Tips for Hiking with Young Kids
Before kids our standard hikes were always challenging, usually upwards of five miles, and many times followed by a cold beverage from a local watering hole. Now, with two young kids in tow, things have changed a bit. Now the challenges are always from the kids rather than the terrain, we are lucky if we complete a few miles, and it’s usually all we can do to pack appropriate snack and drink options to keep the kids happy. However, we love sharing the experience with our kids and are determined to keep hitting whatever version of a trail our family can handle in our current life season. Here are some of our tips for an enjoyable experience.
- Manage Your Expectations – This may sound like a lame first tip, but I honestly think it’s probably the most important and also the hardest for me to remember to follow. I usually have some idyllic notion in my mind of how I will be one with nature for a morning, of an impressive view that I’ll be able to take in, or of sharing an educational moment with my children. Inevitably, while a kid is whining or screaming somewhere along the way, I will question why we embarked on the journey at all if my unrealistic goals are not being met. I have to remind myself that we can only expect so much out of young kids, and that just getting all of us dressed and outside in some fashion is a win. If we end up with gorgeous view, an impromptu game of chase with a giggling toddler, or a photo where all of us are looking at the camera, it’s just icing on the cake.
- Bring Snacks – Be sure to grab whatever version of sippy cups, water bottles, etc. everyone is used to. And then get snacks – lots of them. We have found that a variety is best because inevitably on the hike the toddler doesn’t want the usual favorite snack. They want whatever you’re eating, or something they’ve never before requested, etc. I also like things with small pieces that take a long time to eat as we walk – like cheerios, raisins, or a healthy trail mix.
- Find Comfy Packs for Carry-able Kiddos – We have used a variety of carriers and one amazing backpack with our kids.
- For babies under 1 year old, our favorite is the Ergobaby Original carrier. It is cotton and washable, doesn’t get too hot for baby usually, and the weight is borne low on the hips kind of like a backpacking pack. We almost always use the Ergo to carry babies on our fronts, but you can also put older babies and toddlers on your back.
- For something with a bit more structure and for babies over 1 who you’d like to put on your back, we like our Baby Bjorn carrier. It seems a bit more stable for wiggly babies on your back, but the black material can get a bit warm here in Southern California. So, when that is a concern we pull out yet another Baby Bjorn carrier in white mesh. Ours is an older model, but similar to this one. Why can’t someone make the perfect carrier for all babies and all situations – and that folds easily at that! There is money waiting to be made for some savvy designer out there!
- For toddlers, we love our Osprey Poco AG Plus Child Carrier. It is quite comfy for parent and child, is adjustable for both the parent and child’s height, and can accommodate your kid until he or she weighs 48 pounds! Our off-the-growth-charts older toddler still fits in it comfortably, though he’d rather be hitting the trails on his own more these days.
- Bring More Snacks – Really, throw in just a few more. Better to have extra than not enough. One little extra pack of raisins will save you on that last mile when one of the kiddos is exhausted and cranky.
- Broaden your Definition of “Hiking Trail” – Our choice of hikes with young children has changed quite a bit since our pre-kid days. Think less Angels Landing scaling rocks with chains and more flat, safe trails or open spaces to run. We like places where we can let the kids loose to get a little energy out and not worry about what they may run into. So, as an example, one of our favorite regular “hiking” locations is the Stanfield Marsh Boardwalk in Big Bear Lake, CA. (By the way, if you need a place to stay in Big Bear, check out our cute vacation rental cabin). It is a boardwalk that has railings and mesh fencing on both sides so it’s fully contained. We often take a fun kickball and let the kids run up and down it. Or, we’ll select a spot with an open field along the trail or at the trailhead such as Will Rogers State Historic Park.
We attempt to follow these tips when possible, and have had some really great experiences hiking with our kids. We’ve mainly been in Southern California with them so far, but look forward to venturing out to trails beyond our backyard soon.
What are your techniques for getting the most out of hikes with kids in tow?
Also, for more urban “hikes,” check out our post on the 5, yes FIVE, strollers we are crazy enough to own.