When I had my second daughter, my first was a toddler: Old enough to undress herself just as I was ready to leave the house, young enough not to listen most of the time. Old enough to take off her shoes in the car, young enough that she still had zero sense.
My toddler bounced off the walls at home, but I felt frazzled and unsafe everywhere we went because she wasn’t reliably holding my hand or listening to me. I felt like all I did all day was nurse the baby and yell, “No! Don’t! Get off there!” at my older daughter. I decided we needed to get out of the house, but we had to go somewhere where I wouldn’t have to contain her or we might both end up in tears. So we went for a hike.
It worked. We had an hour to and hour and a half of time that day during which I was not parenting. I didn’t have to say, “Don’t touch that!” “Don’t go over there!” or “Stay with me!” once. She got to run and explore and let her curiosity about the world take over. She got a few boos-boos. She ran out of my sight and got scared enough to return. She slept like a baby at nap time, and the baby did, too.
There are so many benefits to getting your kids outdoors. Being outdoors can calm ADHD symptoms, lower stress levels and anxiety, improve distance vision, and raise levels of Vitamin D, helping protect against future illness. Not to mention the myriad of organic learning opportunities out in nature.
If you’ve never hiked in your area before and don’t know where to start, just google “family friendly hikes in [your city]”. It’s a great idea to try the trail out on your own before you load up the kids, and always check weather
conditions before you go. Remember that kids get cold faster than adults. Follow the rule you used when they were babies and dress them one layer warmer than you are wearing.
Here are a few tips for hiking with a toddler:
- Explore the trails on your own first to make sure they are safe. If you can’t do so, trails marked handicap accessible are a great place to start.
- Park near a potty.
- Make sure you have a first aid kit in the car, as well as extra clothes.
- Put shoes on them that they can’t take off, and clothes on them that they can get dirty.
- Expect to do more following than hiking—toddlers are very close to the ground and everything is very interesting down there!
- Let them run ahead and be independent if you feel safe doing so.
- Don’t go in any further than you are prepared to carry everyone back.
- Try not to say “No” or “Don’t” while you’re hiking. Make it a relaxing time for you both. Let them explore and experience natural consequences if you can do so safely.
- Once you find a spot you love, look into a membership or pass to that park to make visiting cheaper.
Once we found a spot that worked for us, we went back again and again. I like variety, but my daughter loved knowing the trail and what to expect. Baby wearing was a lifesaver here, as I could nurse the baby or let her fall asleep on my back and not worrying about getting us home in time for naps.
I found hiking to be a very refreshing and necessary part of my week. Toddlers can be so frustrating when you have to divide your attention between them and anything else. Our hiking time was a time when I could quit correcting and just enjoy her, and as it turned out, that was exactly what I needed.
Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three girls who can usually recapture her sanity on a hike.