Hiking with a toddler is an adventure in itself.
This past weekend we took Lottie and Henry to Brown County State Park for some hiking. Every October the leaves change color and one of our favorite things to do is drive to Brown County and enjoy the colors and crisp fall weather. This was the first year that Lottie was able to walk the entire hike, I’m not saying she did, but she was able to. Henry was easy, strap him into our carrier and he slept majority of the hike.
We set out on a trail that was a little over 2 miles, knowing that Lottie could handle that length of hike, but also expecting to carry her half the way if need be. We didn’t bring a carrier for her, we wanted to encourage her to hike it with us. You never know what you’re going to get when it comes to toddlers, their emotions can be across the board so plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Here are our lessons learned and tips from this past weekend on how to prepare to hike with a toddler.
Set your expectations
Like I said, set your expectations. Don’t expect your 3 year old to walk 10 miles. There are so many hikes that I can’t wait to do, but we are waiting until all of the kids are a little bit older and more capable. The difficulty level is a big factor also. Even on some easy hikes you have some steep drop offs, and you need to make sure you have your toddler close by you to keep them safe.
Not even 1/2 a mile into the hike did we hear that cute voice start saying “hungry”. She wasn’t content with us just handing her a pretzel here and there she wanted to find a nearby tree stump, sit and eat her entire lunch I had brought. The longer the hike, the more snacks I suggest bringing. The same goes with water, the hotter the weather the more water you want to pack. You will be surprised at how hungry and thirst your toddler will be with all of the exercise.
Lottie is two, so planning a big scavenger hunt doesn’t work for her yet, but we did do a lot of singing along the hike. We probably sang a combination of ABC’s, Row Row Your Boat, You Are My Sunshine for an hour straight. I didn’t mind considering she was having fun and it kept her moving along. We also would challenge her to find things along the hike so she would be intensely searching for sticks or bugs or birds along the hike. All of these distractions keep your toddlers engaged and make the time go by quickly for everyone hiking!
Add extra time into your trip.
Like I mentioned above, everything is on her schedule and everything will take an extra hour to do. Just getting out of the car and making sure you have all of your equipment might take an extra 20 minutes more than you are use to. Calculate the time you have to hike and add at least an extra hour on.
Start them young
The younger you start them hiking, the earlier their interest, love of nature and being outside will be ignited. Share your own excitement for hiking and focus the hike on having fun. Don’t shy away from hiking because you think they are too young, start with short walks and gradually increase.
Let them lead
Lottie loved to be the leader during the hike. She has an adventurous spirit so if we tried to keep her behind us she let us know her unhappiness. Once we gave her a little bit of freedom and let her run ahead (within reason of course) she had so much more fun hiking. We would ask her which direction we should go next and let her be our tour guide. Josh and her would pull out the map and we would let her be involved in the navigation as we followed along the trails. The more in control she felt, the more fun and confidence she had as she hiked alongside us.
Go Potty before you start.
Another reason for picking a 2 mile hike is that we knew that she would extend that at least an extra hour.. We all went potty before we started and made sure Henry had a fresh diaper. That being said, she has peed many times in nature, and we could easily change Henrys diaper along the hike if we needed to.
Bring a carrier for backup
We mentioned above we brought a carrier for Henry, but not one for Lottie. Josh ended up carrying Lottie on his shoulders the last 1/2 mile home. Her “legs were tired”. We knew this might happen and with such an easy hike Josh didn’t mind carrying her. If it was a longer or more difficult hike it could have been a problem. Next time, on a different trail we would want to have brought a carrier for her. Our hesitation with the carrier is once she knows she can be carried the entire way, that is how she wants to travel. We have to wait until the very end, after all of the treats and bribes have been used, because most likely once she is in it, she isn’t coming out.
The joys of hiking with a toddler. They make it more fun and more tiring. They are a lot of work, but seeing the hike through their eyes is a whole new level of adventure. Being able to share our love of exploring and passing it down to our littles is important to us, so we get out and hike as much as possible!