9 Tips for Rock Climbing With Kids

Rock climbing is great for children. It gets them outside, it teaches problem solving, communication, and trust, and most importantly, it offers them an outlet to expend their infinite energy reserves. For all these reasons, you should consider taking them with you the next time you head off to climb outdoors.

At the same time, a trip to the local crag becomes a bit more complicated when you add child-climbers into the mix. So, to prepare, here are nine tips to keep cragging with the kiddos fun and safe for everyone.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

1. Choose the Right Crag

Kid-friendly, top-roping crags typically have three things in common. First, there is an easy and short approach with no objective hazards. Second, the staging area at the base of the climb—where you’ll be spending the next couple of hours belaying and hanging out—is flat and safe. Third, the routes should be easy (between 5.0 to 5.5) and less than vertical, and should have smooth landings, in case they have trouble with the first few moves.

If you’re in the Boston area, the most concentrated selection of beginner climbs is on the Main Wall at Chestnut Hill’s Hammond Pond. The best route, an alcove at the far-left end, is a fun, easy climb that everybody can do.

2. Get Them the Right Gear

Kids need two pieces of equipment to climb safely: a harness and a climbing-specific helmet. Climbing shoes are not essential, but their sticky rubber soles do make things easier.

For children younger than 6 or 7, a full-body harness is recommended. These harnesses have a tie-in point at chest-level and are designed to prevent kids from falling out if they flip upside down.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

3. Help Them Through the Hard Moves

Climbing does not come easily for every kid. If your kiddo is struggling at a specific move low on the route, one simple technique that helps build confidence is the “foot-spot.” Just use your hand to stabilize her foot on the hold, so that she can climb through the difficulty to easier terrain.

If her crux is out of your reach, consider having the belayer take a little extra weight as the climber attempts the move. This extra “pull” is often enough to assist a child through the move and allows him or her to finish the climb.

4. What Goes Up Must Come Down

First-time climbers often struggle with transitioning to being lowered after they get to the top of the climb. So, before your kid leaves the ground, rehearse what will happen once she reaches the top. Kids are much more likely to “trust the rope” if you’ve had them climb up about six to seven feet and then do a practice lower. Moreover, it’s much easier to correct their body position for lowering when they are within arm’s reach than when they are swinging nervously at the top!

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

5. Bring Snacks and Toys

Bring a variety of small snacks for the kids after their “sends.” They help keep the energy levels high and usually provide enough distraction for the break between climbs.

If you are planning on climbing with a couple of kids, consider bringing toys and games to keep them busy and engaged throughout the outing. For example, we always bring my younger son’s toy trucks when we go climbing as a family. He’s only three, so his attention span for climbing can be quite short. But, he’s always happy to hang around and fill his dump truck with dirt while the rest of us get in a couple more top-rope laps.

6. Set Clear Expectations

Kids, especially young ones, require a lot of attention when climbing. Set expectations by articulating clear rules, particularly about edge safety. And, when climbing with several kids, having a second adult, who supervises the non-climbing children so the belayer can avoid distractions, keeps the focus solely on the climber’s safety.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

7. Manage Your Own Ambitions

When you head out to climb with your family, try not to get carried away with your own “sending” ambitions. Your project is probably too hard for your kids, and they’ll get bored—and want to go home—if they have to watch you work it for too long. Try instead to get your climbing fix either on the route they’re climbing or on an adjacent one.

8. Not Every Climbing Session Ends Perfectly

Despite your best efforts, sometimes the climbing is too crowded, the route is too hard, or your little climber just isn’t into it. To avoid a total loss, have a backup plan. Scrambling on a nearby easy boulder problem is often a good alternative. A quick hike or nature walk is another option.

9. Consider Taking a Lesson

Climbing is dangerous. If you are interested in climbing with your family, but don’t feel confident doing it yourself, sign up for a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School.

Can you think of any other tips for rock climbing with kids? Share them here in the comments section!


Top 3 Boston Area Hikes for Mother's Day

Looking for a family-friendly hike in the Greater Boston area, but don’t know where to start? Well, for a Mother’s Day activity, here are three of our favorites, all close to the city. So, get the family together, hit the trail, and enjoy some of the best scenery and recreation Greater Boston has to offer. And, to top it off, we even suggest a way to treat Mom on the way home!

