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A Parent’s Guide To Hiking With A Toddler

For any parent, it’s a joy to share a personal passion with the kids—even hobbies that aren’t typically for kids, like hiking. 

In 2021, about 59 million Americans hiked at least once, showing how popular hiking was in the country. Hiking is an excellent break from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s also a welcome change from the usual indoor games.

While hiking can be strenuous for kids, it can also be fun because they’re starting to develop a natural curiosity about the world. From spotting hopping frogs to seeing thunderous waterfalls, crossing shaky wooden bridges, and climbing rocks, there are a lot of natural wonders that can get your young one’s adrenaline rushing. 

However, outdoor activities are never all rosy, especially with little ones. Challenges such as safety, wildlife encounters, and sudden weather changes abound. With kids alongside, these challenges may be multiplied by their boredom and tantrums. Thus, it helps equip yourself with the necessary know-how on hiking with toddlers to make your adventure fun and worthwhile. This guide offers insightful tips you could make use of.

1. Choosing a Suitable Trail

The first port of call is picking the right trail. It must be favorable to your kid’s age and stamina. A very easy trail may not motivate them. On the other hand, an overly tough route may discourage them a lot. Finding the right balance is key. The US has more than 250,000 miles of trails to enjoy. Thus, you can’t miss a perfect match for your kid.

You might want short, manageable trails. It’s also thoughtful of you to pick flat terrains or gentle slopes for ease of navigation for your kid. Steep hills can quickly drain their energy and desire to forge on. 

Furthermore, pick routes with interesting features like navigable streams, chirping birds, imposing boulders, or wildlife viewpoints. These inclusions help shift your kid’s attention from the walk. And ultimately, they can walk long distances while having fun exploring. 

Southern California is particularly renowned for its numerous fantastic hiking trails. If you reside in the area, online sites like Quinn Peaks can be a treasure trove of information about ideal kid-friendly hiking spots for you and your toddler—such as Hidden Valley Joshua Tree, Chino Hills State Park, Meditation Mount, Ocean Trails Reserve, Terranea Discovery Trail, and Torrey Pines.

Toddler on a trail

2. Get the Essential Gear and Supplies

With a toddler in tow, you can’t afford to go outdoors unprepared. Being unprepared can lead to various issues. You need the right gear and supplies to make your hiking experience delightful. 

To begin with, you’ll want to have a toddler carrier. Often, they’ll get tired along the trail. A carrier helps you proceed with hiking instead of stopping until they rejuvenate. Go for a carrier with a sturdy frame, bearing in mind the potential rigors of the trail. Also, one with padded straps makes the hike pleasurable and manageable.

Besides a baby carrier, you’ll need enough water for hydration, as you’ll sweat a lot. Snacks will also help replenish your energy before stopping for a meal. 

Don’t forget a first aid kit. Your kid can get injured any time, especially in rough terrains with rugged footpaths and protruding bushes. Pack it with essentials like adhesive bandages, sterile gauze, pain relievers, safety pins, antiseptic wipes, hydrocortisone cream, thermometer, scissors, oral rehydration salts, tweezers, adhesive tapes, and a first aid manual. 

Carry sunscreen to protect your kid from the sun’s harmful rays. Insect protection is also helpful in areas infested with bugs. An extra pair of clothes will come in handy when they dirty themselves. And finally, their favorite toy or colorful book can entertain them during long breaks. 

3. Set Realistic Expectations

Your kid doesn’t have a mindset and stamina like yours. So don’t expect things to go exactly as planned. You might intend to do four miles but only manage one. Kids have limits, and you must appreciate them. Flexibility is critical when going out with them. 

Be especially considerate when hiking with a daughter. They’re generally less adventurous and active than boys. Statistics from 2021 reveal that males make up 71.1% of the hiking population, while women are only 28.9%. Such disparity implies it’s more of a male than a female thing.

Instead of focusing on the destination, concentrate on the joyful moments and experiences along the way. Thus, you won’t sulk for failing to complete the trail because you’ll have had many fantastic experiences over the short stretch.

4. Keep Your Kid Involved

Outdoors, you can marvel at the different species of flora and fauna along the hiking trail, but your child may not be able to make sense of it. All they care about is fun.

You can stage a nature scavenger hunt to ensure they remain entertained and happy. Prepare a list of familiar items they can look for along the trail. Examples include feathers, pinecones, animal tracks, butterflies, bird’s nests, colorful leaves, and flowers of a specific color. 

Another idea is to task them with counting certain things available on the trail. Whenever they get to 10, you can reward them with a treat and start over again. You could also ask them to listen to sounds along the trail and identify their source. This could be the chirping of birds, flowing streams, hum of insects, buzzing of bees, wind whistling through leaves, croaking of frogs, or rustling of leaves.

But with all these activities, ensure they get enough rest, perhaps at the top of every hour. You can also allow them time for free play. Just keep an eye on them for safety purposes. 

Hiking with kids

5. Observe Safety Precautions

To reiterate, the outdoors isn’t always 100% safe for kids, more so hiking. Some trails can be unpredictable, with loose rocks, slippery surfaces, or thorny bushes. Kids are adventurous and may walk right into a spot they don’t know is dangerous. You must ensure their safety. Dress them appropriately in protective gear and watch every step they make.

You must also be wary of the weather. You wouldn’t want your kids to suffer a hard-hitting rain or scorching sun. Listen to weather forecasts and plan your trip when the conditions are most favorable. 

If you come across wildlife, maintain a safe distance and keep your child calm. However, be aware of the common animals in the area you are visiting beforehand.

Final Thoughts

Hiking with a toddler is pure bliss. It blends your multiyear experience with your kid’s developing world perspective. While the combination can be thrilling, it requires proper planning and an in-depth understanding of your kids’ needs. You may have to forfeit your preferences to go with what they fancy.

The kid’s needs and interests should be the priority when deciding on the hiking trail, what to pack, and the activities. Start with shorter and easy trails and slowly advance to challenging ones. By and by, you’ll have introduced the love for the outdoors to your little one. 

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