How To Hike With Toddlers

I can’t say enough about how great it has been to get outside this winter, in all kinds of weather, and enjoy nature. Fresh air does a lot to beat the winter blues. And even if you enjoy a warm, cozy house – it feels so much warmer and cozier to come inside after a few hours spent out in the cold air.

I’m inspired by the other mothers in my Wild and Free group. I’m also inspired by bloggers like Rain or Shine Mamma. Today I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve learned from those who have been doing it longer, and from my own experience. If you’ve been thinking about taking the kiddos out for some nature adventures, this is for you!

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Take it Slow

I kind of had to learn this the hard way. My kids hike slowly…and I mean slooooowwwwwllyyyyy. Shiloh often prefers to still be carried instead of walking, but when he does walk, he loves to pick and smell every flower he sees. Malachi is turning into a pretty good hiker, but he also prefers to go slowly and pick up leaves and look at bugs, etc.

At first this wore on my nerves. I felt pressure to keep up with the rest of the group so I could talk to my friends. But then I realized – we’re here for the nature. Not just for the social time. I should be encouraging my kids to make small discoveries, not telling them to keep pressing on at a pace that isn’t comfortable for them. My goal is to get them to like it, right? And to learn and appreciate things along the way.

So now I adjust my speed to them instead of the other way around. At least I try to. It means we go slowly. It means I don’t always get to chat with the other moms as much as I would like. But ultimately, it means we learn and see more things up close than if we were just jogging the trail.

Find a Group (Or Make Your Own)

A quick Google search for nature groups in your area and you never know – you might strike gold. Hike It Baby is one national group that I’ve heard of. There are also Wild and Free groups for homeschoolers, and I’m sure there are Meetup groups and Facebook groups as well.

If all else fails, you can initiate one on your own. We intentionally keep our group smallish – about 10 families – so that we and our kids can actually get to know one another on a deeper level.

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Ditch the Stroller (Most of the time)

Some tails are paved or flat grassy, but most around here are not stroller friendly. Hiking is a great transition for a toddler that still rides in a stroller on long walks, but is ready to explore when there is more nature to interact with. Because there is so much  to do and see and smell and feel, hiking is easier than just walking on sidewalk for toddlers (I think.)

If your kid is under the age of three and doesn’t have a lot of stamina, I suggest bringing a baby carrier. Shiloh is currently two years old, and he likes to spend about half of the hike on the ground and half of the hike being carried. I usually oblige him either way. Because I can’t really carry both kids, this means Malachi (age four) has had to toughen up a little and hike some pretty steep (but not unsafe) hills at times. I make sure to verbally encourage him often when he’s doing something that’s a little hard for him. Hopefully the climb is rewarding and special, and he’s learning to overcome the obstacle of the mind…even at a young age.

But I’ll be honest here, I often have the stroller packed in the back of the car just in case my kids aren’t feeling it at all. If we’re hiking near our house, it’s not necessary, but if I drove 30-60 minutes for a hike and the kids have a meltdown, I figure a stroller hike is better than no hike at all. If you go this route, it really helps to have a stroller with rugged tires. Be prepared to get it dirty! And be prepared for a workout, mama!

Pack Food…Lots of Food

I’ve gotten pretty good at trowing together simple, packable lunches and snacks every morning before we go out on an adventure. Not only can I use these treats as a little bit of incentive if necessary, snacks always lengthen the amount of time that we can stay out.

A few tuna sandwiches, fruit, crackers and hummus, and a jug of water will sustain me and the boys for 3-5 hours (we eat a big breakfast before we head out too.) Often with small kids, someone will say they are hungry just minutes after arriving at our destination. So it’s better to be prepared than to have to leave early.

I also keep a blanket in the car at all times for picnics – one that is easy to throw in the laundry as needed. I also keep a gallon or two of water in the car at all times, especially in the hot months because some of the places we go don’t have potable water. I can’t really overemphasize the importance of water – even when it’s cold out and you don’t feel thirsty. Water is the difference between a good hike and a dangerous hike. Always think about water and bring more than you think you will need.

Find a Spot

I love going new places, but a lot of kids like familiarity. Mix it up now and then, but also don’t be afraid to go to the same spot again and again. Familiarity encourages connection and ownership with nature. Also, it can be fun to learn the names of the trees and birds in your spot, and watch how the spot changes with the changing seasons.

Returning to the same spot often also takes some of the pressure off you, the adult, to keep researching new places. There is nothing wrong with discovering new things in the same places. And again, that deeper connection with nature is what will help your kids feel safe, at ease, and responsible for their environment.

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How do you get outside with your kids? What are the challenges for you? What are your favorite places to go in which seasons? 

Photography by Annie Spratt

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