I have gone hiking with my toddler since she was born, and although some aspects of hiking have gotten easier as she’s gotten a bit older, some other parts have gotten more difficult. Now that my second and not-so-new baby is also growing into a toddler, I expect double the chaos and twice the joy on our family-of-four hikes this summer!
If you’re about to head out on the trail with a toddler, I have some tips for you:
Adjust your expectations
I’ll admit that the first few times I hiked with my toddler (and new-ish baby) I had visions of us putting both kids in carriers and hiking for miles and miles, while the toddler blissfully explored nature and our baby slept. I’m sure you know where this is going. Those first few hikes were quite disappointing for everyone involved. I’ve learned that it’s best to start out with almost no expectations for the hike itself. Maybe your goal is just to spend time together as a family. Maybe your goal is to get outside for an hour. Whatever your goal is, make sure that it doesn’t necessarily involve long mileage and a peaceful experience.
Healthy snacks are a welcome treat on a trail for the whole family! You can use snacks as an excuse to stop on a tree stump and enjoy a break from walking, or as a way to keep a restless toddler entertained in the carrier for just a bit longer. It may not be a bad idea to pack an entire lunch, just in case your hike takes a little more time than you originally anticipated. There’s nothing worse than a hungry toddler!
Use a great carrier
I would love it if my toddler wanted to walk for miles through the woods with me, but alas, usually she gets about a quarter mile into our adventure and doesn’t want to go any further. If you bring a comfortable carrier that you both enjoy using, you’ll get quite few more miles in than you will otherwise.
Pack extra weather appropriate clothing
Shortly after we moved to the PNW I learned the hard way that just because it isn’t raining at our house doesn’t mean it won’t be raining on the trail. Always pack a few layers in case of rainy or cold weather, and bring a change of outfit for the carride home. I also recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes in case your little one wants to jump in a few puddles or explore an especially muddy part of the trail.
Make everything a game
Are there stairs on the hike? Count them! Sticks on the ground? Find the perfect one for a walking stick! A river? Throw rocks into it! Puddles? See who can make the biggest splash! A long stretch of flat ground? Have a race! The more games you can think of, the more your little one will enjoy hiking.
Stock up on patience
The only thing that is guaranteed when hiking with a toddler is that you’re going to need patience and a lot of it! Try to plan ahead so that you aren’t stressed out by the time you get to the hike. Pack ahead of time and know which route you’ll be taking. Then, drink your coffee and have a good breakfast and get out on the trail! If everyone’s moods are high when you start your hike, you’re already winning! Then just remember that whatever happens, the day is still a ‘win’ because you’re outdoors with your family, making memories.
Hiking with toddlers is unpredictable, but it’s also fun to see the trails through their eyes. They notice things we don’t and are entertained by the smallest (literally!) of things. If you take your time and let them examine rocks and streams and flowers, you’re in for a slow-paced but enjoyable day. Expect the unexpected and enjoy your time with your little one(s)!