As we rounded the final corner and caught sight of the cable car station, relief swept over me. We had finished the longest ever hike with the kids – 14.5 kilometres (9 miles). Sure, it was mostly downhill but it was a long way and the last three kilometres were tough. Near the end we bribed them with sweets and distracted them with jokes and stories. But we made it.
It made me wonder, what else is possible with kids that we had thought impossible?
The Picos de Europa National Park is a mountain range in northern Spain. Renowned for its jagged massifs and soaring cliffs, it is a spectacular outdoor destination. The area is criss-crossed with hundreds of beautiful hiking trails and mountain biking. We visited the area in May when the days were cool and the trails were quiet. The quaint little village of Potes was our base. Tucked in the valley it was a perfect spot to stay and explore the surrounding mountains.
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We spent some time researching the best day hikes for families. Hiking with kids sometimes feels like it is fraught with danger. There seems to be a fine line between challenging them and scarring them for life. That may be a slight exaggeration. But we both love hiking and the last thing we want to hear is our kids declare it the worst activity EVER.
We considered the Cares Route, one of the best hikes in Europe. It looked spectacular but we worried about the steep drop offs and so we settled on the Puertos de Aliva trail. The trail starts at 1800 metres altitude, weaving its way down through valleys and forests to the small village of Fuente De. We were nervous about the distance, but decided it would be a good challenge and worth a try.
To get to the trail head we took the Fuente De cable car. Rising 753 metres in 4 minutes to an elevation of 1823 metres, it is a hair-raising and speedy trip. Vistas of snow-capped mountains came into view as we raced to the top. It was a great start to the day.
After admiring the views across the valley we set off. The trail wound past sheer rocky cliff faces where we admired rock climbers inching their way slowly upwards. Our progress was also slow. There were frequent stops for flower collecting, shoe adjustments and snacks.
It takes a while to find our rhythm when hiking with the kids. There are always early complaints of boredom and asking how much longer the walk will take. We have learned to change the subject and push on.
We strolled through fields of wildflowers and snacked alongside crystal clear streams. The kids pointed out birds of prey hovering in the sky and collected flowers along the path. They searched for fish in the small streams.
I experienced a strong feeling of contentment and noticed the kids relaxing too. We took regular breaks and allowed the kids to play along the way. I felt so grateful for the opportunity to immerse our kids in nature. Free from devices, away from the daily grind, there was nothing to do but walk, chat and play as we gorged on the beautiful scenery around us.
We continued past a herd of cows grazing on the lush green grass. We heard them before we saw them, the huge bells tied around their necks noisy enough for shepherds to find them if they wander off. The cacophony of clanging bells is such a unique memory of our time hiking in Europe.
At this point the scenery morphed from open fields into dark oak forests and muddy paths. As we navigated the expanses of mud we passed an older man. The man stopped, smiled and shook Harvey’s hand. In broken English he told Harvey how impressed he was for hiking so far. Harvey’s step lightened as he continued on through the forest.
The last three kilometres were challenging. Tired legs, variable terrain and no visible end in sight for the kids was making it tough. At this point the sweets came out as a final motivator to reach the end. “Let’s get to that next turn before we have another”, I said. Then the next, then the next. On we went, sucking on sugary delights as we covered those last few kilometres.
When we caught sight of the end, the kids suddenly found the energy to run. No doubt motivated by the promise of ice cream. We took off our shoes, relaxed and looked back at the soaring mountain range. Savouring our icy treats, it wasn’t the sore legs the kids remembered. It was the exhilarating ride in the cable car, the cows and their bells. In the days afterwards they recounted with pride how far they walked to others.
Until that day we had always been quite conservative with choosing our hikes with kids. On the Puertos de Aliva trail we discovered our children are physically and mentally capable of far more than we realised.
This revelation has transformed how we travel. We are no longer afraid to push the boundaries. We are prepared to move out of our comfort zone more often and embrace adventure as a family. When we do, we are rewarded with unique and memorable moments that we will share with the kids long after they grow up and leave home.
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