We just completed a 4 day three night trip around Heart Lake Loop in Yellowstone (first week in August 2022). Two adults and an almost 11 y/o and and an 8 y/o. It was the first significant backpacking trip that we have done as a family and was informed by the several of the posts at BPL and elsewhere:
I wanted to document our experience for other parents who are considering a trip with their kids. We had an aggressive schedule that I would back off next time by adding an additional night and lowering the day two distance. Also, the actual distances on the trail were 10-15% longer than I had estimated when getting the permits. 1st night camp at Sheridan creek (14 km in, mostly downhill) long way around (counter clockwise) to the East Shore (19 km), short way back to Sheridan Creek (10 km, flat), and the 14 km back out (mostly up hill). We averaged between 2.5 and 3 km/hr (including stops) which meant we spent 3-6.5 hours on the trail each day. We did have a Garmin Inreach for safety. It provided real time distance estimates.
The mosquitoes were bad at Sheridan Creek in the morning and evening. Hats, long sleeves, and two bottles of repellent.
We saw and chatted with several Continental Divide hikers going both directions. All were good natured and encouraged and told our kids how lucky they were to be this far in the back country and that age. The encouragement from strangers definitely helped.
Kid’s total load out including clothing and water was 8-10 lbs: 2 lb pack (REI Tarn 40), ~1 lb down quilt (Katabatic gear in a dry sack), 1lb inflatable pad (Klymit @ REI outlet) , 2 lbs clothing, 2 lbs water. Food and tent was with the adults. For shelter, the Black Diamond Megamid Light 4P with the bug insert served us well. Light weight with plenty of room inside for sleeping and gear. It did get toasty and we made sure that the thing was pitched for better ventilation on subsequent nights. I was luck enough to get a hold of a new Nunatak Bears Ears pack with the internal frame this spring. It worked great for this trip. The frame allowed me to carry the extra weight of the shared gear. My total initial load out was about 30 lbs and got lighter as we went. I carried the bear canister and we had another food bag that we tied up.
We used a sawyer squeeze for filtering our water. Given the volume of water needed for 4 people for drinking and cooking and the time we spent filtering it it probably wold be more efficient to bring my old school pump and filter out several 4-8 liters in one sitting for cooking and drinking the next day. We were using mainly freeze dried food pouches for breakfast and dinner with dried goods and bars for lunches (wrapped by day with blue painters tape in the bear canister). We did not see any bears or wolves. The kids ended up splitting a meal pouch at meal time and preferred the adult offerings. This left us with additional food that we did not need… better than the alternative.
The kids are athletic (i.e. play soccer and run) and held up well on all but the longest day. At that point they required food/snacks every 1.5 hours throughout the afternoon. We also made judicious use of Cliff BLOKS energy chews with a small amount (50mg) of Caffeine which they had not experienced before.
The biggest issue was my underestimation of the distance most days (i.e. 17 km vs 19 km). Turns out 2,000 meters was a material difference. “How much longer?? 2,000 meters!” became the running joke for the rest of the trip. It also fostered a lot of interest in the USGS Quad maps and pace counting.
We had some episodic rain on the first and third days, but it rained the the whole last day on the hike out which was a little sucky. Everyone enjoyed the trip and there was a lot of type I and a bit if type II fun had by all! We had two days in a hotel post trip to see the rest of the park.
What We Learned:
1. At this age, a more conservative estimate of 2.5-2.75 kn/hr would have served us better and allowed for more play time/relaxing in camp. The kids wanted more time playing in the streams/lake. Next time will accomplish this by trying to stay two nites at one site and/or having lower mileage each day.
3. Setting and breaking up camp took more time that we thought, especially after the rain. We did not get early starts and were typically not on the trail till late morning (10-11) which put us under some time pressure to cover the distance to the next camp. We got better with this each day, but it required parental effort to keep things on track.
4. Better rain-gear for the kids: We spent a lot of money on down bags for the kids and cheeped out on the rain gear. Getting the cheap plastic ponchos through a second day of use required some work and adjustments. Next time we will invest in some more durable solutions.
Here is the Gaia topo link because I can not figure out how to get it to work otherwise.