We’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains between us, starting in our own childhoods with trips to the Lakes, Scotland and the Brecon Beacons. From the age of 10 I lived on the Welsh borders. From the top of our road I had a great view across the Golden Valley to the Black Mountains and the Beacons beyond. I grew up loving that view; already feeling the lure of high places and open spaces; relishing the days we spent walking up a mountain and down the other side to the pub, and then all the way back again. We look back on these experiences as hugely formative in our development as people who love the great outdoors, and we’re keen to pass that love on to our own children.
We’ve climbed a good few mountains with our two now and, even though it still rarely goes completely to plan, we’re learning some valuable lessons as we go. Here are our top tips for climbing mountains with kids:
1. Keep it positive
Adventuring with kids isn’t always a walk in the park. Some days it works; some days it doesn’t. If you get to the grassy slope at the bottom of the mountain and someone decides they’re going no further, try some of the suggestions below. If this doesn’t work, enjoy the adventure anyway. Run around, spot wildlife, play games and have a picnic. Don’t drag them kicking and screaming up the mountain. It may be they’ll be keener later on, but either way it’s better to have had a positive experience than a negative one.
2. Pick your mountain
We’ve included our 10 favourite kid-friendly “mountains” below. Not many are official mountains, but we picked them because they were great days out for us. Pick a mountain that suits your family’s level of expertise, fitness and ability. Start small and work your way up. A summit that’s visible from the start is a good motivator, as is a clear route to the top. Get the kids involved in looking at the map and seeing where the mountain is in relation to them.
3. Pick your route
Pick a route that’s long and steep enough to provide a challenge but not one that’s going to turn into an epic that puts everyone off ever attempting something similar again. Make sure you know where you’re going – including your ascent and descent routes if they’re different. Again, get the kids involved in route planning and they’ll start to relate where they are to the map.
4. Pack wisely
Taking the right things with you on a family adventure can easily be the difference between triumph and disaster. Our bag always includes:
- Basic first aid kit
- Survival bag
- Spare clothing for everyone
- Warm clothing for everyone
- Extra food
- Wet wipes
- Mobile phone
Kids use up a lot of energy just being kids. They tend to move more than adults even when they’re standing still. Smaller children have a high surface area to volume ratio, meaning they’ll loose heat more rapidly and require more energy to keep warm. They’re also not afraid to complain when things aren’t going exactly as they’d like… It’s amazing how often a well-timed snack can turn things around. This isn’t the time for worrying about sugar either: you need to make sure they’re regularly topped up with easily-absorbed calories that they’ll want to eat. Our kids rarely get sweets and we certainly don’t use them as bribery in normal situations. However a packet of Percy Pigs has seen us through many a tricky situation and we believe rewarding hard physical effort with food isn’t a bad thing.
Mountains for Munchkins: Our Top 10
Our favourite mountains are a bit of a mixture: some are well-known; others less-so. We’re also aware the geographical spread isn’t huge, but most of these are places we visit regularly, or are within easy reach of home. What they all have in common is an appeal that can be felt by adults and children alike, relative ease of access and safety even with smaller children, plus something else that makes them a bit special. We’d love to hear any recommendations for other great family-friendly mountains.
1. Sugarloaf, Brecon Beacons
Even the view from the car park is stunning, but the panorama from the summit of Sugarloaf is ample reward for the enjoyable climb up its grassy slopes.
2. Golden Cap, Dorset
The highest point on the south coast of Britain, the views from Golden Cap are glorious – out across the green, rolling hills of the estate; the rugged coastline in either direction and the sparkling expanse of the sea.
3. Cley Hill, Wiltshire
A climb to the top of this local UFO hotspot is rewarded with great views of the surrounding Wiltshire countryside, including one of the neighbouring crop circle.
4. Hay Bluff, Brecon Beacons
I grew up with a view of this sharp-edged mountain, right at the northern tip of the Black Mountain range. A long, steadily-rising climb to the plateau is rewarded with a feast of bilberries if you time it right.
5. Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor
The highest point on Exmoor is topped with a big cairn that feels like a proper summit, but in reality it’s only a short, easy but fun walk. Wild and windswept moorland stretches away in all directions.
6. Mam Tor, Peak District
A classic Peak District summit, Mam Tor is rightly popular with families – both in summer when blue skies make the surroundings even more picturesque, and in winter when it’s a prime sledging venue.
7. Haytor, Devon
One of the classic bits of Dartmoor, well-worn yet inviting paths lead up the slopes of Haytor to the imposing granite knuckles of the tors at the summit. Scramble to the top of the rocks if you’re feeling brave – on a clear day you can see the sea!
On a grander scale altogether than the rest of our mountains, Snowdon is a wonderful first “proper” summit. There’s a great choice of routes to the top (including the train) and a cafe once you get there. Not one to attempt in poor weather.
9. Side Pike, Cumbria
Towering invitingly over the National Trust Great Langdale campsite, Side Pike is a short, easy walk with a few interesting rocky sections on the way up. Look out for awe-inspiring views of the Langdale Pikes from the summit.
10. Blackdown, Surrey
The highest point in the South Downs National Park, this is a pretty, wooded area a short hop from London where you might spot banded Galloway cattle.