NEW YORK Hiking is a great vacation activity for families healthy, inexpensive and fun.
To promote National Trails Day on Saturday, the American Hiking Society has put together a list of 10 family friendly trails, all located within an hour's drive of major cities including Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
But before you head into the woods, spend a few minutes on basic safety.
Dress children in bright colors that won't blend into the landscape. Reds and oranges are perfect for summer; you'll want to adjust the colors come autumn if you live in an area where leaves turn.
It's also important to emphasize to children that if they feel lost, they should stay where they are. Hiking experts say that's the very best way for children to make it easy for adults to find them.
Eastern Mountain Sports has an education program called ''Stay Put, Stay Dry,'' in which kids are encouraged to ''stay put'' rather than wandering off to look for their group. Every EMS store has associates trained in giving ''Stay Put, Stay Dry'' talks; to inquire about attending a session with your children at a store near you, go to www.ems.com or call (888) 463-6367. The company also will send speakers to nonprofit groups such as schools.
Joe Lentini, director of the EMS climbing school and vice president of Mountain Rescue Service, a volunteer search and rescue group, gave dozens of ''Stay Put, Stay Dry'' talks at schools in the New Hampshire area over the winter.
Lentini's mission was inspired in part by the death of a Massachusetts boy who got lost in the White Mountains last fall. The child's body was found four days after he disappeared, 2 1/2 miles from the playground where he was last seen. Hundreds of people searched for the boy, but few expected him to travel so far, so fast.
''No kid should get lost and end up dying of exposure. It just shouldn't have happened and we can stop that,'' said Lentini.
Some parents will struggle with how much independence to give older children who are enthusiastic about running ahead. City kids or those who live in high-traffic areas where they can't play outside unsupervised may be especially eager to roam free through the woods.
Mary Margaret Sloan, president of the American Hiking Society, says parents can let older, responsible children lead the way as long as certain protocols are established first.
''They are not to leave the trail for any reason, and they must always wait at a fork in the trail for the group to catch up, even if they're positive they know which way to go,'' said Sloan.
Once you've talked to your kids about trail safety, plan an outing. Here are the 10 family friendly hikes recommended by the American Hiking Society. For details on Saturday events related to National Trails Day or for route details, visit www.americanhiking.org or call (301) 565-6704.
CALIFORNIA: Point Reyes National Seashore, near San Francisco; 5 miles along the Laguna Loop with coastal views.
FLORIDA: Florida Trail, near Orlando; 4.8 miles in the Little-Big Econ State Forest along the Econlockhatchee River.
ILLINOIS: Illinois & Michigan Canal, near Chicago; 3 miles from the village of Channahon along the Des Plains River to McKinley Woods.
MARYLAND: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, near Washington, D.C.; 2.3 miles from Angler's Inn to Great Falls, Md., through the Widewater area.
MASSACHUSETTS: Lizzy's Trail, Bradley Palmer State Park, near Boston; 2 miles along the Ipswich River.
MISSOURI: Katy Trail, near St. Louis; 5.7 miles from Matson to Augusta, Mo., along the Katy rail-trail with views of the Missouri River.
NEW JERSEY: Long Path, just over the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan; 3 miles, starting at the Fort Lee-Rockefeller Lookout, along the Palisades of the Hudson River.
OHIO: Ohio & Erie Canal Trail, near Cleveland; 4.3 miles from the Boston Store to the Station Road Bridge.
OREGON: Horsetail and Ponytail Falls, near Portland; a 2.7 mile loop from Old Columbia Highway through ''waterfall alley'' of the Columbia River gorge.
PENNSYLVANIA: Great Allegheny Passage, near Pittsburgh; 2.3 miles from Boston, Pa., along the Youghiogheny River Trail to Dead Man's Trail and into Dead Man's Hollow, a wildlife preserve.
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