Hiking Tips With Older Toddlers & Young children
A week ago, we went on our 3-year-old's biggest hike yet. 2.5 miles with some steep inclines, and then 150 stairs to the top of the tower. I was worried at first. How would he do? Would we have to stop a lot and take breaks on the side of the path? Would we have to carry him, our limbs sore and our breaths heavy? Would we have enough snacks to sustain him? Should I bring the Tula with us? But it went so surprisingly well, I'm wondering why we didn't do this sooner. He asked to be carried once and when I started showing him a few things and playing little games with him, he forgot all about wanting to be picked up.
He's a wild, nature boy through and through. He kept pushing all the way up with hardly any breaks. He would stop here and there to look at a mushroom (he loved them and there were so many, he kept pointing them out excitedly), stop to pick up a rock, stop to play in dirt, and stop at any lookout we passed. He loved taking in all the sights around us. We found him a walking stick Dave broke over his knee so it was the perfect size for him.
Even when we got to the top, we wanted to sit down and listen to the music (it was an event for hikers and they had vendors and a stage up top) but he wanted to continue walking around and looking at the views. He had no desire to rest and wanted to keep exploring. His curiosity and his appreciation for nature is one of my favorite things about him. Dave almost stepped on a mushroom and Maddox got so concerned he was going to break it. We'll definitely be finding other kid-friendly trails to take him on because he did so well on this one. We always go on nature walks but nothing this steep so I was a very proud mama.
The most important thing: food, snacks, and water. Hiking takes up energy very quickly. It's important to have hearty snacks on hand for little bellies. If they start getting grumpy, taking a quick snack break to recoup normally does the trick and holds them over for a while. Make sure everyone had a proper meal before the hike as well to ensure hunger isn't a huge issue on the hike.
Some of our favorites to bring:
- homemade granola bars
- dried fruit
- rice cakes
Walking sticks are common while hiking for support. Your child will feel more involved and more like an adult hiker with a walking stick. They may not always use it as its intended purpose but that makes it even more handy to keep them occupied. My son created lines in the dirt and called them train tracks or asked me if I'd follow along the line as he drew it.
Involve Nature lessons
My son loves learning about nature. Spotting mushrooms throughout our entire hike was his favorite thing to do and there were so many so it kept him occupied searching for those. There were various shapes, sizes, and colors. We stopped to look at bugs if we spotted one, looked closely at trees, and just appreciated the sounds and sights we saw. Bring a field guide to expand yours and your child's knowledge.
Act out books & stories
Do you know the book We're Going On A Bear Hunt? It's a really simple book to recite after you've read it a few times. It's something I like to bring to life on our hikes or nature walks. When you've read it to them enough, they know when to say "we've got to go through it" and various other lines without having the book present. He loves acting it out and it adds an imaginative element to hiking.
Shoes/Extra Pair of Socks
Comfortable shoes are helpful. My son insisted on wearing his rain boots (which worked out in our favor because he ended up slipping into a mud puddle) but boots or sneakers would work perfect. My son had no issues until the final couple stretches when his foot started to hurt. I'm not sure if it was the rain boots or if he was just tired but comfortable shoes are always a must. Bringing an extra pair of socks is also a good idea in case of puddles. Wet socks are terrible and even worse with children with sensitive senses. It can make the rest of the hike a lot more miserable otherwise.
This one I'm iffy about so I think it would depend on the child. Personal gear can help make a child feel more involved. They'll have a backpack like the adults. However, I was hesitant because I felt my son may end up getting irritated having something on his back for that long and I'd wind up carrying it. It may be good for certain children who always like to do what the adults do. Fill it with a bunch of goodies, snacks, toys, a book, some paper and pen so they can draw if they see something they like.
Let them Climb
Find little boulders or rocks they can climb on (with help if they are younger). My son loves to climb so sometimes stopping at a rock he can climb helps him. Children always need new ways to let their energy out and it can break up the hike and make it a little more exciting.
Make realistic expectations
Toddlers and children take a while to do one task. Try not to expect hiking to be any different. You'll have to go slower than if it were just one or two adults. Accepting it will make the trip easier than trying to rush them along. Frustration will breed a sense of dislike for hiking if they feel they are doing something wrong. Go at their pace and don't expect them to go with ease up the mountain.
Last but not least: enjoy! Enjoy the little quirks and breaks and the slow pace and the climbing and the ideas your children may have. Start small and work up to bigger hikes. Appreciating nature as a family is one of the most relaxing things to do.