Hiking with toddlers can be a wonderful bonding experience & can be fun for the whole family! These toddler hiking tips can help make your family hike more enjoyable!
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The toddler age is so much fun! Toddlers love to be independent and start to develop little personalities. They are like little sponges, taking everything in and learning so many new things every day. It is fun and exciting to watch them grow and develop.
However, toddlers can be very headstrong, so taking them out and about can sometimes pose challenges or feel overwhelming. Sometimes the thought of traveling with our toddler or taking him out can feel daunting. It’s stressful when he has a meltdown or tantrum in public.
But we aren’t going to live our lives cooped up in the house during the toddler years. That’s not fun for any of us. Once we get out the door, we usually realize it’s not all that bad!
Traveling or getting out and about with toddlers or young kids takes planning, practice, flexibility, and determination, but it is worth the effort!
Benefits of Hiking with Young Children
Hiking is so good for kids! They get fresh air and time to be active and play in the dirt.
Hiking can be a great bonding experience and often offers uninterrupted time to talk and spend time together as a family.
Kids can learn so much during a hike. They can learn about the weather, nature, and the environment around them. They learn practical life skills and learn to appreciate nature and the simple things in life.
Once older kids start doing more of the hiking independently, it teaches them to work hard and persevere. They learn that they can do challenging things without giving up.
Getting exercise and spending time outside is great for the whole family, both physically and mentally! Teaching your kids to love the outdoors and being active through hiking is so worthwhile!
Tips for Hiking With Toddlers
1. Practice Going on Walks & Hikes Often
Make hiking and going on walks a habit for your toddler. Get them used to not having to be constantly entertained by screens or toys. Get them into the habit of riding in the stroller or being carried in a hiking carrier.
After being cooped up inside for a couple of months during our brutal midwest winter, my son was fussy the first few times we were able to get out and go on walks outside again.
I couldn’t help feeling annoyed and frustrated because I was super excited to get back to our enjoyable outdoor walking and hiking routines. I decided to keep trying even though it was stressful at first when he would cry or scream during half of the walk.
After 3 or 4 of these miserable walks, he finally started getting used to it again and was happy, and even excited for our daily walks! Phew! Such a relief.
He is MUCH more active and mobile this year compared to last, so it helps to stop and play at the park or let him get out and run around every so often, but he will still get back into his stroller and sit contently for a 3-4 mile walk, especially if he has snacks! Practice makes progress!
2. Set Expectations Ahead of Time
It’s a good idea to talk to your toddler about what is going to happen when you’re driving to the trailhead (or even the night or day before).
Talk about what the hike will be like and discuss some things they might see. Establish whether your toddler will be hiking (on his/her own) or riding in the carrier or if there will be a combination of both.
Setting expectations and discussing some of the hike details ahead of time is a great way to limit potential meltdowns and get your toddler excited about the hike.
3. Pick a Strategic Time to Go Hiking
Try to avoid times that you know might be rough for your toddler. Maybe your little hiker tends to be fussier or happier at certain times of the day.
Some toddlers might be good at sleeping on the go, while others might have a meltdown when attempting to hike during naptime.
You know your child best, so decide if there is a certain time of day that you think might make the overall hiking experience more enjoyable for all of you.
We typically prefer hiking either early in the morning or late afternoon/early evening. But if we are hiking with our toddler, we might consider avoiding early evening because we know he often gets hangry and a little bit fussier around that time.
4. Invest in a Good Carrier
A good hiking backpack can be a game-changer. If you and your little one are both comfortable throughout the hike, it will be a much more enjoyable experience.
We use Ergobaby carriers for the baby stage. The Ergobaby Original Carrier is my favorite for the newborn/infant stage. Once my babies get a bit older and like to face out or be carried on my back, we use the Ergobaby Omni360.
We have two different toddler carriers (we use this type of carrier from around age 18 months/2 years to age 4/5 years).
I have both an Eddie Bauer carrier which was a hand-me-down from family and the Osprey Poco Child Carrier Backpack. Both carriers do the job, but the Osprey carrier is significantly more comfortable to use.
5. Be Prepared!
Familiarize yourself with the trail before the hike. Make sure you know the route, distance, and difficulty level. AllTrails can help you get up-to-date trail information and maps.
Your hike will go much smoother if you make sure you have everything that you need and have the whole family dressed comfortably and appropriately.
How to Dress Your Toddler
- toddler hiking shoes – regular tennis shoes are fine too, but hiking shoes offer more traction
- breathable, comfortable clothes
- comfy socks
- Toddler Sun Hat
Make sure to dress your toddler in layers and pack extra clothes!
What to Bring
- water bottle – our all-time favorite
- more water than you think you’ll need
- mini first aid kit
- wet wipes
- sunscreen – this is our fav
- bug spray
- hand sanitizer
- Camelbak mini mule hydration backpack – your toddler will feel important and will be able to easily stay hydrated with this convenient hydration backpack
6. Bring Lots of Snacks!
This probably could have gone in the “Be Prepared” section, but I thought it deserved its own category because snacks can be lifesavers!
Feed your toddler plenty of snacks throughout your hike (whether you’re going on longer hikes or short distances)- keep that little belly full and content!
Hiking Snack Ideas for Toddlers
- granola bars
- fruit & veggies (apples, oranges, bananas, carrots)
- freeze-dried fruit
- pouches (this invention for pouches is genius)
- trail mix
- cheese stick
- goldfish/other crackers
- beef jerky
- gummy worms
We like to bring this spill-proof snack cup along when we are on the go.
7. Take Breaks Sooner Rather Than Later
Don’t wait until everyone is grumpy, hungry, or overtired to stop and take a break. Give those little legs plenty of opportunities to rest. Take frequent snacks/drink/rest breaks.
Know when it is time to stop pushing. It is not a failed hike if you don’t make it very far or have to take frequent breaks. Each time you hit the trails and spend time in the great outdoors with your toddler it’s a win no matter how far you make it.
8. Be Patient & Flexible
Be realistic about what you can do with a toddler. I wouldn’t attempt to do a hike that is too long or too difficult. Expect your pace to be slower and plan for extra time.
Choose your battles and try to have an open mindset. Plan for the unexpected, and adjust accordingly to whatever happens.
Going into the hike with patience and a positive attitude will help make it more enjoyable for all!
9. Make it Fun!
Try to make the experience as fun and engaging for your toddler as possible!
Sing songs! Point out and talk about the things you see along the way. Tell stories. Play games, like I Spy, going on a bear hunt, ABC game, etc. Have a scavenger hunt.
Let your younger toddler get out of the carrier and walk even if they are painfully slow. As long as you are in a safe area and you encourage them to keep moving forward, you will still make progress!
It’s a great learning opportunity for your toddler to practice staying on the trail and continue moving forward.
Once you get to your destination, give your little hiker some time to play and explore before heading back. Play in the dirt, pick up sticks and rocks, and let them climb around.
It might help to give a time warning when you are getting ready to head back. For example, “We will play for 3 more minutes and then we are going to hike back”.
Give your toddler lots of praise when they stop playing and either get back into the carrier or start heading back along the hiking trail. Don’t feel bad about using snacks as extra encouragement if needed. 😉
I hope this list of tips for hiking with toddlers was helpful! I hope you feel inspired to go hit the trails & have a great time with your little hiker!