Hiking with toddlers can seem like a daunting task. Kids are naturals in nature and yet toddlers have that tendency to run away, get sidetracked, whine, get hungry, throw tantrums…oh you get the picture.
But hiking with toddlers doesn’t have to be a nightmare, these tips will allow you and your toddler to enjoy your hike! Not only that but hiking with toddlers can actually open your eyes to the beauty and amazing things in nature that we as adults tend to overlook.
After hiking over the years with all three of my children, I have learned many lessons on what does and does not work. These tips have been tested many times and work not only for toddlers but preschoolers and even older kids too!
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There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of child. There are seven million.
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Top 10 Tips for Hiking With Toddlers
Let’s be honest here, this is going to be the make or break for your hike. A hungry toddler is like a murderous dictator so let’s just avoid that. Use snacks strategically and wisely. Buy some fun snacks that you normally don’t buy when they need something extra to bring their energy and excitement back up (or as a bribe). Stop often for snacks and when you get to your destination, have a bigger snack or even lunch.
Some snack ideas my toddler love are granola bars, pretzel snack packs with peanut butter, grapes, apples slices with peanut butter, banana, trail mix or granola (my kids love the chocolate Love Crunch), etc. Goldfish and fruit snacks are not something we normally buy at home, so that is one of their hiking snacks they feel is special.
2. Slow down your pace and expectations-
When hiking with kids, especially toddlers, you are going to have to simply slow down. Not only are their legs literally smaller than yours but they also are highly distractible. Slowing down and letting them explore a little, you will keep them happy and engaged.
You may have to reset your expectations. Hiking with toddlers is nothing like hiking as an adult. They stop to look at this or that and it can take some work to get them back on the trail instead of stopping every 5 seconds. If you don’t have high expectations, you will find the hike more enjoyable by just going with the flow.
3. Let them lead-
This goes along a bit with the slowing down your pace. Kids love to feel in charge so we often play “follow the leader” with the youngest kid in front. They can set the pace and they get to feel powerful by being the leader which will keep them engaged in moving forward. Whenever they get distracted, I start singing the song from Peter Pan about following the leader and that motivates my toddler to get back on the trail.
4. Choose the trail wisely-
It is important for safety reasons to vet the trail before you go. Alltrails.com is a great source to find family friendly hiking trails in your area. Make sure that the terrain and length is something your toddler is capable of doing. If questionable, you might be better taking a hiking backpack and letting them walk some of the time and put them in the carrier for the difficult or dangerous parts. If the trail is not dangerous but long or difficult, I suggest making sure you plan for it in advance by walking and building up your child’s endurance and stamina before you attempt it.
5. Play games-
Some kids just love being in nature and will happily hike with little “entertainment”. One of my child is like that. The other two have a tendency to complain about their legs hurting or have a general bad attitude. That is when games come in. If you need your toddler to keep moving and they would rather just stop and play in the dirt, playing a game while walking can help them keep moving. My kids favorites are “what am I?” and “I Spy”.
6. Time hikes around your child’s schedule and temperament-
Does your toddler normally nap at 10 am? Have their usual tantrum at 5 pm? Not a morning person? Your child’s schedule and temperament needs to be taken into account when you are planning when to hike. If they are tired or hungry when you are trying to hike it is going to not go well for anyone. We chose to do the Delicate Arch Hike first thing in the morning because that is when my kids were their most energetic and they had just eaten. It was about a 2-3 hour hike so I knew we would be back before nap time.
7. Be prepared-
Getting a wet sock after stepping in a stream or getting a cut could put a major damper on your hike if you aren’t prepared for the worst. For day hikes here is what I plan on having on hand in my hiking backpack.
8. Make it a scavenger hunt-
This could be really elaborate or really simple. You can print off a free printable or just jot a few pictures or words down on a paper before you leave. While you are hiking be a the constant look out for the items on your list. This makes the hike even more fun and exciting for kids. Bring an empty egg carton to collect things if you are hiking in a place that allows that.
9. Positive talk-
Try to keep the hiking a positive experience. We always tell our children we are “going on an adventure” rather than a hike. This frames it in a grand way and it also helps us as adults remember we are there for the journey, not destination. Kids often don’t care about scenic overlooks that many hikes end with. So just remember much of hiking is about enjoying the scenery and experience on the way.
Give them positive encouragement during the hike. Also, make sure to make them feel like a million bucks when they finish a hike. “Wow that hike was so hard and YOU did it! You should be so proud of yourself”. Something along those lines help them feel accomplished.
When we keep the hiking experience positive they are going to want to keep doing it. If we are irritated or annoyed this can make it a negative thing they won’t want to do in the future.
10. Try geocaching-
Geocaching is really like treasure hunting! It so much for adults and kids. All you need to do in download the free Geocaching app and find a geocache in the area you will be hiking. You use GPS on the app to find the hidden cache or “treasure”. Sometimes they have something you can take and you are supposed to leave something behind. Kids LOVE geocaching, who would love treasure hunting? This is a way to bring the hiking experience to a whole new level.
Hiking with toddlers can be a pleasant experience by just being prepared and being creative. If your toddler is not ready to be down the ground, here is my picks of the best baby and toddler hiking backpacks.
If you are headed to Arches National Park with your family here are the top 5 hikes you won’t want to miss. If you are headed to Zion’s National Park or Bryce Canyon, here are the top 10 things to do in neighboring city St. George, Utah with kids.