The weather in Denver has been absolutely beautiful this week, so we decided to take advantage of an easy trail where Luke could take it slow and explore to his heart's desire.  

With an elevation gain of 223 feet and a short distance of 2.1 miles, South Valley Park Trail is a perfect loop for families with young kids.

One of the things I've learned from experience is if you're hiking with small kids or don't have spikes on your shoes, it's best to avoid trails with ice patches and mud throughout the winter as they can be quite treacherous and messy to deal with. 

To avoid the ice and mud, it's best to look for trails (I use alltrails.com) with lots of sun exposure in the winter, often found in the foothills. I prefer pine forest hikes in the summer but they are often a poor choice in the winter without proper foot gear as they get little to no sun exposure.

This is definitely not a hike I would choose in the middle of the summer with the lack of shade, but it was a perfect trekk for a warm winter day, as long as you still come prepared with sunscreen, hats, and lots of water. Remember, high-desert sun is extremely harsh throughout the entire year. 

Okay, enough on the technical stuff. 

Our hike with Curious George was nothing short of fun, peaceful, and adventurous--a tricky balance to strike in parenthood. 

Luke walked the first mile or so and enjoyed climbing the rocks, looking for "moose", and chasing rabbits. 

During our hikes I often wonder what kind of outdoor activities my kids might be involved in over the years, but I'll go ahead and put money on Luke being the rock climber of the family. 

The curiosity of a child is something I always marvel at. Just watching him touch all of the different plants (which many have to be avoided...because...cactus and yucca, ya'll) and rocks with such amazement, really helps me slow down and live in the moment with him.  

Growing up on a 300-acre farm in Missouri, my best times were when I was out roaming and exploring to my heart's desire. Now, as a parent, some of my favorite memories with my kiddos are our times out on the trails, letting them lead the way and enjoy nature's surprises.  

About a mile or less into our hike, Luke decided George and him were ready to ride in the pack. It had been a while since I carried him and I truly couldn't believe how heavy he felt (I'm guessing 30+ pounds at this point). In fact, it was a struggle to even get him on my back in the first place as you have to first put the child in the pack on the ground and then swing it around to put on your back. 

As we continued on, we took about a half mile detour on the Coyote Trail, which happened to be a rather steep incline and harder than I anticipated. 

After I began dripping sweat, we turned around and headed back to the South Valley trail to complete our 2.1 mile loop.

I could hear Lukey beginning to breath a bit heavy and soon after he was fast asleep. I'm certain he became 10 pounds heavier at that point.  

Luke snored in my ear and I took in the sights, sounds, and beauty of the Colorado landscape. It's safe to say my heart is in the west. I love the dry climate, ever-changing landscapes, and abundance of trails, park, and activities that come with living in the Western U.S. 

If you're intimidated at the thought of getting out for a hike with your kiddos, just start small. As easy as my two-year-old is to hike with, it is another story with my oldest, who has autism. We endured some very difficult times with him out on trails that made me never want to go back again. But we did, and it has paid off. 

When other parents ask me how I do these types of things so often with small kids, my response is this: It is very difficult to be at home, so if I'm going to deal with meltdowns and tantrums, I'd rather be outside in nature dealing with them than sitting at home.  

With two years of hiking experience, my oldest is now much easier to take on a hike. If it weren't for all of those really difficult hikes we endured with him, we wouldn't be at a place of much more ease today. 

Don't be afraid of struggle, as it will often happen on the trails with young kids; just remember, you are instilling in them a love for the outdoors and being physically active. There is no price tag for that.