Hikes are a wonderful way to explore new areas and see beautiful views. Young children enjoy the fresh air and new scenery. Taking a little one on a hike, doesn’t have to be stressful. In this article I’m going to share my five tips for hiking with a toddler.
Spring is officially here up in the Northeast. After a long winter, our family is ready to spend hours outside enjoying all that nature has to offer. We are not extreme hikers by any means, but we do love exploring new trails and seeing beautiful views.
Tip #1: Keep it Local
Although planning a whole day road trip to a beautiful hiking spot can be fun, it’s not always necessary. Many local towns and cities have trails located only a short drive from where you live. Town websites and online hiking forums can provide you with a list of trails in your local area. Best part, you and your toddler won’t have to wait long to get out of the car to run around and stretch your legs.
Recently, we went on a hike close to where we live and I am so glad that we did. Not only did it make an impromptu hike possible, but it offered beautiful views of our local area. Sometimes we are quick to right off what is close by because we see it all the time. However, hikes through a town forest or protected area offer new views and provide a fresh perspective to your local area.
Research Online BEfore You Go
When driving through an area keep an eye out for trail heads and town forests. Websites such as All Trails, can provide a list of hikes in your area. When planning to go hiking with a toddler, it is helpful to know the difficulty level of a trail. The All Trails website ranks trails and shows images along with reviews from other hikers.
Tip #2: Easy Terrain with Gently Sloping Paths
Nothing is worse than being deep in the woods and being faced with a steep slope and rocky terrain with a little one. Our toddler, like most young children, loves to run and is unaware of the dangers that can happen when you trip and fall on a root or rock.
Thankfully, the trail that we explored had hills, but the ground was pretty level and it wasn’t too steep. With more practice, little ones will learn how to navigate tree roots, rocks, and muddy patches, but that takes time. To help acclimate them into the world of hiking, take them on a few easy trails to start.
As much as we modeled how to walk slow, our toddler still slipped and fell. He wasn’t hurt, just a little muddy. After his slip, he slowed down and paid closer attention to where he was walking. Like adults, little ones learn best through practicing a new skill.
Tip #3: Clothing and Shoes that Can Get Dirty
Speaking of falling in the mud, before you set out into nature, outfit your child in clothing that they can get dirty and wet. You also may want to pack an extra jacket or pair of pants in case they end up needing a change of clothes.
I learned the hard way and outfitted my toddler in white sneakers. Lesson learned! Thankfully I packed an extra pair of pants and sneakers. Even when the sun is shining and the temperatures are warming up, snow and water can linger in the woods. Its amazing how trails in the woods have their own micro-climates.
Remember, children are only little once and almost anything can be washed in the washing machine. I try not to stress too much about dirt and mud. After all, its not fun going around a big puddle when you can run right through it!
Tip #4: Make Time for Discoveries
Forests are magical places. There is something about being in the woods that makes you feel like you are in a far away place. As a child, I spent hours playing and exploring the woods by my house. Going on a hike brings me right back to when I was a little explorer myself.
If you have never experienced the joy of finding hidden treasures in nature, it’s not too late. On our hike we all took turns pointing out new discoveries. Isn’t it amazing how you can walk through the same area, but each person picks up on something different.
Exploring nature with little ones adds a whole new perspective. For children, they may be seeing and witnessing elements for the first time. My little one was fascinated with tree stumps and trial markers nailed to the trees. “A rectangle!” he excitedly exclaimed as he spotted a marker on a tree.
Tip #5: Carrying a Toddler
As much as my little one loves to run around free as a bird, he enjoys being held once his energy is spent. Nature provides toddlers with stimulation and fresh air. Both of these things tire them out quickly. Watching for tree roots, navigating through rocky paths, and taking in all of the new sights and smells tends to exhaust children in no time.
When we go out on a hike, we pack our baby carrier. It is helpful to bring along especially when exploring a new area. Taking along the carrier means we can easily hold our little one when he is tired or needs a break.
You can rely on your arms to carry a toddler, but it can be taxing. Most hiking trails contain rocks, roots, and slick spots. By having a child on your back, you can focus your attention on the terrain in front of you.
If you decide to take a stroller friendly trail your little one can rest in that when tired. However, through my experience, bringing along a stroller can be more work for the parent. Children want to be off running, walking, and climbing instead of sitting down. As the parent, you must balance the task of navigating the stroller while keeping an eye on your little one.
Give them a chance to rest when needed
The point of going out on a hike is to enjoy nature. Encourage your little one to sit on the ground and look closely at those little bugs and leaves. But when they need a break, be prepared to offer that support. Nothing is worse than a tired toddler who has to walk back to the car unwillingly.
Tips from the National Forest Foundation
For additional tips for hiking with a toddler or young child, check out this article from the National Forest Foundation. Remember, bringing along children changes the dynamic of a hike, but I think you will find it is worth it to bring them along. Toddlers love learning and exploring through nature.
Other Nature Themed Toddler Friendly Activities
Excited to get out an explore nature with your little one? Check out my other blogs posts perfect for little explorers. Exploring Mud Season with Flowing Water and Going on a Color Scavenger Hunt are two of my favorites.