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The author's oldest son, Brody, learns to lead llama Durango across a creek. Photo courtesy of Heather Mundt

Get Your Kids Hiking by Taking a Llama to Lunch

This half-day, guided tour from Paragon Guides lets youngsters take charge of the calm pack animals.

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Any parent who hikes with young kids is bound to hear a fair share of whining. “Why do we have to hike?” or “This is hard!” And the most common, “How much faaaaarther?”

But worry not, dear parents. Paragon Guides near Vail, Colo., offers a fun remedy to prevent such protests: Take a llama to lunch. This half-day, family-friendly, guided tour not only serves as a way to get your kids up the trail with fewer complaints, but also acts as an introduction to these animals, which serve as ideal companions for mountainous journeys because of their ability to lug up to 80 pounds of gear.

“As pack animals, llamas offer the opportunity for hikers to carry much smaller backpacks, [plus] a few special items that you might not normally carry because of the added weight,” says Donny Shefchik, Paragon field director and senior guide, who has worked with the company for more than 30 years.

(Read 5280‘s field guide to experiential learning)

Besides easing the burden of carrying food and gear, llamas are also eco-friendly. Their padded hooves and articulating toenails leave less trace than a hiking shoe. And since their scat is similar to an elk’s, it’s easily processed in the mountain environment. What’s more, their calm, gentle disposition can enhance the hiking experience, especially for kids.

“Due to their quiet nature, llamas are generally kid-friendly,” Shefchik says. “Their temperament on the trail is quite predictable, and they seem to watch out for whoever is leading them.”

On the June day we took our two boys, ages 7 and 9, they were the de facto wranglers, responsible for leading our llamas, Pacheco and Durango, up the trail, helping to navigate them over impediments like logs or across bridges—or, in our case, across the river, since both refused said bridges—and tying them up safely so they could graze while we ate lunch.

The best part? Both kids were so focused on their respective charges—and answering questions about them from curious hikers—that neither uttered a single complaint during the 3-mile hike.

“All the years I’ve been involved [at Paragon Guides], we’ve always tried to emphasize in our trips some kind of participatory part, especially with kids,” Shefchik says. “We want people to be engaged.”

(Read 5280‘s guide to hiking fourteeners with kids)

The seasonal, four-hour tour typically begins at the Arrowhead Ski Area, near the company’s backcountry cabin and corral. Hikers start the day learning about llamas and safety concerns before hiking up the mountain for a picnic lunch.

“The opportunity to spend time with these unique creatures provides a sense of accomplishment and companionship for many people,” Shefchik says. “I am so much more refreshed getting to camp because I haven’t been carrying a pack. And at the end of the day, I don’t mind watching a sunset with a glass of wine in my hand that the llama carried.”

Take a hike: Paragon Guide’s Take a Llama to Lunch tours are available by reservation from July 1 to September 30. Each tour takes place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (custom time slots are possible based on availability), and includes a picnic lunch. Prices range from $79 to $99 per person, depending on group size. For more information, visit paragonguides.com.

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