This author is a paid content writer for Idaho Tourism.

I grew up with parents who took us into Idaho’s backcountry regularly. Thus, my love for being in the great outdoors has always been a top priority when warm weather hits.

If you didn’t grow up with those kinds of experiences, taking your family on a backpacking or long hiking trip may sound a bit overwhelming. Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. You just have to know what to pack, have patience, and know where to go. Trust me, there is no better feeling than waking up in a tent on top of a mountain and taking in an early morning sunrise.

Here’s a checklist of what to pack, tips for traveling with your kids, and five first-time family backpacking destinations.

What to Pack

You’ll want to keep it light and straightforward for your family’s first time – you should wear the following: Synthetic short-sleeve t-shirt, lightweight synthetic shorts, wool hiking socks, sunglasses, sun hat, hiking shoes or boots.

A tent set up along a river.
Camping at Swan Falls along the Snake River. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

For your backpack, planning simply and safely is key. Consider bringing the following items: Midweight synthetic or fleece long-sleeve, waterproof jacket, extra pair of socks, lightweight gloves, sunscreen (SPF 15+), map, compass or GPS, headlamp, extra food, water bottles and water treatment (drops, tablets, or filter), first-aid kit, fire starting kit, toiletries, and a personal locator beacon.

Tips for Traveling with Your Kids

Kids walking on a log in a forest
Hiking through Ponderosa State Park. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

1. Plan Ahead

If this is going to be your first family backpacking trip, you’ll want to be prepared. Letting family or friends know where you are going and when you plan to return is always a good precaution to take. I recommend leaving for the trek early enough so that you are hiking in sunlight until you reach your campsite. A first-time family hike could look a little something like this: check the weather, leave the house around noon, arrive at the head of the trail, hike 3 miles to your preferred campsite, cook dinner, rest, and on the next day have a lazy morning and hike out with the kids. Knowing your plan ahead of time helps ease unnecessary stress.

2. Pace Yourself

While planning ahead is ideal, we often get so set in our ways that we fear to stray from the planned schedule. On a multi-day trip, you have to remind yourself that you have all day long to hike with your kids – patience is a virtue. As long as you leave early enough in the day (giving you a lot of daylight), you won’t have to rush. The best part about hiking is that you don’t have to worry about anything else but, well, hiking. If it takes you and the kids all day to make it three miles, it’s not the end of the world. Stop to play in the creek, smell the flowers, search for wildlife – oh, and take lots of snack breaks.

3. Cook Simple

You may be tempted to go full Bear Grylls and pluck a fish out of the river with your bare hands, but chances are, your kids are going to be starving the moment you get to the campsite so that option may not be in your best interest. In addition to your snack bag, you’ll want to consider doing freezer bag meals. You can either purchase these meals at sporting goods stores, or you can prepare dry ingredients before you leave the house, seal them up in Ziploc bags, and then drop them in boiled water later when you are ready to eat.

5 First-Time Backpacking Destinations

1. Jump Creek – Sands Basin

A group of people playing in the water at a waterfall.
Hiking to Jump Creek. Photo Credit: Jessica Carter

Journey to Jump Creek and hike to a magnificent 60’ waterfall. The fall flows from Sands Basin, and the surrounding canyon boasts vibrant rock walls that rise hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. This hike is a day use only site, making for the perfect “warm-up” trip for you and the kids. The trailhead features several fire rings and has many spots for your family to enjoy a nice summer picnic.

2. Fishhook Creek Trail

A group of friends hiking along Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake.
Soaking in the views along Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

This short hike near Redfish Lake will lead you through sweeping fields of grasslands that surround Fishhook Creek. The kids will get to see the Sawtooth Mountains up close and venture through Fishhook Creek Meadow, which is filled with beavers. Wildflowers are in no short supply here, nor is wildlife. Be sure to pack snacks for this trip, you’ll likely be stopping several times along the way to play in the creek and walk over the water on fallen trees.

3. Hells Canyon

A river running between a canyon.
A view looking between the towering walls of Hells Canyon. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

Hells Canyon is quite simply, astounding. With sections more than a mile deep and 10 miles wide, the physical size of this massive natural formation will take your breath away. Visitors often jet boat here, and during the spring and summer months, hiking becomes immensely popular. Luckily for hikers, there are over 650,000 acres set aside for explorers as a National Recreation Area – trust me, a backpacking expedition here will be something your family will never forget.

4. Swan Falls

A picture of a river in a canyon.
A scenic view of the Snake River near Swan Falls. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

Swan Falls has many places to camp along the south side of the river. No matter which designated campsite you choose to post up at, you’re sure to get outstanding canyon views. Be sure to bring your fishing rod (and fishing license) on this particular hike, smallmouth bass can be found in the calmer waters along the banks of the river. The surrounding area is a combination of old jeep paths and foot trails. The trails are easy to navigate, and bird watching is spectacular – many birds of prey such as owls, hawks, osprey, eagles, and falcons nest along this stretch of the Snake River.

5. Toxaway – Pettit Loop

Towering mountains over a creek.
A stunning view of the Sawtooth Mountains. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

The Toxaway – Pettit Loop is an 18-mile hike that begins and ends at Pettit Lake. This is a moderately strenuous hike in the Sawtooth Mountains that features outstanding views of mountain lakes, massive granite cliffs, gorgeous meadows, and towering pine forests. There is minimal elevation gain and the best time to take this trip is in late July, perfect for a family summer getaway.

Tyler Schnur

Published on July 5, 2016