Timing is everything

I love hiking in the early morning when earth-consciousness and nature are peaceful, calm, and quiet. There is an amazing quality to that time of day. But besides being able to enjoy that feeling, logistics play a big part of why I find early morning the best time to hike with my daughter. Understanding these logistics and getting the timing right makes a huge difference in how much we enjoy the hike.

Why I like early mornings:

More parking
One of my favorite hikes of this summer was when my wife, daughter, and I made it to Mitchell Lake, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. Sitting at the base of snow-capped peaks of the continental divide, the quintessential mountain lake is easily accessed from a loop trail less two miles long. However, because of the easy access, the hike attracts a lot of folks and the small parking lot at the trailhead fills up fast. We arrived just past 9 AM on a weekend to find the parking lot full. I dropped my wife and daughter off at the trailhead and after searching for spots for 10 minutes along the roads, I parked at Brainard Lake below. I ran six-tenths of a mile back and forth from my parking spot to the trailhead at the start and conclusion of our hike. On the latter of these runs, I missed spotting a moose that my wife and daughter saw while snacking at the end of our hike.

There’s a lot of humans on the planet these days and if you don’t like hunting for parking spots, then waking up early helps beat the crowds. Parking at the trailhead focuses my hike time on the trail rather than on pavement.

More time
Autumn this year my daughter and I were hiking on the Dakota Ridge Trail that runs along the foothills in Boulder, CO, singing verses of The Ants Go Marching Down. We made our way to the Sanitas Valley Trail at which point my daughter proclaimed she wanted to continue on to the top. I would have loved to spend all day hiking and make an attempt at the summit with my daughter but the day’s schedule would not permit that plan. Between work, school, friends, family, and other life activities I find it challenging to prioritize and fit in frequent hikes with my daughter.

I’ve found hiking in the early morning before the day’s activities take center stage is by far the most reliable way to ensure it happens on a regular basis. This means avoiding a leisurely breakfast, avoiding errands, and (yes) a shower. Just get right to it.

More wildlife
I love spotting wildlife with my daughter. Wildlife tends to be the most active in the early morning and late evening. At preschool age, late evening is not an ideal time for hiking, which leaves early morning.

It’s rewarding to start a hike with a visit from wildlife – like passing a herd of deer within the first few footsteps – it adds a wonderful dimension to hiking where I feel more connected to nature.

But…

Early morning is not always the the ideal time to hike.

Three big reasons that persuade me to go later in the day include:

Temperature
The first time we encountered glaze ice hiking started out as a chilly day. Half-way through the hike, as the sun warmed everything up, the trail turned to mud and we shed our winter jackets and gear to keep from overheating.

Below freezing temperatures can be uncomfortable. When we daughter feels gung-ho, we’ll get out there as early as we wake up. But if my daughter isn’t feeling strong and excited to gear up and go outside, then we’ll start later in the morning after we’ve had a chance to wake up and the temperature may have risen a few degrees.

Location
On our first camping trip in Rocky Mountain National Park we took our time enjoying breakfast tent-side before heading off to explore. We didn’t make it to the trailhead for Alluvial Fan Falls till late in the morning. But because of the location the reasons I typically like early mornings didn’t apply as much.

Whether we’re out camping or just traveling a ways to a trailhead, when the location of the hike is a good distance from civilization there tend to be less crowds, more parking, and more wildlife. With these kind of locations we’re committed to spending significant (sometimes multiple-days) in the wilderness so alternate activities also don’t threaten to shorten our hike.

Family time
With a newborn son balancing a love for hiking with family time has been challenging. There are a lot of new responsibilities as well as unpredictable events that force our plans to change last minute. If my wife has a night of sleep deprivation my daughter and I will be coming in for a rescue in the early morning, not hitting the trail. Sometimes we’ll have days or weeks where there’s been so much rushing that we’ll want to spend the early morning enjoying a leisurely family breakfast to connect before jumping into the day.

Balancing out the needs of the whole family is one of my highest priorities. While hiking is one of my favorite activities, it comes after making sure we all feel connected and loved.

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This is part of a series of Hiking with Preschoolers.

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