Last year I committed to a hiking challenge. If you are unfamiliar with this concept or missed my post, you may be asking, “What exactly is a hiking challenge?” Basically, it is a commitment to go on a set number or type of hikes during a certain period of time. I chose the 52 Hike Challenge, which encourages hikers to take one hike every week over a year’s time. “Why do a hiking challenge?”, you say. Our family loves spending time outside, especially hiking. However, daily life for a family of seven oftentimes precludes outdoor time. Thus, I thought the hiking challenge would be a nice way to spend more time outside. And it was! But it was not always easy. Here I discuss lessons I learned from my year spent hiking, reminisce about a few of our favorite hikes, and hopefully, convince you to do your own hiking challenge.
52 Hike Challenge Lessons
They Don’t Call it a Challenge for Nothing
The 52 Hike Challenge was just that, challenging! When I began this challenge, I wrote “One simply hikes weekly, for an entire year from their personal start date… It really couldn’t be any easier.” I was wrong!
To explain, the hiking challenge may have been less challenging if I had done it alone. Basically, without kids. But I took at least one of my five kids on every single hike. Oftentimes, getting kids ready for a hike involves hours of packing gear, preparing food, and driving to the destination. Also, one must consider the busy school and activity schedules of older children and napping schedules of younger kids. Just getting to a trail is a challenge in itself. Let’s not get started on the actual hikes. While my kids generally love to hike, they occasionally have the rare day when they are not feeling it. In the photo above, I hiked through a cold rain with a crying toddler on my back because she refused to walk another step. This brings me to my second lesson…
Scheduling is Everything
There is a well-known quote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. This most certainly holds true regarding hiking. For us, busy schedules, unfavorable weather, and even seasonal changes such as reduced daylight during winter were all obstacles to fitting in a weekly hike. We found that if we didn’t schedule a time to hike each week, it likely did not happen. For this reason, we recommend taking the time to check your schedule, along with the weather forecast, to determine days and times that are best for hiking.
In the photos above and below, we went on a Sunday evening hike following a weekend spent at a youth swim meet. After sitting at a pool two days in a row, the last thing that I wanted to do was hit the gym. So, we planned a hike instead! We hiked 2.55 miles along the White River Greenway, just a stone’s throw from the pool. Despite having a full weekend, we spent a beautiful Sunday evening outside, logged our weekly hike, and squeezed in some exercise.
Expand Your Definition of “Hike”
At times, I questioned the ease of completing such this challenge based upon what I perceived to be a lack of nearby hiking locales. I naively considered a “hike” to be on a dirt trail at a state or national park. This is not the case! A hike can be a stroll at a local park, a walk through an urban green space, a trail run at a nature preserve, or a tour through a cave. Simply put, a hike is considered “getting outdoors” for a minimum of 1 mile of distance each week. Furthermore, rails can be repeated. If you fall behind, you just go on an additional hike the next week to catch up. Expanding the definition of a hike means that your options are limitless.
In the photo above, we hiked a popular rail-to-trail in Indianapolis. We intended to take all of the kids on a hike through Marott Park, in the woods just beyond the river. But upon arriving we found that the trails were in a sad state; covered with slushy, icy water from the 5” of melted snow that we received a few days prior. Even with hiking boots, we decided it was probably not the best idea. So, we went on an “urban hike” (1.45 miles), along the Monon Trail, instead
The Only Hikes that I Have Ever Regretted are the Ones I Didn’t Take
More often than I’d like to admit, I did not look forward to going on my weekly hike. This was especially true during those cold, dark winter months in Indiana. However, the only hikes that I have ever regretted are the ones that I did not take. There are so many benefits to hiking! Spending time outdoors provides exposure to fresh air, benefiting your immune system, as well as sunlight, boosting Vitamin D levels, which can improve mood. Hiking provides physical benefits, such as strengthening muscles, and social ones as well, such a family bonding. For our family, hiking provides a challenge. Getting five kids to walk a couple of miles is harder than one might think! But moreover, it provides a sense of adventure that we don’t get in our everyday lives.
In the photo above, the boys and I are standing atop Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. I wanted to hike this trail on our first trip to Zion, but the boys were younger (2 & 5) and we decided against it because of length and difficulty. Six years later, we returned to hike 5.4 miles, up 1500 ft, to the top of Angel’s Landing.
Some of My Favorite Hikes
While I can look back upon just about every single one of my hikes with fond memories, some of them do indeed rise above the rest. The following are a few of my more memorable hikes during the challenge.
Everglades National Park – Hikes 31 & 32
Over Spring Break we visited Everglades National Park, our 37th national park! It was HOT and the younger kids were having a difficult time adjusting to the heat, considering that it still felt like winter in the Midwest. Nonetheless, we still managed to take two short hikes. First, we hiked through a sawgrass marsh on the Anhinga Trail. We saw so much wildlife – turtles, herons, egrets, anhingas, and of course, alligators! Second, we hiked through a jungle-like hardwood hammock on the Gumbo Limbo Trail. Wildlife was not the highlight of this trail, but rather the trees! There were so many unique trees: peeling gumbo limbo trees, of course, as well as royal palms, pine, and fig trees. While neither was particularly challenging, both hikes were memorable simply because they were unlike anything we experience at home in Indiana.
Mammoth Cave National Park – Hikes 38, 39, & 40
Over Memorial Day weekend, we went camping at Mammoth Cave National Park, where we went on three hikes. The most interesting of which was through the cave itself! We hiked a little over 2 miles during a Historic Entrance Cave Tour. On the tour, we saw the Bottomless Pit (a 100+ ft deep hole), Fat Man’s Misery (extremely narrow passage), Cathedral Dome and Giant’s Coffin (shown below) among many other cave features. Again, the hike wasn’t overly challenging, unless you have a problem with steps (there were over 440 of them), but it stands out simply due to the fact that it was in a cave!
