While most kids her age spend their downtime surfing the Web or playing games that might find them surviving a rugged — yet virtual — wilderness, Medford eighth-grader Mariah Tarr has experienced the real thing.
In July, the 13-year-old and her dad, Steve, took a three-day, 18-mile hike with two other father-daughter pairs along the mighty Rogue River.
Setting out from the Foster Bar trailhead upriver from Gold Beach, the group hiked along the scenic Rogue, made dozens of pit stops along the way and ensured the young girls all learned important survival skills.
Living in an area with abundant hiking trails and postcard scenery, a large community of hikers enjoy virtually unlimited access to mountains, rivers and lakes that can be accessed only by foot or horse.
And many of those local hikers are getting their teens and even young children in on the fun. Though it requires some extra preparation to include younger hikers, Steve Tarr says special accommodations are few and taking younger generations into the wilderness is a rewarding experience.
Tarr and his daughter started out after buying a book detailing 100-plus local hikes. They started small and worked their way up to longer hikes, eventually planning to incorporate camping. A big key to success is planning activities or finding sights along the way that will hold the interest of younger hikers.
"The big thing is that you have to make it fun," says Tarr. "If you just go on a pretty trail or something, the kids are bored, and then what do you do?"
During the hike this summer, the Rogue River provided natural entertainment for the girls, who played in the river, caught fish using a homemade "line and hook," panned for gold and watched animals play in the river.
Along the way, the girls helped navigate the trail, started fires, prepared meals and watched for landmarks and trail markers. Sticking close to the Rogue, the group found its way along the Mule Creek tributary and visited Paradise Ranch, a pit stop accessible only to hikers and rafters.
Tarr says preparing for the hike was as much fun for Mariah as the actual hike.
"It's important to get the kids involved in planning. We talked about it for several months before, and I let her pick out food at Sportsman's Warehouse, so she got to play a role in planning things," says Tarr.
"I'm slowly trying to get her to do more and more, so when she gets older she can do it on her own. So many people don't do or try stuff because they've never done it before. With Mariah, when she's older and wants to go by herself, I'll know she's capable."
Although his daughters were the youngest of the group, Corey Nelson, also of Medford, says his 9-year-old Eliza and 11-year-old Cordelia, met the challenges of a three-day hike just fine. Nelson also started with short hikes for his girls, gradually increasing the length and difficulty of the trails they chose.
"Each kid is always a little different, but they both had fun and enjoyed different parts of the hike," says Nelson, adding that keeping a reasonable pace and having a loosely outlined schedule helps hikes with kids to go smoothly.
Nelson marvels at the number of adults who wouldn't embark on the same adventure his girls enjoyed this summer.
"It's been interesting to see people's reactions when we take kids these places you don't usually see them," says Nelson. "One of larger hikes we've done was pretty hard on kids. It was over 18 miles, but they pulled through and made some good memories."
While it's no easy task to backpack for several miles and survive outdoors for several days, Tarr says everyone who took the summer hike was eager to plan one for next year. Mariah says she enjoys the adventure of the hike and having one-on-one time with her dad.
"I love hiking with my dad because it means we get to spend quality time together away from distractions like technology, since our phones don't usually get service where we are hiking," she says.
"It's exciting when we start out our trips. We're always tired when we are done with the trip, but we always go with two of my friends and their dads, so we always have tons of fun with each other.
"Doing these hikes are cool," she adds, "because we get to laugh and argue about who is going to carry the garbage, and we get to lie out under the stars as we fall asleep."
Members of the group say starting small and doing day hikes is the best way to get kids and families started. Staying close to town and seeing local sites can gauge whether smaller children and young teens are ready to try more.
In the local area, an extensive trail system is available in Ashland's Lithia Park. Upper and Lower Table Rocks are a good alternative, as well. For longer hikes, the Pacific Crest Trail has several access points near the valley, such as near Mount Ashland, and the Bear Creek Greenway runs from Central Point to Ashland.