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

1. World’s End

World’s End is a 250-acre Trustees of Reservations property in Hingham, Mass., comprised of four drumlins created by a retreating glacier. Over four miles of carriage roads originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted link these together. The hiking is moderate and offers incredible views of the Boston skyline, Hingham and Boston Harbors, and the surrounding South Shore communities.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

Hiking the Park

Navigating around the park is easy, especially if you print a copy of the trail map ahead of time. While you’re there, prioritize hiking the mile over Planter’s Hill, across the “Bar” (an isthmus connecting the property to the outermost drumlins), and then up onto World’s End proper. That route traverses the property’s open fields, regularly looks out over the skyline and harbor, and has numerous benches for picnicking or sitting and enjoying the scenery. It will also take you by A New End, a kid-friendly spiral mirror-sculpture that is part of the Trustees’ “Art and the Landscape” initiative.

When you travel at a leisurely pace, this out-and-back loop takes between 1.5 to two hours, and can be adjusted to suit your schedule and interests.

If you are thinking of visiting World’s End on Mother’s Day, note that the Trustees do charge a $6 fee for non-member adults. As well, make sure to go early, as the parking lot fills up quickly, especially on bluebird days.

If you don’t end up bringing a picnic, Hingham Center is just a few miles away. Stars, located on Hingham Harbor, is a great place to take Mom for lunch on the way home.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

2. Great Blue Hill

If you are seeking something a little more strenuous, consider climbing Great Blue Hill in the Blue Hills Reservation. Standing 635 feet tall, Great Blue Hill is the tallest point within 10 miles of the Atlantic Coast, south of Maine. From Eliot Tower on the summit, you can see a panoramic view of the Blue Hills Reservation, Boston Harbor, and the city’s skyline.

Hiking Up

The most straightforward way up Big Blue is the Red Dot Trail, which starts from the Trailside Museum parking lot, just off Route 138 on the Milton-Canton town border. Signs and red circular blazes clearly mark the trail, which climbs over rocks and slabs as it meanders first up to the Summit Road and then to Eliot Tower. The ascent is family friendly, is less than a mile in length, and takes between 25 and 40 minutes at a casual pace.

The courtyard at Eliot Tower has several picnic tables—the perfect place for lunch or a snack before you continue. Next, hike the Eliot Circle Loop, a short, flat trail that circles Big Blue’s summit. It takes hikers across the Eliot Memorial Bridge, past the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, and then back to Eliot Tower. If you have time, consider taking a tour of the observatory, the oldest continuously operating one in the country.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

Descending Big Blue

You have several options for getting off Big Blue. The easiest is heading back down the Red Dot Trail—the same way you came up. For a slightly longer route, however, continue on the other half of the Red Dot Trail as it heads north, before it eventually loops back to the Trailside Museum. Both of these descent routes are well-marked and also clearly shown on the Blue Hills Reservation trail map.

Because Big Blue is a popular weekend destination, try to time your hike before the mid-morning rush or after the afternoon crowds have dwindled. If you have kids, combine it with a trip to the Trailside Museum, an interpretative center with free outdoor wildlife exhibits. In the warmer months, their river otter exhibit is the main attraction! And, if all the hiking has built up your appetite, stop by Amber Road Café in Canton Center for breakfast or lunch on the way home.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

3. Borderland State Park

Another option worth checking out, Borderland State Park, located along the borders of Sharon and Easton, has over 20 miles of hiking. The trails offer something for everybody, ranging in difficulty from moderate strolls on old farm roads to more strenuous and rocky single-track hiking paths.

What to Do

A must-see in Borderland is the Ames Mansion, a three-story stone home built in the early 1900s. A great way to visit the park and the mansion is to hike Borderland’s Pond Walk Trail. When done clockwise from Borderland’s two main parking lots, the trail makes a three-mile loop on dirt carriage roads around Leach Pond and finishes close to the mansion.

For those looking to increase the mileage, consider adding one of the several loops off Pond Walk Trail on the northwest side of Leach Pond or one of the other options described on the Borderland trail map.

If you are looking to treat Mom to dessert after your hike, stop by Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar in Sharon. Although the lines are sometimes long, the ice cream is worth the wait.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

A Guide to Running Boston's Blue Hills Skyline Trail

Located just outside of Boston, the Blue Hills Skyline Trail takes runners on a nine-mile traverse across the heart of the Blue Hills Reservation and offers metropolitan New Englanders a classic trail run. With approximately 2,000 feet of elevation gain and some of the region’s most technical up-and-down terrain, it’s a great test-piece that’s well worth checking out.

