We pulled into the parking lot a few minutes after 10AM. There were still plenty of parking spots open but as I glanced at the growing flipflop crowd already coating themselves in DEET (it was 64 degrees, breezy, with no bugs) I wondered why I was bringing us to such a heavily used trail for our first hike with our new puppy, Echo. I carried an empty kid carrier and with Echo on a leash and Alex by my side we left the parking lot and dipped into the woods.
This would be a bit of a training hike for Echo. Just a few minutes up the trail I was able to let Echo off leash and start “releasing” him and calling him back with my stash of smoked turkey treats. Alex already had the hand signals down to accompany “sit”, “stay”, “go play”, and enjoyed helping Echo learn.
As we approached the falls I put Echo back on leash due to the amount of people and a few other leashed dogs in the area. We made our way over to a sunny spot on the rocks to watch the swollen water from last nights epic storms.
When I mentioned leaving so we could meet up with Mommy for lunch Alex was adamant we do some exploring. I brought us a bit further up the trail away from the crowds so I could let Echo off his leash. Alex wanted to go off trail to explore a muddy little stream. My first reaction was to reel him in so he wouldn’t get muddy from the assured trips and face plants off trail travel would bring this 34 month old, but then I started thinking about this excellent piece by Emma Marris, “Let Kids Run Free in the Woods”, which I found through the excellent Expect Adventure blog.
I wanted Alex to love hiking. If I always keep him from running, scrambling, exploring, and jumping in every puddle would he really want to keep doing it as he gets older? So I let Alex off the proverbial leash and off he went into the woods.
I was proud to see face height vegetation didn’t creep him out like it did this Spring when we were hiking at Tin Mountain Conservation Center. He scrambled over mossy boulders, found some ankle deep mud to jump in, and explored for almost 30 minutes. At one point he told me to stop following him, so I pulled back to about 40 feet from him. He wandered in circles for another 10 minutes humming and playing. This independent nature play was so great to watch. After almost an hour he looked up and when he didn’t see me right away he said “Daddy”?
“Yes, Alex?” as I stepped into view.
“I like hiking” he said.
“Me too, buddy. Want to hike back to the car so we can have some lunch with Mommy?”
Alex decided it would be fun to run back, and he pretty much ran the entire .6 miles back to the car. He would run for a minute or two, take a quick breather, then run again. He especially loved when Echo would run right next to him. We passed quite a few families with kids on their way in. I saw a few parents who were constantly telling their kids (much older than Alex) to stop running, stay on the trail, slow down, put that stick down… I could see some of these kids look at Alex with some envy as he blasted down the trail laughing and giggling all the way back to the car.
It feels good to be off leash.