Looking for a great outdoor activity to do with your toddler? Why not take them hiking! Toddler hiking can be a fun activity, a rewarding experience, and a fun adventure for both you and your child.
Your toddler will get to explore exciting new territory while enjoying the fresh air and working on their physical development. Win, win, win!
In this guide, we will provide you with all the information you need to get started. We’ll discuss what supplies you’ll need, how to choose the right hike for your child, and safety tips to keep in mind. Let’s get these outdoor adventures started!
What to bring on a hike with your toddler
When planning a hike with your toddler, it’s important to be prepared for anything. In addition to the basics like sunscreen and snacks, there are a few other items that can make the hike more enjoyable for both you and your little one.
Toddler hiking gear
- A small backpack is a great way to carry all of your toddler’s essentials, and it will free up your hands for carrying them if you need to.
- A change of clothes is also a good idea, in case they get wet or dirty.
- A whistle just in case you get separated. Make sure they know that it’s for emergencies only. With just a little planning, you can ensure that your next hike with your toddler is a success!
- And last but not least, don’t forget to pack some toys or games to keep your toddler entertained on the trail.
Your hiking backpack
This is a whole other article in and of itself, but it’s important to make sure that you pack accordingly as well. The type of hiking backpack you’ll need will depend on the length of your hike (day, multi-day, a week+), but there are ten essentials you should always carry, no matter how long you plan to be gone.
Here are the ten things I always have in my pack:
- Extra Water: If it’s a day trip, I’ll bring an extra liter or two. Any longer and a water filter is good too
- Extra Food: Food is fuel! Be sure to pack a variety of snacks, especially ones that will replenish lost salts while giving you long-lasting energy. You might bring:
- Fruit that doesn’t need to be refrigerated (bananas, apples, or oranges)
- Dried fruits
- Trail mix
- Nut butters or nut-based bars
- Layers (weather dependent): If you’re heading to a higher altitude you will need to layer up (or down). Check the weather before you go and plan for anything!
- First-Aid Kit: Be sure to pack supplies for common childhood ailments such as scrapes, blisters, and bug bites
- Multi-Tool (with a knife)
- Emergency Bivvy
- Fire Starting Equipment
- Headlamp (with backup batteries)
- Sun protection: Be sure to bring enough for you and your little! A hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses are all important
Toddler or baby carrier
Depending on the age of your child, you may want to bring along a baby or child carrier too. Chances are they will have lots of fun walking and exploring throughout the hike, but they will probably get pretty tired too!
If they express a love of hiking, you may consider getting a toddler hiking carrier too! Having a structured hiking backpack will be much more comfortable than carrying one without, so I would definitely suggest a toddler carrier for frequent hikers.
There are many kinds that you can buy, including backpacks and slings. You might also consider a soft structured carrier.
A chat with your local outdoor store will help you decide what is best for you to guarantee a successful trip in the great outdoors.
Be prepared to take lots of breaks and carry them if need be. The goal is to help them love hiking!
How to prepare for a hike with your toddler
Start by communicating with your toddler about the hike and what it will entail. Show them pictures of the trail or area you’ll be hiking in, and explain how long the hike will be and what they can expect to see and do.
Make sure that they are dressed comfortably and appropriately for the weather. Good shoes and thick socks are a must!
Finally, go over what is in both of your packs together. Doing this teaches them good hiking safety practices and helps them feel prepared for the hike ahead.
Tips for hiking with toddlers
Hiking with toddlers can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it’s important that you’re both prepared.
Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your hike:
- Safety is everything. Be sure to prep them ahead of time with safety tips. Give your toddler tips about what to do in an emergency, remind them not to eat unknown plants, and remind them to stay away from unprotected sheer cliffs and steep drop-offs.
- Start small and carry a slow pace. Choose a short trail that is appropriate for your child’s age and abilities. Start with day hikes first before moving on to longer hikes. If you’re not sure where to go, ask a ranger, park employees, or post in local hiking groups for recommendations
- Pack snacks and drinks. This was already mentioned above, but toddlers tend to get hungry and thirsty quickly, so it’s important to have plenty of hiking snacks and drinks on hand. Pack more than you think you’ll need, just in case, and offer a snack break more frequently than you normally would.
