions about the experiences on hiking trips (e.g. do you remember when we saw the moose?), we create shared narratives, shared stories, and an overall sense of belonging and connection. 

To recount stories that occurred on the trail is about creating a shared family narrative and a sense of family identity.

As families tell their stories to each other,  the use of the "we" can connect the family as active participants in the storyline.  As family members talk about the family as a unite, the family begins to talk with a shared understanding, a common experience, and a joint sense of connection and meaning that gives a sense of closeness. 

By sharing experiences of their existence, the parents believe that they are giving their children a lifelong gift. Through this gift the parents implant their experiences into their children’s memory, thus creating continuity based on their belief that the children will evoke these memories later in life.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 First Snowshoeing Adventure

Happy New Year!  We have been quiet during the last couple of months because we have been busy with our kids' hockey.  Although we took some time off from blogging, we have been planning our next big adventures for 2020 and we look forward to sharing these with you in the coming months.  We also have a number of tips for hiking with children that we have been working on.  And now with our new found love of snowshoeing, we expect that we will be updating the blog throughout the year.

Rather than wait until the spring to begin hiking as a family again, we decided to try snowshoeing.  We picked January 1, 2020, as the date of our first snowshoeing adventure so we could accomplish the first hike of the year and to set the stage for a very active year in the outdoors.

The temperature in Toronto has been extremely mild and there has been no snow on the ground so we needed to travel up north to Algonquin Park where we were welcomed by cooler temperatures and opportunities to experience the enjoyment of winter in the outdoors.

The temperature was fantastic (- 4 C) with mostly cloudy, but the sun did peek out several times during our five-hour adventure.

We have completed the Track and Tower trail in Algonquin Park almost yearly since the children were babies, but we have never experienced the trail in the snow.  The blue trail markers were easy to locate and the trail was clearly marked throughout.  We did see a couple other parties snowshoeing the trails and this also helped with a clearly marked passage.

The trail took us a lot longer to complete than in the summer, but mostly because we stopped frequently to take pictures of the snow-covered scenery and to soak in the amazing views.

The fresh snowfall made the trail clean and crisp.  A winter perspective on the trail made it feel like a new adventure on a familiar trek.

Familiar trees and landscapes look different when covered in snow and it provided a lot of opportunities for comparing and contrasting the trail across the different seasons.

With the extra exertion of snowshoeing, we make sure we make frequent breaks and that the children refueled with energy snacks along the way.  We also brought our camelbacks with water to ensure everyone hydrated.  Because the temperature is colder, the desire to hydrate was not as strong even though our bodies still required to be hydrated.

Ascending to the top of the lookout seemed easier than in the summer because our crampons gave us extra traction in the snow and seemed to give us the extra grip to make the trip.

There are many places along the trail to take a break.  This section of the trail (#10) is just before the long stretch back so it is a perfect place to take a break and marvel in the old railway bed and bridge.

The trail offers a number of spots with beautiful ice sculptors that are shaped around the rock cuts.  This trail is particularly spectacular because a portion of the trail follows a previous 1900's railway cut out from the Canadian Shield, so the frozen rock drips are both plentiful and spectacular and offered a completely different look in the winter. 

Family Peak Seekers' first hike of 2020!!!!!