Doing practically anything with a young child requires extra planning, gear, and attention. To keep our hikes as simple as possible, I look for decently maintained trails that are easy to navigate. All of the hikes Luke and I do are on trails in established parks.
Find a park in your local area or in the vicinity of a place you’d like to visit. One of the easiest ways to do this is to look up your location on Google Maps and scroll around for green areas. Take note of the names of nearby parks, forests, and recreation areas so you can look them up online. If you plan to hike regularly, keep a list of these places to make it that much easier when planning your next outing.
Research the established trails using the park’s official website or a hiking app. Most regional, state, and national parks have detailed maps and trail descriptions online. You can usually get enough information about the park trails and other amenities from these sites to decide on an appropriate hike, but in some cases, you may need to continue your research.
If you can’t find a dedicated page for the trails in your park, or if you haven’t gotten all the information you need from the park’s website, you can usually fill the gap with a trail guide site or app. Most popular hiking websites have advanced search features to filter hikes using specific criteria. Most hike descriptions also include directions to the trailhead and necessary pass and/or fee information.
Choose a hike that is appropriate for your toddler’s interest and ability level. Some kids like to walk on their own, some kids enjoy riding in a carrier, some prefer a bit of both. Plan accordingly. The descriptions on your park’s website and your favorite hiking app should give you an idea of the distance and difficulty of the trails available to you.
One to four miles is typically a good distance for us, with a very rare six to eight miler every once in a while. Depending on his mood, Luke alternates between hiking on his own and riding in a carrier. Our shorter hikes tend to be the ones he wants to do more walking. When I want to cover more ground, I carry him.
Let go of your expectations and enjoy your hike for what it is: an opportunity to experience the outdoors with your child. Toddlers are unpredictable. You can plan everything perfectly and your hike can turn out completely opposite of what you expect. Take what you can get.
Most of our hikes do not go exactly as planned. Some hikes are cut short by toddler meltdowns. Some hikes rack up mile after unplanned mile because our moods are good and our energy levels are high. Some hikes are more fun and some hikes are more frustrating.
Hiking with a toddler is challenging, but I can honestly say that we both get something good out of each and every outing.
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