A never-ending parenting challenge is knowing, and then deciding, when to let go. Let go of little hands, because a child is strong enough to swim in deep waters. Let go of the fishing rod, because the child has learned how to cast. Let go of confidence in protecting them 24/7 as you drop them off at summer camp. Let go of expectations as they grow into their older, individual selves—free to pursue their own passions and fervent interests.
Especially once children reach adolescence, we can’t expect them to say yes to all of our outdoor recreation ideas and then excitedly come along. Our kids are us but not us. Which is the most awe-inspiring and sometimes heart-breaking condition of parenting. That’s why, after 10 years of being the Out There Kids columnist for this magazine, I knew it was time to let go.
My two kids grew up being the inspiration and mom-led field-test subjects for most of my stories. I’ve shared with Out There readers my outdoor-parenting successes as well as do-overs, mistakes and life lessons while teaching my children to downhill ski, dress for cold weather, navigate a steep trail and not get lost in the woods.
Back in 2014, when my first “Outdoor Family” theme story debuted, there were hardly any parent-oriented guidebooks or online resources for recreation guidance, adventure travel ideas or gear advice for young kids. It was a niche topic and parents were mainly learning by doing—and spreading advice word-of-mouth among friends.
Ten years ago, taking very young children hiking and tent-camping was less common. People were always telling me, “You’re brave.” And one grumpy woman, from the campsite next to ours, had the audacity to pointedly ask my daughter, age two at the time, if it was she who was crying at 2 a.m.
Having kids may have slowed the pace of our outdoorsy lifestyle, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the recreation we loved. We personally sought advice from any outdoorsy adults we knew, asked lots of questions, and our unwitting mentors were happy to help us. Each new attempt helped us figure out how to better incorporate our little kids (and their many, complex needs) into our adventures—while ensuring their safety and preventing worse-case scenarios.
My husband and I learned how to parent in the great outdoors (an ongoing process), and I wanted more families to do the same. Which is why my mission statement for the Out There Kids column has always been “to inspire and motivate more people to explore and enjoy the great outdoors, especially families with young children.”
The hashtag #OutThereKids came from this column. It’s no longer uncommon to see young children snowboarding, rock climbing and doing all other sorts of cool outdoor stuff with their parents. Gen Z and Millennial parents are trekking everywhere outdoors with their babies and toddlers—and we know about it because of their Instagram posts and TikTok videos of baby-wearing backcountry adventures, van life and road-trip travels.
Regional youth outdoor programs and camps have expanded incredibly, especially the past few years. Local bike shops, ski schools, parks and recreation departments—as well as national gear-makers and retailers—have listened to parents and responded to demand to produce and sell great outdoor kid items and offer outdoor adventure camps and programs for kids.
But the Out There Kids craze is not just business—those working in the outdoor industry, including this magazine, want to help parents raise the next generation of recreation and public lands enthusiasts. Our kids are the future snowboard instructors, ski patrollers, bike shop owners, fly fishing guides, survivalist instructors, race directors, ski resort managers, public lands and wildlife advocates, and everything else the Inland Northwest needs to maintain and grow our vibrant outdoors community.
As I hand over the reins of my column, starting this issue, Out There Kids will now be a department in this magazine, allowing new and different writers to contribute their voices and stories about getting their kids of varying ages outdoors with their own unique parent-tested ideas and advice.
It’s bittersweet to say goodbye as the OTK columnist, because it’s been a great love and highlight of my professional writing life. But my children have long stopped needing their double-bike trailer, external-frame backpack carrier, and Strider bikes. In less than six months, both my children will officially be teenagers. They’re each nearly as tall as me—a daily reminder that in only five years, my husband and I will have two “adult children.”
I need to thank my first inspiration for Out There Kids, my kids Landon and Alyse, for going along on so many outdoor adventures: for their willingness to learn how to ski, bike, fly fish and kayak with their dad and me. For wading across swift-moving rivers with fly rods; paddling on Priest Lake even when it was rainy and windy; being willing to pee in the woods; hiking, biking, kayaking, stand-up paddling and camping with our family; and trusting me to guide and protect them when there was no cell service. For not hating their dad and me when they fell into rivers, got too cold skiing, waited while I dug a “leave no trace” hole, and for that one rainy camping trip when they got multiple bee stings.
As adolescents, they now can choose to stay behind at home or the campsite and not partake in a hike or paddle. So I am deeply grateful for every new “Yes.” Now that they’re older, our outdoor excursions can go longer and become more daring (and I will continue to use food as bribes).
May all you amazing #OutdoorFamilies find similar joy and thankfulness in the ups and downs of adventuring with your kids, sharing together the recreation you love. I look forward to reading the stories, mishaps, and hard-earned lessons from the future parents who tell their tales in the pages of Out There.
Cover photo courtesy Amy McCaffree