A few months ago, I took my son to a family nature play organized by the Phoenix Zoo and received a handout on the benefits of connecting children to nature. I was simply blown away by all the advantages of getting my little man outside and letting him play with dirt, twigs and stones.
Hiking Benefits in Child Development:
- increases physical activity
- supports creativity and problem solving
- improves social relations
- increases cognitive abilities
- reduces stress
- improves self-discipline
- improves academic performance
This Ted Talk, featuring Nilda Cosco from the Natural Learning Initiative (NCSU), also explains how the connection to nature positively impacts early childhood development.
With this in mind, I let my seventeen month old roam freely and safely around the mountain and desert. You don’t necessarily need to go on a hike – I let Theo touch the flowers and leaves in the park in our community, for example – but, it would be a shame to not enjoy what Phoenix and its surroundings has to offer when it comes to hiking.
Along with our 2016 post on the 10 best family hikes in Phoenix, here are a few others, mostly located in South Mountain Park. My family really enjoys that park because of the diversity of the trails, in length and difficulty. And these trails have many opportunities for fun and play with the kiddos.
- South Mountain Park – Holbert trail or Box Canyon is a 2.5 mile trail, noted as difficult. This is my absolute favorite. It is rocky with large areas of loose dirt, and many opportunities for kids to explore.
- South Mountain Environmental Education Center (SMEEC): from here you can access the (paved and stroller friendly) Judith Tunell interpretive loop. The Center has a museum and a kids’ area. Check out their schedule for family fun events in the desert.
- Papago Park – Double Butte loop: easy 2.3 mile loop with barely any elevation.
- The Moonlight trails at San Tan Mountain Regional Park form an easy 4.5 mile loop. This was my first hike after giving birth, though I didn’t hike it in its entirety: I just turned around when I had enough. Note there is a $6 park entrance fee per vehicle.
- South Mountain Park – Telegraph Pass: this is a 3.2 mile out and back moderate trail (about 1 hour & 45 minutes). It can be congested and I usually avoid it on weekends.
- South Mountain – Pima Canyon trailhead: from here, we take the Marcos de Niza trail, then we connect to the National trail from Beverly Canyon trail to form a loop (expect about 2 hours). This is a great hike if you’re up for a challenge. We really enjoy it, the only thing being that when you come down the last bit on Marcos de Niza, it’s literal rock climbing, so be extra careful.
- South Mountain – Kiwanis trail is a 1.0 mile moderate hike (one way). Very similar to Telegraph Pass, and actually connects to it, it is less crowded, probably because its access is more remote.
Last but certainly not least, don’t forget these basic tips: never hike alone, hike prepared (water, snacks, good carrier, diapers and wipes, a phone, sunscreen), let someone know you’re going hiking. And tweezers! For some reason, cacti pricklies are a curiosity and getting them out of little fingers is no fun for anyone. Last tip: have fun, enjoy your surroundings and discover something new with your kids!