One scene I cannot forget: I was five miles into a hike to Berry Creek Falls at Big Basin Redwoods when I noticed a toddler, maybe 14 months old at best, wandering around in his diaper with his admiring mom and dad nearby, doing their best to keep him from wandering into the poison oak.

Taking the tot on a 12-mile hike, how’s that for getting him started early?

Jane Huber’s latest blog post describes the necessities of taking your 3-year-old along. For instance:

Choose the right kind of trail. While the whole family adores singletrack trails through woods and coastal scrub, these aren’t best for us. Very narrow trails aren’t wide enough to accommodate 2 hikers walking hand in hand, which is essential when we are hiking on trails with a drop-off on one side or that are very steep. It’s also essential to be able to see a good distance in front and behind us, because quite often Jack will plop down on the trail to play with leaves or rocks or heffalump traps, and when he does this I need to make sure a bicycle (or mountain lion) doesn’t come barreling down the trail and run into us. Hiking-only trails eliminate the possibility of bikes and horses, but wide fire roads through open grassy landscapes work best.

What usually happens when grown-ups drag their kids out on the trail: everybody goes where Dad wants to go and puts up with it because, well, he’s Dad and his crazy habits are just part of the package. Jane’s not proposing caving to a toddler’s whims; she’s trying to see the trail through a child’s eyes. Shorter hikes, fatter trails — which too many hiker types reject out of hand (or foot).

Camping Blogger makes a similar point about his kids:

While they might dismiss some great natural wonder as “ho-hum,” they will spend hours playing with salamanders in a mountain stream. It is important for us, as parents, to remember that our children’s interests are not always aligned with our own. If we are to promote and develop our children’s interest in nature, it’s important to let them explore nature on their terms – wherever that may lead.

While I sympathize with the notion that getting youngsters interested in nature will foster a new generation of environmentalists, I doubt many kids will consider it an especially compelling argument for dumping their Xbox. And if you know of any kids who buy “you’ll thank me for this when you’re a grown-up,” call a research scientist to look into this peculiarity.

Perhaps the secret is to match your outdoor forays to whatever your kid is into indoors. One hiker told me his vid-crazed kid was nuts about geocaching. If they like solving puzzles, orienteering might be worth a look. Scouting is an obvious choice, but some kids will be turned off by the absurdly out-of-date outfits.

Your suggestions welcome as always.