Eds Note: This is the first of a 3 part series on hiking with little ones.
As first time parents we had numerous friends tell us (in a loving way) that we should get used to the idea that our hiking days are now behind us.
As a family of two, we had always been into the outdoors and you’d usually find us every weekend or vacation somewhere on a mountaintop, trekking, hiking and climbing in the woods. That’s what we were known for. And we had a family saying to prove that: “the couple that hikes together, stays together!” was what we always said to each other.
Although I kept a very active lifestyle during the pregnancy, hiking 3-4 miles in the beautiful Northwest until my 39th week, those words got me thinking and I was wondering myself if we would still be able to do that once the baby came.
We said to ourselves that we’ll just have to wait and see, take one day at a time and so we did.
Once the baby was born (via C-section although I really hoped and believed in a no medicated-natural-labor plan) it took a couple of weeks to get back on my feet and ready to enjoy the outdoors again. Well, after being cooped up in the house all that time, you can imagine how for an avid hiker that can lead to a pretty severe case of cabin fever, so although my doctor didn’t quite clear me for hiking at three weeks post-partum, he also wasn’t totally against it knowing how active I was throughout my pregnancy.
While, I had been taking walks around the neighborhood every day during those first three weeks, the woods were calling and I had the insatiable need to get out adventuring again.
Our first hike with our brand newborn was to the top of Multnomah Falls – the most magnificent and memorable 542-foot waterfall you’ll ever see! Most tourist will advance up to the Benson Bridge, with a paved trail leading them there, but for me, that was more like a walk-in-the-park and I needed to reach the top to feel like I’m hiking again.
Which we did successfully, with no health repercussion to myself or the baby and that’s because we took our time to reach the top while the baby wooed and cooed and slept for the entire 2.6 miles round-trip duration of our hike.
That being said, you’re probably asking yourself ok so you did it but how do I choose the right trail? When will I know if my baby is ready to adventure out?
Finding Child Friendly Trails
You’re best bet is sticking with close friends who will be sensitive to your recent birth or seek out groups like Hike It Baby. (Make sure you join the private Facebook group to really get in with the community and if there isn’t a Hike it Baby in your area yet it’s easy to form one) Going with parents that have already tried those trails and can give you excellent tips is smart.
Do Your Research Before You Go
You should always research the trail you’re planning to take so you can prepare appropriately. But also be prepared to hit and miss because to some extent, you really won’t know whether a hike is child-friendly or interesting for you until you get there. What may seem like an “easy” trail in a hike guide, may not be accounting for carrying 10-40 pounds of baby on your body.
Keep it Short in the Beginning
Our first hikes with our baby were anywhere between 1 to 3 miles round trip. We worked our way up from there. Because of our active life-style, my physical condition has always been great and I never shied away from a good workout. But remember you just had a baby so it’s ok to take it easy. This is the one time in your life where a mile might be enough of a hike. Savor these slow walks. You’re in charge of your own body and you need to be able to use common sense when you’re out hiking so you don’t over do it.
Pay Attention to the Natural Elements
What’s the weather doing? Are you in an area that can shift quickly? Prepare for that. Bring rain gear, sun gear, bug gear. If there is a waterfall on the hike how close will you be getting to it and could you potentially end up a little damp on the hike? Is the hike in the trees or exposed. If it’s exposed could there be lightening or wind? While these things might thwart some hikes, there are bound to be plenty of hikes where these things can be avoided.
What to Look For in the Beginning
1. Open wide trails that are gentle and rolling and will make you feel confident, not discouraged.
2. Covered hikes like Tryon Creek in Portland for example offer lots of tree coverage which can protect you from rain and sun.
3. A bathroom or nature center is nice in case you need to change the baby or just take a break. Audubon Society in Portland has a great place for this. So does Eagle River Nature Center outside of Anchorage.
4. Trails with great scenery that will get you excited to be back out there! Look for something peaceful and beautiful like a bird sanctuary or a nature preserve that is quiet and will be nice for your new little one (who will most likely sleep through the hike.
5. Start with a trail that has people on it so you don’t feel nervous about being out there alone. It’s not your fault if every twig that falls or creepy person in the parking lot makes you worry. This is part of your new Mama bear emotional state. That mellows with time so just know that it’s ok to start with a well traveled trail. Keep it simple and easy to start!
Anka is a full-time Portland, OR working mom that treasures the most the special moments spent outdoors with her husband and 15-month old son, Apollo. In weekends you will always find them hiking or biking in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and later blog about their son’s adventures on their personal blog: http://hike-a-tot.tumblr.com/.