If you are running the full traverse for the first time, it’s best to begin from the parking lot at Shea Rink in Quincy. From that trailhead, it’s easy to follow the Skyline’s rectangular blue-blazes, especially if you print a copy of the map ahead of time. Road crossings segment the Skyline into the six distinct sections, letting you break it up into bite-sized chunks:

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

The Opening Salvo

The first section—between Shea Rink and Wampatuck Road—is so short that I consider it my warm up. Through its flat single and double track, you’ll have breezed by St. Moritz Pond after just a few minutes and be preparing to cross Wampatuck Road.

The second section begins as the Skyline makes a sharp, well-marked southwest turn just after the road crossing. From there, the trail climbs gradually on rocky but runnable terrain, going past an old quarry and then to the summit of Rattlesnake Hill. After, the trail then quickly descends over some technical terrain, which usually has me regretting bypassing the easier way down on the runner’s right, before ascending up and over Wampatuck Hill to Chickatawbut Road.

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

The Crux

To Chickatawbut Hill

The next three sections put the meat on the Skyline’s bones. The first, easy to underestimate, traverses Nahanton, Kitchamkin, Fenno, and Chickatawbut Hills. Up to Chickatawbut Hill, a current Mass Audubon facility and former Nike missile base, the trail flows well and is runnable. Be mentally prepared, however, for the section’s up-and-down nature. Here, you’ll almost immediately be giving back (and then re-earning) all that hard-won elevation.

After Chickatawbut Hill, the Skyline has a lengthy descent to the Route 28 road crossing. A short portion goes down a rocky outcropping and requires careful route-finding, until you can escape to easier terrain in the woods on the runner’s right.

Credit: Bill Iliot
Credit: Bill Iliot

Fourth Section

Once you’ve made it across Route 28, the fourth section begins with one of the traverse’s steepest climbs. But, the ascent is well worth it, and I often find myself pausing momentarily on Buck Hill’s open summit to appreciate the fantastic 360-degree view.

Before you get too far, make sure to look back northeast at Boston Harbor and the city skyline. Then, run off Buck Hill, across North Boyce Hill, and up steep Tucker Hill, the final climb, before heading downhill to Hillside Street and Reservation Headquarters.

As the Skyline’s only facility beyond the halfway point, Reservation Headquarters has a seasonal outdoor water fountain and, during business hours, an indoor public bathroom.

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

North and South Skyline

From Headquarters, the Skyline temporarily splits into the North Skyline and the South Skyline, eventually rejoining near the summit of Great Blue Hill. Standing 635 feet tall, Great Blue Hill is the tallest point within 10 miles of the Atlantic Coast, south of Maine.

Of the two options, the North Skyline, with its traverse of Hancock, Hemingway, and Wolcott Hills, is a more aesthetically pleasing east-to-west route. It is also the more technical of the two, with a few short but steeper-than-you’d-expect-for-Greater-Boston descents.

Taking the North Skyline also allows you to run by the two most well-known attractions on Big Blue, the Eliot Tower and the Eliot Memorial Bridge, before the trail meets up with the South Skyline near the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory. Both are named after Charles Eliot, the landscape architect who helped design many of Greater Boston’s parks. The Skyline then loops around the Observatory, the oldest continuously operating one in the country, before making a comparatively lengthy descent to the Route 28 road crossing.

The Final Sprint

Assuming you have some energy left, the Skyline’s final section is a good place to push it and try to surpass a personal record. In no time, you’ll dispatch Little Blue Hill, the section’s only climb, cross a side street, and be nearing the trail’s western-terminus. And, then, it’s over, ending anticlimactically at an unmarked finish line near an Interstate 95 on-ramp.

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

Skyline Loop

If you don’t have time for the full traverse or only have one car, the Skyline Loop (3.5 miles, with 800 feet of elevation gain) is a great alternative. It starts on the North Skyline at the Reservation Headquarters on Hillside Street, traverses west across Hancock, Hemingway, and Wolcott Hills as described above, and then meets with the South Skyline on Great Blue Hill.

The South Skyline brings you back east, eventually climbing Houghton Hill before dropping down to Hillside Street and then requiring a short jog back to Reservation Headquarters. And, with the multiplicity of trails leaving from this location, it’s easy to tack on extra mileage at the end if you are still feeling fresh.