The Bluff Trail Photo by Trish Joudrey

The Bluff Trail, nature’s playground

‘We just never know what we will discover when we go’

By Trish Joudrey

Let’s jump from root to root,” shouted eight-year-old Damian excitedly, pointing to the criss-crossing of tree roots over the path ahead.

“OK, but no touching the ground or else you lose!” replied six-year-old Zuri, running after her brother as he skipped ahead along the forest trail.

“Well, c’mon then. Follow me,” motioned Damian.

I watched them play and giggle together into the distance, forgetting how challenging our hike was.

The Kendall family had been eager to get out of the city to enjoy a morning of togetherness and breathe in some fresh air.

Located in Mi’kma’ki, the unceded and unsurrendered ancestral land of the Mi’kmaw (L’nu), the entrance to The Bluff Trail is from the BLT (Beechville-Lakeside-Timberlea), just off Hwy. 103, Exit 4, an easy 15-minute drive from Halifax. It offers exciting options for every kind of hiker: four, three-hour undulating loops around lakes, scenic look-offs, rocky outcroppings, forest canopies, river crossings and a veritable nature playground for children.

Damian and Zuri have hiked since they were two years old.

“When they couldn’t walk, we would take them in their carriers,” explained their mother, Rosa. And even now, the three-hour (first) loop can be a bit long for them. “We all agree on a hiking plan that will satisfy everyone. We will walk one hour up the trail, stop for snacks and then return.”

It was an easy start over the well-maintained boardwalks crossing the marshy ground that led us to the scenic and serene Pot Lake. The morning mist was just lifting from the lake, giving it a magical look.

“My love for nature started when I was also a young child, thanks to my parents,” said Rosa. “I hope this passion carries on for my children.”

Seeing Zuri and Damian frolicking ahead, I felt certain her dream would come true.

Both kids quickly developed their own approach to nature and the hike. Damian took to climbing the boulders, the bigger the better for him. He scrambled proudly up a three-metre granite rock while Zuri was content to hunt for insects. She noticed a caterpillar inching across the path and wondered whether it will be a butterfly or a moth one day.

“Sure is better than watching TV,” Damian exclaimed as he leaped from rock to rock.

Just past Pot Lake, I saw Damian scale up a large rock where he unexpectedly stood in a yoga tree pose at the top. Zuri joined him and for a moment both children were standing strong and peacefully together on one leg with arms stretched overhead. “Exercise is an integral part of our lives,” said Rosa.

The trail ascended a rough, rocky path through a forest of red maple and oak, forcing us to slow down and watch our footing.

Just then, Rosa shouted, “A snake!” She pointed to the cinnamon ferns on the side of the trail. “It just slithered off here.” We all rushed over to the spot to try to catch a glimpse. We waited, but to the children’s dismay, it didn’t surface.

Damian was distracted at any rate with some red berries he found.

“Are these wintergreen berries?” He asked his mother. “The ones we can eat?”

“We will have to ask your grandpa. He’ll know for sure,” assured Rosa. She said they often go hiking together with the kids’ grandparents, who love to teach the children how to identify the flora in the woods.

The kids were hungry, so we started looking for a good spot to sit and have our snacks. We found the perfect place, with flat rocks and a high view over Cranberry Lake. After we finished eating and packing up our garbage, we started our return journey.

At first, Zuri and Damian thought the walk back would be impossible. “You mean, now we have to walk the whole way back?” he asked. Rosa promised them it would not be difficult. “It took us 75 minutes to get here, let’s see if we can beat that time going back? Do you think we can do it?” she challenged the kids.

Photo: David Patriquin

Both Damian and Zuri were up for the challenge, and they set off to prove it. Soon it became a game and a playful remembrance of the spots along the path where they had been before: where they climbed that rock, where they did their yoga pose, where they found the snake, where they spotted the red berries, etc.

I marvelled at how the memory game reinforced their hiking experience and added fun to the walk back. In less than an hour, we were back at the entrance to The Bluff Trail.

The hike left us with a sense of accomplishment and tired legs.

“I’m sure Damian and Zuri will sleep well tonight,” I remarked.

“Oh yes, and so will I,” said Rosa with a laugh.

Leaving the Bluff Trail in the distance, I reflected on the fun day we had together. There is no limit to a child’s imagination and when they are on a wilderness trail, it is certainly easy for them to enjoy themselves in nature’s forest playground.

“We just never know what we will discover when we go. Each time it’s something different,” said Rosa.

Photo: Trish Joudrey

Five tips to turn children into happy hikers 

1. Start young. Taking babies and toddlers on hikes when they are young gets them used to hiking as a routine family activity.

2. Let them walk. Hiking requires different skills than walking. The more children walk by themselves, the easier it is for them to negotiate obstacles and feel a sense of self-accomplishment.

3. Include kids in the planning of the hike. Show various maps and discuss where the points of interest are along each trail. Notice which trail piques their interest.  

4. Have mini goals and rewards. Goals can be as simple as getting to the top of a hill or reaching a river. Kids find it fun to guess how long or the number of steps it takes to reach      a destination. 

5. Bring a friend along. Friends make everything more fun.

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