Warren Dunes State Park – Hike 41
During Fourth of July week this past summer, we went camping at Warren Dunes State Park in southwest Michigan. We have camped at Warren Dunes before and returned because we enjoy it that much. During this visit, we hiked a little over 2 miles out and back on the Mt Randal Trail from the campground to the shore. For us, this hike was definitely on the challenging side. Hiking on sand is no joke! That said, the majority of the trail is shaded by a forest, which is nice when hiking on sand. Best of all, at the end of the trail you are rewarded with a stunning view of Lake Michigan.
Zion National Park – Hikes 48 – 52
For my 40th birthday, we celebrated by taking a trip to one of our favorite national parks, Zion! While in Zion, we went on five hikes, including The Narrows, Angel’s Landing and The Watchman. It is hard to put into words why these hikes were so memorable, but I’ll try. First of all, they were far more challenging than hikes we took in the Midwest. They tested our entire family in so many ways…heat, sun, and serious elevation gain. Next, they were stunning. The views from each trail were simply breathtaking. Again, unlike anything we experience in Indiana. Finally, they marked two major milestones: my 40th birthday and the completion of my 52 Hike Challenge.
52 Hike Challenge Log
The following table contains all of the hikes we took for the 52 Hike Challenge:
|1||Fort Harrison State Park – Lawrence Creek Trail||Indianapolis, IN||1.45|
|2||Flat Fork Creek Park||Fishers, IN||1.25|
|3||Warren Dunes State Park – Blue Jay Trail||Sawyer, MI||1.30|
|4||Heritage Park at White River Trail||Fishers, IN||1.15|
|5||Central Park – East & South Woods Trails||Carmel, IN||1.20|
|6||Summit Lake State Park – Campground Trail||New Castle, IN||1.75|
|7||Fort Harrison State Park – Harrison Trace Trail||Indianapolis, IN||1.75|
|8||Fort Harrison State Park – Fall Creek Trail||Indianapolis, IN||2.50|
|9||Camp Helen State Park – Beach & Oak Canopy Trails||Panama City Beach, FL||1.50|
|10||Nonie Werbe Kraus Nature Preserve||Fishers, IN||3.15|
|11||Fort Harrison State Park – Lawrence Creek Trail||Indianapolis, IN||4.25|
|12||Hoosier Woods||Fishers, IN||1.00|
|13||Mounds State Park – Trails 1 & 2||Anderson, IN||1.60|
|14||Cheeney Creek Natural Area||Fishers, IN||1.00|
|15||Flat Fork Creek Park||Fishers, IN||1.00|
|16||Turkey Run State Park – Trails 3 & 10||Marshall, IN||1.30|
|17||Ouabache State Park||Bluffton, IN||1.45|
|18||Fort Harrison State Park – Treeline Trail||Indianapolis, IN||1.00|
|19||Flowing Well Park||Carmel, IN||1.30|
|20||Holliday Park||Indianapolis, IN||1.30|
|21||Geist Park||Fortville, IN||1.00|
|22||Fort Harrison State Park – Harrison Trace Trail||Indianapolis, IN||1.30|
|23||Heritage Park at White River Trail||Fishers, IN||1.30|
|24||Koteewi Park||Noblesville, IN||1.00|
|25||Monon Trail||Indianapolis, IN||1.45|
|26||Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial – Nature Trail||Lincoln City, IN||1.50|
|27||Lincoln State Park – Mr Lincoln’s Neighborhood Walk||Lincoln City, IN||1.35|
|28||Skiles Test Nature Park||Indianapolis, IN||1.35|
|29||Central Park – East & South Woods Trails||Carmel, IN||1.00|
|30||O’Leno State Park – River Trail||High Springs, FL||1.50|
|31||Everglades National Park – Anhinga Trail||Homestead, FL||0.80|
|32||Everglades National Park – Gumbo Limbo Trail||Homestead, FL||0.40|
|33||Brown County State Park – Trail 6||Nashville, IN||2.00|
|34||Galien River County Park||New Buffalo, MI||1.15|
|35||Fort Harrison State Park – Harrison Trace Trail||Indianapolis, IN||5.50|
|36||Heritage Park at White River Trail||Fishers, IN||1.25|
|37||Prophetstown State Park||West Lafayette, IN||1.00|
|38||Mammoth Cave National Park – River Styx, Green River & Dixon Cave Trails||Kentucky||1.70|
|39||Mammoth Cave National Park – Historic Entrance Tour||Kentucky||2.00|
|40||Mammoth Cave National Park – Heritage & Turnhole Bend Trails||Kentucky||1.50|
|41||Warren Dunes State Park – Mt Randal Trail||Sawyer, MI||2.00|
|42||Turkeyfoot Nature Park||Zionsville, IN||1.20|
|43||Forrest Park||Noblesville, IN||1.60|
|44||White River Greenway at Potter’s Bridge Park||Noblesville, IN||2.55|
|45||Fort Harrison Fall Creek Trail||Indianapolis, IN||2.10|
|46||Bee Camp Creek Trail||Fishers, IN||1.55|
|47||Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve||Fishers, IN||1.05|
|49||Angel’s Landing Trail||Utah||4.80|
|50||The Grotto, Lower Emerald Pool, Weeping Rock Trails||Utah||3.50|
|51||Canyon Overlook Trail||Utah||1.00|
|52||The Watchman Trail||Utah||3.55|
|53||Butterfly Trail, Jenny’s Canyon Trail||Utah||1.80|
|54||Spectra Point Trail||Utah||1.60|
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