Although I grew up in Colorado, I did not grow up hiking with my dad. I really don’t know why this was the case, but at some point, he was a single dad of two with a full-time job, while I was a sassy teen with a part-time job and homework and friends and crushes. Hiking together just wasn’t part of our world.
Yet, when I set out to update 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Denver and Boulder, my dad was one of the people I ended up doing some memorable hikes with through the seasons. It hadn’t occurred to me before to ask him to join me, honestly, and I was so pleased that he wanted to come along.
I’ve got a few tips for enjoying a hike with your dad (or stepdad or grandfather or uncle) as I share a few stories from our hikes.
01: Go ahead and extend the invitation. Dad saw my posts on social media about my first few hikes and called me to ask if he could hike with me. It wasn’t that I deliberately did not invite him—I wasn’t so organized to have a list of hiking partners—but I hadn’t thought of him yet. Maybe you think hiking isn’t something your father likes or he hasn’t done it before, but don’t let that stop you. If it’s new to him, start with something relatively flat with places to stop and rest along the way. Even if he says no, it will make him feel good to be included.
02: One interesting thing about being an adult child is that sometimes you forget you’re still someone’s kid. I was humbly reminded of this on a gorgeous hike outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, to the top of Greyrock Mountain where little lakes filled with talkative frogs dwell. The hike had been hotter than expected, so it felt longer; by the time we were scrambling up rocks near the top, my legs were wobbly. My 70-something father hoisted himself up, and I stood there looking at my hiking poles and looking at the rocks and back and forth. “You want me to take the poles?” he asked. “No, I’ve got it.” I said. Like he can’t see right through me! I finally abandoned the poles and gave him my hand and he half-pulled me up. You’re never too old to still need your dear old dad.
03: Remember to pack your sense of humor along with your water bottle and other hiking necessities. One of my earliest hikes for my book was not in the previous edition, so I did a little research and headed off to meet Dad on a late-summer afternoon. Like many trailheads, this one had several trail options, and I misread the distance. As we walked and talked, it became clear this hike would be longer than we expected—by about a mile, it turned out. “How long did you say this hike is?” he asked me as we began the loop back. I had to confess that I no longer knew, and this seemed hilarious to us. On our various hikes we laughed about all kinds of mishaps—from those in the past to our getting lost en route to the trailhead—and this made us want to go on another hike together.
04: Try new things together—from taking selfies during the hike to having a meal together after the hike. Even though you’re all grown up, you can still make memories together. Just because we didn’t spend my childhood going on lots of hikes didn’t mean we couldn’t start now. Now retired, my dad has the time to hit the trail and spend the next day recovering, if needed. We have so much to talk about as we hike, and we laugh a lot about past and present stories we share. Next thing you know, we’ll have new hiking experiences to talk about over Christmas dinner with more family members, and our relationship and history will just keep evolving through these shared moments.
05: Adjust your hiking style. If you’re a weekend warrior bagging peaks with your buddies, that’s cool, but that’s maybe not quite what your father can handle. There’s a lot to be said for slowing down and simply appreciating the company you’re with and the time outside. If it’s your dad who is the budding athlete while you’re a weekday desk jockey, ask him to go at your speed so you can hike together.
Out of the more than 70 hikes I did for my research, only a handful of those were with my dad, but those were some of the best ones, and I have indelible memories from each one. We were both awed by the beauty we saw, and we easily laughed off our foibles. It wasn’t a trip down memory lane, but a chance to keep building remembrances in our lives together.