The Secret To Getting Your Family Outdoors

Years ago, my wife and I set out to create a blog called Adventure Parents as a place to share our photos and stories as we raised a family and tried like hell to maintain our active life. My well-meaning yet utterly clueless friends assumed we were starting a how-to portal, a place to dispense vast amounts of chipper wisdom for other parents and parents-to-be on all things germane to taking children on travels and outdoor adventures. At the time, I didn't know it, but they were wrong. I tried to think of ways to take our experiences, our trips, what I know about my wife, what I know about my own child and what I know about myself and distill them down into cute, simple, five-point digestible tips that could sum it all up and expose the answers to how others could get outside with their families, too. It just didn't work.

Here's what I learned.

I've spent a lot of time reading up on the outdoor-family advice that exists out there, and you know what? It's all an utter waste of your time, really boring, or way too obvious. "Plan ahead down to the last detail!" "Go slow!" "Don't expect too much from your kids!" "Your kids can handle more than you think!" And on and on. I concluded one thing: Thanks for the fine advice, but what else you got?

So I ran it by some friends at a campfire one night. "Guys, I think I've figured it out. My advice about taking your family outdoors? Pack your crap and go. Just go."

Sorry, I mean this: All you really need, when you boil it down, is desire. My wife and I like to hike, climb, bike, paddle; we like to sweat outside in fresh air; we like cooking dinner over a campfire with a good view of perfect raw desert, or snow-capped Rocky Mountains, or a middle-of-nowhere Mexican beach. Desire for those things is what motivates us. Beyond that, I'm just lost and trying to figure it all out myself. So, what is it that you love? Share that, show that.

Yes, some days I'd rather—much, much rather—go for a solo hike on an obscure trail simply for the solitude, not having to move at the pace of a 4-year-old or motivate her with promises of tasty snacks. I'd rather get on the trail and move. Some days, I'd really prefer to go rock climbing with my wife, just the two of us, the way it used to be a long time ago. What am I getting at? Well, yes, going on some outdoor adventure as a whole family is often a whopping royal pain in the ass. So, hell yes, sometimes I'd rather not be toting a child, or children, around in the wilderness, because it's so much easier without. There. Shit. I said it.

But I'll also say that going solo would be so much less fulfilling. After all, my daughter's tantrums are balanced by moments of overwhelming joy and gut-busting laughter at irregular intervals, sometimes at terribly early hours in the morning. My wife and I decided a long time ago that we'd continue to take cool back road trips and hikes and other travels with our children. Because she and I created thousands of sustaining memories and, eventually, forged our marriage doing these things.

So, that's why such outdoor parenting advice sucks. This stuff is just too personal—only you know what your kids like, what your spouse likes (and dislikes). Only you. True, maybe you have a baby on the way and you're wondering how that will affect your goals as an ultrarunner, or climber or whatever.

It's as simple as this: I promised a friend that I would read Tolstoy's War and Peace. It's a book as thick as a brick and twice as heavy. It's going to take some dedication to get through it. Question for you: Should I Google something like, "How to read really big books," or should I just sit down and read the thing?


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Mark Stephens is a father and husband living in Arizona. He writes about the people, places and things that appeal to active parents enjoying outdoor adventure in any of its forms on his blog