Eight Maryland hikes perfect for families

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Benefits of family hiking

Hiking enthusiasts see all kinds of benefits in cultivating their kids' taste for the great outdoors. With the diversity of Maryland, from woodlands to wetlands, local hikers have many options when choosing a place to explore.

Matt Chasse, of Cape St. Claire, got his daughter out hiking when she was still young enough to fit in a backpack. Now, at 4 ½, she carries her own little pack with snacks and water around Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis.

"I wanted my daughter to really have an outdoor experience," he says. She "needs to be comfortable outside, to make a connection to nature, to things that live outside of our house," says Chasse.

Eventually he plans to take her out west to such wild locales as the Rocky Mountains. For now, however, they take in the beautiful sight of the South River at Quiet Waters and search for salamanders and bugs under logs.

A world outside of the screen

Hiking plays into kids' natural sense of wonder, according to Quiet Waters Park Ranger David DeVault. All the plants and animals can get them interested in a world outside of TV and video games. Part of his job is to lead kids on hikes that point out what they are missing when they are inside.

"Any number of things on the hike are possible as far as wildlife," he says, from deer to Great Blue Herons and Kingfishers.

In October he will host a Fall Colors Hike, which will focus on the process by which trees change colors. For hiking, "October's just a great month. It's not that hot, the trees are starting to turn colors, it's pretty neat," he says.

In fact, any time of year can be great for hiking, says Esther Woodworth, volunteer naturalist at the Jug Bay Natural Area. She has been leading nature hikes for over 20 years, the last four at Jug Bay. Even in the winter, hikers can look for seeds and the signs of impending Spring.

When trying to engage kids in what they are seeing, she uses an arsenal of cool facts about plants and animals, letting them smell and taste as they learn about the importance of preservation.

"It horrifies me the number of kids that don't know what a blackberry is," says Woodworth. She's even seen kids scared of butterflies because they might sting.

When getting started with hiking, Chasse recommends finding a park with trails of varying lengths. Kids need to build up their stamina. Also watch out for poison ivy and remind kids to stay within earshot, he says. DeVault adds that staying on the path and out of vegetation is a good idea, particularly during tick season from April to October.

But when planning and packing for a hike, Wethington says not to fuss too much. Pack light, she says, since "you go back to nature and you realize how little you need."

"Sneakers, sunscreen, hat, backpack with snacks and water—we're ready to go," says Chasse.

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