September is the time to take one last walk through the woods before the trees shed their leaves. But if you're going to embark on a hike with small children, you should make sure that the trail meets certain criteria.
No. 1, it should be entertaining. My boys — Max, 1, and Tucker, 2 — are happiest when there's at least one bridge, ample boulders and stumps to leap from, and at least a few little creatures; butterflies and the occasional frog usually seem to appease.
No. 2: Distance is a major consideration; Tucker is adamant about walking the whole way, and his little legs can only carry him so far.
The trick is finding a hike they'll like that's also appealing to older children and adults. Max and Tucker and I discovered one recently: the nature trail at Little River State Park. This scenic, half-mile loop trail boasts multiple footbridges and an abundance of leap-launching points. And it doubles as a self-guided tour of the park's history, once a farming community. Perfect.
The trail starts out along the banks of Stevenson Brook. There I found the first of 12 wooden signboards with write-ups describing the plants, trees and animals that live in the park, as well as the historic aspects of the land. So while Tucker threw sticks and rocks into the water, I read about the history of the brook.
Once he had thrown in enough stuff to impede the water flow, we continued on, scrambling under a small tree that had fallen during the storm the night before — no easy feat with Max on my back. Then we wound our way through the trees to a sandy outcropping. It was covered with rock cairns left by travelers who'd come before. Slightly older kids might have hopped onto the ledge and built their own stone towers to add to the collection, but we kept moving.
Tucker led the way, jumping off virtually every rock and stump he saw; Max and I kept an eye out for the next historical signboard.
Over the course of an hour, we found each board and read all about the forest as well as the farm that once occupied the site. We saw its remnants, including stone walls and overgrown apple orchards. We discovered an old beaver pond, now covered with ferns, and read about its former inhabitants. Tucker and I even found old stumps they had chewed to points. We also spotted a white, wooly caterpillar crawling along a mossy rock, which intrigued Tucker, and won the trail extra points in the viewing-small-critters category.
The path led us up and down small hills, through a forest of changing leaves, and down a wooden staircase right back to where we started. We finished worn out, happy and a little more knowledgeable about Vermont's history. It was a satisfying hike — for all of us.