Hiking with your toddler
As your child gets comfortable walking, and then starts to learn to run, hiking can be a great way to get outside and spend some time together as a family. Of course, there won’t be any White Mountain or Long Trail hiking, at least not at first, but a walk around the local pond or park is a great place to start.
If you think taking on the wilderness might be a good activity for you and your little wild-child, there are a few considerations to keep in mind as you’re starting out.
It’s true that part of the point of hiking is to give Baby the chance to stretch his little legs, but there’s also a good chance that he doesn’t quite have as much stamina as you do yet. Unless you’re familiar with the trail you’re taking, and know ahead of time that it’s flat, paved, and neatly kept, a stroller can easily turn into more trouble than it’s worth, as a way of troubleshooting when Baby’s little legs get tired.
Instead, it can be a great time to break out the toddler backpack or adjustable sling, which may not have gotten much use since Baby was younger. If you don’t have one of these hanging around, see if you can borrow one before buying – if Baby revolts against this type of transportation, you don’t want to be stuck with one. And on shorter hikes, if your little one really takes to the lure of the open trail, you may not even need it at all!
If you plan to hike during the warmer months, starting your hike early in the day, will give you a cooler, more comfortable experience. Bug spray and sunscreen, applied early and often, can keep you from having regrets about your hike later, too.
There’s a good chance that Baby will want to reach out and explore some of the wildlife with his hands, so it’s helpful to do a little research about the plant life in your area before you head out. If poison oak or poison ivy, for example, are common in your area, it’ll be helpful to have a good idea of what they look like, so you can keep your little one from getting too close. When you’re encouraging him to stay on the trail with you, you can suggest that he listen for birds or bugs.
Keeping conversation to a minimum will help him take in his environment, but raising the occasional conversation about a certain tree or animal you pass by can help him stay engaged and get him thinking.
Like any activity the two of you do together, hiking will probably grab his attention better if you keep his interests in mind. Maybe he loves animals, and you can point out animal tracks or birds as you pass them. Maybe he loves water, and would enjoy taking a hike that passes a stream. Planning a hike around things you know Baby will love will help make the hike not only enjoyable but memorable as well.
If you feel comfortable doing so, planning a hike snack like apples or trail mix, tasty items that will travel well, can be another great way of building positive memories around hiking. Bringing lots of water can mean full diapers, though, so plan accordingly!
Baby may not be scaling any mountains with you any time soon, but hiking can be a great way to add a little extra adventure to both of your lives.