No matter where you go in the hills — whether you climb granite spires, roam the prairies, or fish our many lakes — it’s important to help preserve the natural beauty all around us. The easiest way to explain it to kids of all ages: take only pictures, leave only footprints. We should get out and enjoy the natural world, but also leave it intact for others to enjoy. 

As you prepare to head out on your next family adventure, keep these principles in mind:

  • Plan ahead: have a plan based on your family’s abilities, planned activities, and expected terrain. Carry a first aid kit and plenty of water, and dress appropriately for the weather.
  • Travel on durable surfaces: trails are maintained for your safety, but also to preserve the surrounding landscape.
  • Dispose of waste properly: if you pack it in, pack it out! Have a plan to take any trash home with you, and pick up any you see while you’re out.
  • Leave what you find: this means not taking objects like flowers or rocks, but also not defacing them by carving trees or drawing on cliff faces.
  • Respect wildlife: stay away from animals you encounter, even if they seem docile or friendly. If animals respond to your presence, you’re too close! Do not approach or try to assist wildlife in distress; note their location and find the nearest game warden or park ranger.
  • Be considerate of others: everyone deserves to enjoy nature in its purest form. Excessive noise or uncontrolled pets can decrease others’ enjoyment of the outdoors.
  • Have fun! The Black Hills are an incredible resource that we’re lucky to call home. Get out and have fun exploring as a family.

Ask the Expert

Zac Soetmelk is an Assistant Store Leader at Scheels who has loved the outdoors since he was young. He has gone from wandering aimlessly through the forest to learning that being prepared is the best way to truly enjoy the outdoors.

“No matter where you’re going in the hills, there are some basic things you should have with you. Start with a first aid kit. Depending on what you’re doing, you can make that as broad or as narrow as you want, as far as the amount of things you want in your kit. You could go with a basic kit, but then you could also have emergency blankets, light sticks, things like that,” Zac says. There’s no need to overcomplicate things right off the bat, however, and Scheels carries a variety of basic kits that include bandages, disinfectants, and pain relievers that are easy to keep in your car or day pack. 

Other than first aid, there are a few more things Zac suggests families take along: “I recommend everyone have a headlamp with them, either in a backpack or easily accessible. There’s a wide variety of battery operated ones or rechargeable ones.” It’s smart to make sure that your headlamp has good batteries, or stash an extra set of batteries in your pack just in case. Zac says it’s best if everyone in the family has their own, and the ones at Scheels come in a variety of adjustable sizes so they’ll grow with your kids.

Zac Soetmelk on the trail with his family.
Photo courtesy of Scheels.

The next important item families need to take is enough water for everyone, and then some. “I strongly recommend families take more than they think they’ll need. It’s one of those things that is best to have too much rather than not enough” Zac says. The easiest way to accomplish this is to take a backpack that has an integrated water bladder, as you’ll be able to carry much more than in just a water bottle. Packs are made for young kids up to adults, and are perfect for also carrying snacks, gear, or extra layers.

Speaking of layers, having extra clothes on hand is the final item Zac highly recommends families have on hand. Weather in the Black Hills can be fickle no matter the time of year, the last thing you want is to be exposed to the elements because you didn’t plan ahead. The easy way? Layer up. Zac says, “if you layer up to start with, as you get active you can shed layers, whether that’s a rain jacket or a sweater.” He recommends parents have their kids wear layers no matter the season, but especially in winter and spring when our weather can have wide temperature swings without notice. “It’s wise to have kids wear a base layer, a t-shirt, and then a jacket. If they get too warm once you’re out they can take clothing off, but it’s better to start out warm than get too cold and try to add layers later” he says.  

Zac and his family enjoy getting out on the trail and hiking together, a hobby that has changed for him over the years. “I used to just wander a bit aimlessly, just enjoying the outdoors. Now with my wife and kids just for a day hike, I’ve got extra water and first aid, because kids tend to get into things.” No matter where they go, however, the Black Hills always provide adventure. 

WORDS: ASHLEY JOHNSON
PHOTO: JESSE BROWN NELSON