- Dress for the weather. Be sure to dress your child in comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing. Layer clothing so that you can add or remove layers as needed. And again, plan for anything! I’ve hiked in torrential downpours with a blue-sky forecast and hit snow up to my knees on a hike in 30-degree weather. Anything can happen!
- Also important is good hiking shoes! Nobody likes blisters or sore feet!
- Bring the ten essentials (listed above). This is always important, but especially so when you’re bringing young kids with you! You want to teach them how to have fun hiking and how to be safe while in the backwoods.
- Take breaks often. Toddlers have short attention spans and get tired easily. Plan on taking plenty of breaks so that everyone can rest and drink water. It’s also a good idea to have some pre-planned games to play on breaks or songs to sing while you walk. This will keep them engaged longer.
Where to go with young kids
Hiking with toddlers and little kids can be a great way to get them outside and explore the natural world. However, it’s important to choose the right destination.
Here are a few places to consider:
- Nature Center/Local Park: For an easy hike that’s also toddler-friendly, try your local park or nature center. Many of these locations have short walking trails that are perfect for young hikers. Though they may not be a “hike” by definition, it will sure feel like it for your kiddo’s little legs!
- National Parks: If you’re looking for something a little more challenging, consider checking out national or state parks. These areas usually have longer hiking trails, but they also offer stunning scenery and plenty of opportunities for exploration. They’re also well marked and more frequently traveled.
- Backwoods: Finally, if you want to get off the beaten path, try a forest service trail. These trails are often less crowded and provide a more rugged hiking experience. The trails will be less likely to be clearly marked though, so be sure that you’re confident in your navigation ability before attempting these.
Start small, build up
Just like us adults, kids need time to teach their bodies and minds how to hike for long periods. They also need practice before attempting strenuous hikes.
Starting at local parks is a good way to practice basic safety while increasing their comfortability with hiking!
What to do if your toddler gets tired or lost while hiking?
The best thing to do is prevent it from happening in the first place: Proper preparation is key. Make sure they know exactly what to do if you get separated – Stay put, blow the whistle three times, and wait for help.
Make sure your toddler is well-rested before setting out and pack plenty of snacks and drinks to keep them going.
A comfortable backpack with padded straps will help too. If possible, hike with another adult so you can take turns carrying the toddler if they get tired.
Let the children set the pace and take frequent breaks. And most importantly, stay on the trail – It’s much easier to get lost in the woods than you might think.
If someone gets lost
If, despite your best efforts, your toddler does get tired or lost, don’t panic. Stay calm, take a deep breath, and think clearly. Assess the situation and decide whether it’s more prudent to stay put or try to find your way back to the trail.
If you decide to move, go slowly and carefully – rushing only increases the chances of getting lost yourself. And if all else fails, remember that most toddlers are very good at attracting attention – just make sure you’re close enough to hear them!
How to make hikes more fun for toddlers
One of the best ways to get your toddler to enjoy hiking is to bring fun games or make the hike itself into a game!
My favorite way to turn hiking into a game is to make it into a scavenger hunt. Give them a list of things to find along the way, such as leaves, berries, certain types of rocks, or animal tracks. To make it even more fun, you can turn it into a competition by seeing who can find the most items on the list.
You can also try playing I Spy or making up your hiking-themed songs to keep them entertained.
Another way to make hikes more fun for toddlers is to let them lead the way. This will give them a sense of control and allow them to explore at their own pace. If they want to stop and examine something, that’s fine – go with the flow and let them take their time.
Hiking is also a good opportunity to teach them about Leave No Trace Principles and to instill a love for nature in them from an early age.
Finally, don’t forget to bring along some snacks and drinks to keep everyone happy and fueled up for the hike. With a little planning and creativity, you can make hiking an enjoyable activity for both of you.
We hope that this article has you looking forward to (and feeling prepared for!) your next hiking trip with toddlers. Going for a hike is an excellent way to explore the outdoors, connect with nature, and learn essential skills like outdoor safety and navigation.
So, brush up on your camping songs, get your best hiking socks out, and enjoy!
Don’t forget – Bring your ten essentials!