5 Tips for Hiking With Kiddos This Season
Words Megan Gordon
My husband and I are both active people, and while we’ve realized that with a toddler in tow, eating out at nice restaurants as a family is off the list for a while, there’s no reason hiking should be. We’ve taken our 19-month old son Oliver on a number of hikes this season, and I’ve got some great tips on what’s worked for us and how to plan the best, most enjoyable outing – for everyone.
1. Make a List … and Check it Twice
Preparation is the name of the game when hiking with kids, and I like to jot down a pack list of sorts so we don’t forget anything. Regardless of the weather forecast, I always bring along sunscreen, sun hats, raincoats (just in case) and, plenty of water and snacks.
These days I leave the diaper bag at home and get by with a wipes dispenser that holds up to five extra diapers, and, although I hate to lug it around, I’ve been bringing our Polaroid camera to capture a few tangible memories from each trip.
2. Keep Your Distances Short
As a former marathon runner and active hiker, I love nothing more than a long, challenging day outdoors. But there’s a time and a place for that, and hiking with tiny humans isn’t one of them.
Our first time out was, in truth, around the block; we wanted to test out the baby backpack and make sure Oliver would take to it ok before getting out into the woods to discover that he hated it. Success! Graduating to our first real hike, we drove east about 30 miles to a two-mile loop filled with wildflowers. Oliver loved reaching out towards all the different blooms and colors. Now we generally keep to a 4 mile hike and always bring a lunch to have midway – PB and J is a fan favorite, and this time of year, berries and watermelon always make it into the pack. In general, when you’re first starting out, I think it’s always best to keep your hikes short to avoid possible meltdowns or fatigue – and, of course, you can always build upon your distances if you discover your kiddo loves the experience.
3. Don’t Rush It
One way to ensure the whole family is more apt to enjoy an afternoon hike is to try not to jam it into an otherwise busy day. We always leave plenty of time to look at plants, wander around aimlessly at the turnaround point, and take plenty of snack breaks. Even stopping on the way home to check out a new sight, take a scenic route, or share an ice cream cone can be a really nice end to the day. I used to be a bit anxious about fitting Oliver’s nap into the day in the same way we do at home, but I’ve gotten a lot more chill about it, realizing that he’ll inevitably sleep in the car and stopping to skip stones at Lake 22 beats a rushed attempt to get in a crib nap any day of the week.
4. Research Terrain and Weather
In addition to packing all the right things when heading out for your hike, doing some light research will make the day more enjoyable for everyone. I always check the weather, but I also hop online or consult one of our guidebooks and check out the terrain to make sure it’s not too steep and that it’s at least partially shaded on a hot day.
5. Journey, Not the Destination
Before having kids, I used to think of hiking as almost a checklist: climb to the top of this mountain? Check. Make it around this long loop trail? Check. But now we’re really just outside to have fun, see a few new sights and get some fresh air. If we don’t make it as far as we’d planned, it’s not the end of the world. I think adjusting your expectations is always a healthy exercise, and will help you come away from the day feeling like it was a success.