It’s no surprise that hiking with kids can have its challenges, but hiking with toddlers (ages 1-3) stands to getting creative. Trust me, the challenge to keep toddlers interested in their advancing intellectual, social, and emotional changes can be difficult. My whole drive to creating this hiking blog was precisely to help other parents encourage adventure for their toddlers. However, with the challenges that may await our little ones, I have already experienced wonderful memories with my 2-year-old daughter! Plus, there are many benefits to starting them young, because now our family can continue to experience more adventures for years to come. So that sets up our conversation today in my easy and quick guide to hiking with toddlers.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, I may receive a small commission (for which I am very grateful) at no extra cost to you.
If you’re not familiar with what type of gear you need to go hiking, check out The Twelve Essentials for Hiking with Kids. Although this is aimed at adults and kids, you can easily see what items you cannot leave without.
Even if you’re hiking for a mile, it is crucial that you are prepared for any emergency. Keep in mind, children need to be in the right gear when hiking:
- Hiking Shoes
- Water Bottle
- Emergency Whistle/Emergency Alarm
- GPS Tracker (if you choose to use it)
- Extra Socks/Clothes (for longer hikes)
- Diapers/Training Pants (for potty-training kids)
- Extra Food (peanut-butter jelly sandwiches, apple slices, etc)
- Hand Sanitizer
- Bug Spray
It’s all about the Trail
Yup, you heard me! I use the AllTrails app on my phone to search up the kid-friendly trails. Our family has been visiting the Texas State Parks, so before visiting, we choose the right trail. This can make or break your family hike! You don’t want to choose a non-kid-friendly trail where your kids can get hurt or lost. There are many trails that offer safe grounds for your child to roam free and have fun! Now, I know for adults you may want to choose the more challenging trails, which is completely fine. If I have to be honest, I prefer to choose trails that are at least 4 miles long. This helps me plan for a longer hike and more time with my daughter and nature – just remember to plan accordingly.
Choose the right Carrier
To be honest, I thought that I could go hiking with a toddler WITHOUT a carrier. I went for a ‘test’ hike at the RGV-Bentsen State Park and at the shortest trail, my daughter could not keep up nor keep going. It is extremely important to invest in the perfect carrier for hiking with a toddler. This is normal because toddlers get tired very quickly (especially if they have just learned to walk). I have used the Infantino 4-in-1 carrier since my daughter was born and it’s truly the best! It’s affordable, comfortable for the child, and helps your ever-growing baby/toddler when they are ready to face forward. Now that my daughter is very active and 2-years-old, I purchased the Osprey Poco Carrier, which is amazing! It has the perfect storage for our essentials, easy access for her to get her snacks, and it also has a pocket for the water reservoir. (Warning: it is expensive but worth it.) Now during our hikes, if she ever wants to walk, I set her down on the stools the carrier has and she can walk for the rest of the hike. When she has gotten tired, it’s even comfortable enough for her to take naps in it.
Take Extra Snacks
I never leave home without taking enough water and snacks for my toddler. It has been a true motivator for my daughter to continue hiking for the rest of the trail. I have used my snacks wisely to make my daughter take extra steps or in general, be in a better mood! My personal favorite snacks have been mandarin oranges, apple slices, granola bars, grapes, banana, and trail mixes. It is important to take enough breaks throughout your hike for your toddler – sit down even when you’re eating! This can help them take time to rest if need be (unless if they’re in the carrier, then you get to rest!)
Plan your Trail at the Right Time
You know your toddler the best, which means that you know when they are going to get grump during ‘nap times.’ In example, I know that my daughter gets tired around 1-2 PM, which means that I’ll plan my hike to start very early (8 AM). Scheduling your hikes around your toddler’s schedule will help both of you to have a great time. Plus, it decreases tantrums/meltdowns. As I mentioned earlier, my hiking backpack/carrier now helps my toddler get her naps in, while being strapped safely and comfortably. This means that I can start our hiking day early, let my daughter sleep during her schedule, and wake up with nature surrounding her.
Sing Songs or Play Games
My toddler is still in the stage where she is learning how to talk and trying to understand sentences. If your toddler is 1-2, the best route I have taken with my daughter is to sing songs. We sing the ABCs, Rain, Rain Go Away (which helps when it’s actually raining), and other songs that will keep her interested in hiking. It doesn’t take a lot of work to keep your toddler having fun while hiking, but it will take getting creative. Some games that parents may want to use with toddlers at 2.5-3 years of age are “I Spy” or “Follow the Leader”. Never play hide-and-seek. I will always tell parents to not play hide-and-seek, since it encourages toddlers to potentially get lost.
Motivate and Applaud your Toddler
Lastly, I want to end on some positive thoughts. Always motivate your toddler during the hike and applaud your toddler at the end of your hike. Toddlers love being complimented, especially when this feels like an accomplishment. It is important to tell your toddler that you are appreciative of their hard work for going on a hike with you – especially if they are slightly-hard hiking trails.
It’s all about having fun and cherishing these beautiful moments with your toddler. So, get out there and have some fun!