Babe in the woods: How to hike with a toddler

“The baby in the forest goes ‘wah, wah, wah,’ all through the woods,” I sing.

We are five minutes in to a hike. I am singing a song with my own lyrics set to the tune of “The Wheels of the Bus.” H, now 14 months old, stops shrieking for a moment and sings along: La, la, la. We laugh. Soon, he begins shrieking again. I offer a cracker. I place another dangly toy on the hiking pack he’s riding in. I get ready to dig out the Ergo, in case he’ll be more amenable to the soft carrier. I wonder if this hike is really worth it.

H and Dada hiking to Owl’s Head in Keene, N.Y.

Now that H is mobile, he has become less amenable to spending time in the hiking pack. As outdoor-loving people looking to raise an outdoor-loving kid, this leaves us scratching our heads to figure out how best to introduce the woods to a kid who’s barely walking.

To be clear, we’re not trying to raise the second baby to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (though the first baby’s journey is fun to watch from afar). In the example above, our goal was to make it less than a mile, to a pond that happens to be on the way to one of New York’s 46ers.

The following tactics have helped: Making sure he is physically comfortable (layers to accommodate weather changes, nothing poking or pinching). Snacks (our hikes are fueled by halved grapes and Ritz crackers). Toys on the top of the pack. Singing (we have LOTS of verses of “The Baby in the Forest.”)

But you know what helps the most? Letting go of any agenda we have to actually hike.


Who wants to sit in a pack when you can scoot around on the rocks?

It turns out, we already have an outdoors-loving kid. He just prefers to experience the woods in an up-close-and-personal manner, by getting the heck out of the pack and throwing leaves and pine needles like confetti; splashing in streams and brooks; touching the moss growing on trailside rocks; and zig-zagging up and down the trail at his own speed. We’ve started letting him do just that after about 10 minutes of hiking in the pack. Because really, the goal isn’t to raise a kid who summits high peaks so much as it’s to raise a kid who loves and appreciates his world.

When we return to the trailhead, we see a family of fit-looking people getting ready to launch their own peak attempt.

“Nice singing,” says the dad, smiling. I explain that the singing is a necessary ingredient in a shriek-free hike. The dad points to his teenage son.

“When he was little, we went to Colorado and tried to hike with him in a pack like that,” he says. “We thought we’d do these great hikes. He only wanted to throw rocks in the stream.”

How wonderful to see that one little rock-thrower grew into mom and dad’s hiking buddy! I watch them embark on their hike feeling optimistic about the future—and also feeling pretty certain that they miss the throwing-rocks-in-a-stream days now and then.

Have you hiked with a toddler? How did you make the experience more fun?


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4 responses to “Babe in the woods: How to hike with a toddler

  1. > the goal isn’t to raise a kid who summits high peaks so much as it’s to raise a kid who loves and appreciates his world.

    This is how you win parenting.

  2. charlottetucker

    My son, also a Henry, decided that he likes to order us to “Run!” when he gets bored in the pack. That’s all well and good and we’ll indulge him when we’re walking the flat C&O Canal Towpath. But when he tried that halfway up some Colorado foothills this spring, we made him put his money where his mouth was. He came out of the pack and chased me as I jogged on ahead. Everybody won: He got to run out some energy, my workout got a little boost, and pack-wearer dad got a rest.

  3. Pingback: How to hike with a toddler, part 2 | Amy Reinink

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