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How To Go Hiking With Your Toddler

Looking for a different activity to do with your toddler? Try hiking. Not only will you get to share a mini adventure and create a memory, but you'll also help him discover the outdoors — and burn off some his extra energy. But hiking with a toddler requires a bit of planning to ensure that everyone leaves the trail smiling and not in tears. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Set realistic expectations

Your toddler will be excited to spend time with you on the trail, but keep in mind his abilities and limitations. Your hike will not last hours, and you will have to make a lot of stops along the way for your little one to explore and rest. As long as you know this before you start, you won't be disappointed when you end up covering only one mile instead of five.

Choose your adventure

Take the time to find a trail that's appropriate for your child. You could use a trail you are already familiar with, but if you branch out and try a new one, it can be a new experience for both of you. If you're planning to bring a stroller, keep that in mind when selecting a trail. Carrying a stroller up and down stairs or inclines will spoil your adventure really quickly. Don't be afraid to drive a little farther to try a new hiking spot. Use the drive time to get your child excited about your adventure, and use the time on the way home to talk about your favorite parts of the hike.

Pick your equipment

Pack lightly, but pack smart. First, consider how you will be traveling on the trail. Will you be taking a stroller or a backpack? Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and pack water and healthy snacks for both of you. Pick snacks that can be eaten on the go and can be easily tossed in your backpack, along with flashlights for exploring, a first-aid kit and a few plastic bags to collect treasures and any trash you create. You can keep the diaper bag in the car so you don't have to carry it around, but you may want to stick a few diapers and wipes in your backpack just in case.

Plan for fun

While your little one will enjoy spending time with you in a new environment, it is still a good idea to plan special activities to do along the trail. If you are hiking in the fall, collect leaves of different colors. Go on a rock hunt and look for interesting stones, then put them in a bag to take home, wash, and examine more closely. You can pick flowers, collect dirt, look for frogs or watch for birds. Take cues from your child and listen to what your child is interested in. For a while, my son was really interested in bears. Though we live in the Midwest where no bears live, my husband took time during our hikes to explore different "caves" and look for bears with a flashlight. My son thought it was awesome, and it offered a nice break when he was feeling tired or bored with the trail.

Be safe

As on any hike, stay safe. Stay on the marked trail, and keep an eye on your child to be sure no one comes home with poison ivy. Hold your child's hand on stairs and bridges, and take time to teach safety lessons along the way. Have fun but be smart while creating this great memory.