I’ve mentioned before that we’ve been making it a priority to take Abe on a lot of hikes and walks these days, partially to toughen him up for our big road trip in a couple of years (and for shorter trips we have planned in the meantime), and partially because, well….hiking is good for us.
The older kids are more or less past the point where they complain (much) on hikes, but then there’s the two year old. Hiking with toddlers is challenging, and hiking with toddlers while still managing to enjoy yourself is even more challenging. We’re far from experts, but we have picked up a few tips and tricks for hiking with a toddler without losing your mind.
1. Snacks! Everyone loves snacks, and no one likes to hike when they’re hungry, right? In addition to warding off low blood sugar and its accompanying grumpiness, snacks are a great form of entertainment for the toddler set. We’ve found that a lot of times the secret to keeping Abe happy on hikes is redirection and mixing things up. Pulling out a snack gives him something to focus on for a few minutes and can be enough to pull him back from the verge of a meltdown. Some of our go to snacks are string cheese, Clif bars, granola bars, and beef jerky.
2. Plenty of water: Another thing that’s necessary (we encourage Abe to drink constantly while we’re hiking), but also, surprisingly, doubles as entertainment for Abe. He loves carrying his own water bottle (and reacts angrily if you try to take it away). We’re loving these Brita bottles right now:
You can find them in the hardware section at Wal-mart. I picked up enough for everyone to have their own. They’re a good size for each kid to carry himself (before, we had this giant water bottle that we tried to share from, and no one ever wanted to be the one stuck carrying it). And a really great feature of these bottles is that they have filters inside so you can refill them at a water fountain or sink and still have filtered water:
Being able to refill them wherever we want is especially handy because I find it impossible to predict how much water my kids are going to want on any given hike. There’s some sort of complex formula, the variables of which include how long the hike is, the humidity, and my kids’ moods, that I’ve yet to figure out. This way everyone gets their bottle and can refill it as much or as little as they want.
3. Have a good carrier: We super love our Ergo baby carrier. Sadly, Abe is not as much of a fan as I want him to be. I wonder if he’d be happier in a frame backpack that got him up higher so he could see more. At this point, I’m probably not going to invest the money in one to see, though (plus I prefer the Ergo; we had a nice Kelty backpack when Ari was little, and I find the Ergo much easier to deal with and more comfortable). Gus and Milo were always happy in the Ergo when they were Abe’s age, but Abe is a different kid. He generally wants to walk or be carried on our shoulders, but we never go hiking without the Ergo anyway, because it’s absolutely essential when he gets really tired (and it’s handy for the occasions when we manage to talk him into riding for awhile). Which leads me to my next point:
4. Be flexible: A lot of the time, I would love nothing more than to pick Abe up and stick him in the Ergo and just get moving already. But since the main thing we’re trying to accomplish here is having a kid who enjoys hiking, I try to follow his lead. When he wants to walk, he walks. Even though it’s not so fast. When he’s tired, we carry him. If we need to cut a hike short because it’s just not working that day, we do it.
5. Pick a fun hike: We find that things go a lot more smoothly when we pick a hike that has something interesting about it besides trees. Toddlers can be thrilled by something as simple as some fallen trees or needing to cross a tiny stream at some point. Abe’s favorite thing these days is to throw rocks and sticks into water. And he’ll do it for a very long time. We have a few local hikes that we revisit over and over because they have something interesting to offer both toddlers and older kids (and adults, for that matter). The pictures in this post were taken at the Old Roswell Mill trail. It’s a short, easy hike along a creek, with mill ruins to look at (and read about) as you walk, and a dam waterfall at the end as a big payoff before you turn around. And if you’re up for a longer hike, you can cross the bridge and find more trails on the other side of the creek (and a great spot for throwing rocks in the water, too):
Another of our favorites is Island Ford at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Much of this hike is along the river, and there are a bunch of really cool giant rocks along the trail for the kids to scramble around and through. Plus it’s a National Park Service site, so there’s a Junior Ranger program.
6. Lower your Expectations: Not to brag or anything, but I’m a better hiker than my two year old is. I can go faster and farther, and I don’t need to stop and stare for five minutes every time we see a caterpillar. But if I want to go fast or go on a long hike, I don’t bring my toddler. There will be plenty of time for long hikes when he’s older (I remind myself constantly); hikes now are so that he can explore and we can all enjoy being outside together. So maybe it’s not so much about lowering expectations as changing them.
7. Keep it fun: If we remember to follow the other six of these tips, this one follows naturally. Letting go of expectations about how things are supposed to go doesn’t come easily to me all the time. But if I remind myself that it’s all okay and the whole goal is having fun, it works out. At the end of the hike, you want your toddler to look like this:
(Well, not EXACTLY like this. Because that’s my toddler. If yours looks just the same, then that’s pretty weird. But smiling. Is what I meant).
Anyone else have more toddler hiking wisdom to share? Anyone want to remind me again that someday he’ll be able to walk more than 20 feet at a stretch without stopping to look at a leaf and that–no, really–I should just slow down and enjoy this part?