Our family loves the outdoors. We live in Utah so we have plenty of opportunity to explore, and we love to hike with our two kids whenever we can. Since both my kiddos are under four I know that hiking with toddlers in tow can seem like something that might be impossible to enjoy. But we've found that if we're prepared and we pick the right hikes all four of us can have a great time!
Here are my 11 tips on hiking with toddlers:
1. Walk with your kids before taking on 'big' hikes
For a few weeks before your hike go on walks with your kids. They can be short or long walks, the important part is getting your kids used to walking.
2. Turn a hike into a game!
On our last trip to the Grand Canyon, I gave the kids empty brown paper lunch sacks and taped a piece of paper to the front and back with pictures of things to look for on our hike like rocks, pine cones and flowers. This simple scavenger hunt made the hike so much fun for them because they weren't just aimlessly walking. They were searching! Bonus for me: They were appreciating nature. When we would have a tough looking hill coming up, I would amp up my enthusiasm and tell them I thought one of the items listed on their sacks was at the top of the hill. The ruse worked: They would take off looking for one of the items on their list, not even noticing the climb.
3. Bring a backpack carrier
Even though my kids do a lot of walking, they still get tired, and having a backpack carrier is a life saver. Our carriers double as backpacks so we can fit our snacks and gear in them as well.
4. Keep the kids (and yourself!) hydrated
My kids, like most toddlers, tend to trip over rocks or lose their footing from time to time. Because of this, I don't like them carrying water bottles. Instead, I have them wear mini water carriers -- we like the Camelbak Kids options -- because they are hands-free and it's easy for the kids to drink when they want.
5. Let them lead
When my kids start to fall behind or get tired, we play follow the leader. This gets them moving and gives them a reason to keep going forward. My kids love being the leader. When we hiked in Zion earlier this year the kids took the lead most of the trip!
6. Pack snacks
Hiking kids equals hungry kids. Don't skimp on snacks. I know it's more weight, but would you rather carry a few extra pounds or have hangry kids on a hike? I know the answer for my family!
7. Bring extra clothes
I usually throw an extra pair of clothes and a sweatshirt in our pack if I think we will need them. You can roll them up at the bottom of your pack so they don't take up a lot of room. That way if they get wet (we seem to usually find some stream or body of water and end up wet) you have something dry to put them in. Plus if it gets colder the higher you go, you are prepared. I also always bring hats and sunglasses because we ineviteably need them!
8. Research before you go
We try to only go on trails that we have reliable information about. That way we are prepared and don't have to worry about unexpected issues. Once we hiked the Emerald Pools at Zion with our double stroller and ended up carrying it (with two kids) up dirt stairs. Let's just say, I wish I had known the trail was not stroller friendly!
9. Take breaks
My rule of thumb is to let the kids decide when they need a break, but I decide how long. That way they are getting the breaks they need, but you aren't stopped forever. You can gauge how long of a break they need.
10. Bring your camera!
Take lots of pictures! The kids will love to look back and see all the fun you had. It can be as simple as a phone camera, but pictures are a must on our hikes. It is important for kids to have those memories and be able to look back and know that they can do hard things. Just as important -- make sure YOU are in the photos. Your kids don't care about how you looked that day, but they do care about the memories they have with you, so get in front of that camera during your hikes too.
11. ALWAYS take basic hiking safety precautions
Always take a first aid kit. Always let someone know where you will be. Basic hiking safety precautions are important to making sure your family not only has fun -- but stays safe!
Gwendolyn Dattage is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Saint George, Utah.
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