I’ve always been an adventurer. Before my daughter and before my marriage, there was the mountains. Yosemite was my first true love, you could say, as I found myself doing back-to-back weekend solo trips to discover all her beauty. From climbing Half Dome to summitting Whitney, I’ve always felt drawn to the mountains and woods; and so it’s by no mystery that I fell in love with someone who had that same yearning for adventure.

As a couple, we celebrated nearly every holiday or anniversary in [the mountains and woods] from Yosemite to Yellowstone, Arcadia to Haleakalā. We had a constant yearning to see the world and all her best-kept secrets and you could definitely call us national park junkies. When we found out we were expecting, we vowed to not let our love for nature and hiking diminish simply because it may become harder. There’d be more planning required, more gear needed, more concerns heading into unchartered territories, more risk assessments done more regularly, but we were never deterred.

Bonding and building confidence one adventure at a time by Shari Charron for HIke it Baby

Making memories from coast to coast

When our daughter turned 5 weeks old, we decided to test the waters by doing a small weekend trip to Yosemite – a trip that included a 12-mile hike of The Panoramic Trail. She did great, and our confidence as hiker parents grew. Shortly after, we embarked on a cross-country road trip to see the in-laws back in Rhode Island. We threw some pins in our U.S. National Parks System (NPS) map and set out on a 6-week, nearly 9,000-mile journey from California to Rhode Island and back – including 30 states, 11 national parks, 9 national monuments and several other memorials.

When we left, our daughter was 7 weeks old, and she’d turn 13 weeks old upon our return. She had camped atop Rocky Mountain National Park and saw her first moose there. Her first bear was seen in Shenandoah National Park. She dipped her tiny toes in the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Rio Grande. She’d seen the Spanish moss of Savannah, smelled the wildflowers of the Smokies and gasped in awe at Niagara Falls. The experiences of that trip were contagious, everlasting and addictive.

When dad returned to work and I became a Stay Outdoor Mama, Adi and I became no strangers to mama/daughter hikes and trips. It took me a good six months to become confident and comfortable with baby wearing before we even set out on a solo hike. I had so much anxiety about how I would have to carry Adi and all our gear (water, snacks, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, first aid kit and the list goes on!).

Most of our initial solo hikes included an uphill-downhill road that most locals used for exercise. As my confidence for babywearing increased, so did our mileage and destinations. Over time, I began to understand the benefit of taking only necessities and limiting non-essentials. In the beginning, I would have never imagined solo traveling with a toddler, let alone adding hiking adventures along the way. In hindsight, after having hiked hundreds of miles without dad, it seems such a silly concern. Living in the Reno-Tahoe area, with the abundance of trails, beauty and support groups, it’s not hard to do. 

Bonding and building confidence one adventure at a time by Shari Charron for HIke it Baby

Taking our first solo road trip

Recently, we ventured out for our longest mama/daughter road trip without dad. Our five-day trip landed us in some amazing places on our way to visit family in California – from Hidden Falls Regional Park, Auburn State Recreation Area to Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. During that trip, we traveled nearly twelve hours by car and hiked (toddling included) over 10 miles. We also spent our first night at a hotel alone. 

When it comes to planning our solo trips – and any trips that require car travel for that matter – I look at the map and try to pin point outdoorsy stops along the way. These stops can include anything from a local, regional, state, historical or even national park. I do my best at researching trails at the parks and try to gauge whether they are toddler-friendly or carrier-only. At my daughter’s age now, toddler/carrier hybrids have been our go-to type of hike.

I try my hardest to ensure we aren’t in the car for longer than 2.5 hours at a time. Sometimes the stops add extra mileage and travel time, but usually the stop outweighs that pitfall. As my daughter has aged and is becoming more aware, car rides can get boring and feel longer than they are (especially if it’s a whiny kind of day). We’ve been lucky enough to avoid extra screen time by using music and sing alongs and snacks (who doesn’t like a special treat when traveling?).

Bonding and building confidence one adventure at a time by Shari Charron for HIke it Baby

Feeling confident with each adventure

When I set out to plan a hike or trip, do I feel confident? Sure, but I also try to think of everything that can go wrong as part of that planning. From unexpected meltdowns in the car, unplanned extended time in the car seat, issues at hotels, traffic jams and road closures – all of which have happened – I try to remember that it’s not always about the destination but the journey getting there. Some of our meltdowns have led us to some pretty awesome stops that turned into extra exploring and adventuring. One of the things I’ve learned while hiking or traveling solo with a toddler is that it’s OK to adapt and make changes to the itinerary. After all, an itinerary is just a plan, and sometimes plans change – especially with a toddler.

Our recent mama/daughter road trip definitely increased my confidence as a mama traveler (without dad). Knowing that I can take my daughter on the road has me excited about all the possibilities of adventures we can plan in the future with less limitations. Knowing that hiking along the way is just like hiking near home helps ease my anxiety. Our mama/daughter adventures will continue to help build, nurture and strengthen our bond – something I feel I didn’t have with my own mother, and that is worth every possible thing that “may” go wrong. Building our bond and friendship through the love of nature has been such a reward for both of us. This whole experience has us planning our first mama/daughter camping trip this summer.

What are some parent/child activities do you to encourage that bonding time in the outdoors? Please share with us in the comments below!

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Photos courtesy of Shari Charron.

Shari is a co-ambassador for the Reno-Tahoe Hike it Baby Branch. After having her first child in 2017 and relocating to Nevada in 2018, she joined Hike it Baby to find her village. She went on her first “real” hike in Yosemite in 2009, and fell in love with hiking and trails. Since then Shari has summited Mt. Whitney twice and tackled Half Dome in Yosemite. With a toddler in tow, you can find her enjoying less challenging trails and taking in nature from a little person’s perspective. When not hiking with her Hike it Baby Reno-Tahoe crew, you can find Shari spending time with her family and friends. 

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