I fell in love with hiking when my oldest daughter was a toddler. I volunteered to host a hike through our local Hike it Baby group, and that quickly led to my becoming one of the group leaders for the Birmingham chapter. That was the fall of 2016, and my family and I have been hiking regularly ever since.
Although my husband joins us as often as he can, for the most part I’m flying solo with our (now three) kids. I have to admit, it seemed a bit daunting when I first ventured out on the trails with my daughter in tow. Over the years, we have become very familiar with the trails around Birmingham, well versed in the things we will need for any given outing, and confident of our abilities to handle whatever the day may throw at us. That’s not to say I haven’t had terrible hikes, or things that caught me off guard . . . but, overall, hiking and exploring together has been my favorite activity to do with my kids.
Tips for Hiking with Kids
Make your first hike short and sweet. You can use it to get a feel for what you will need for longer outings. For local friends, Aldridge Gardens is my favorite suggestion for this. There is a lovely 1/2-mile loop around a lake. Start with a short distance and easy terrain. Starting small keeps everyone motivated to hit the trails again, whereas pushing too hard or far could leave everyone hesitant to give it another shot.
Think Through Gear
Depending on the age of your child(ren), you may have to decide which baby carrier is right for you. Or, you may decide to stick to wider, more even trails that an off-road stroller can traverse. It is a personal preference, but I would always choose carrying on a more interesting (to me!) trail than going with something stroller-friendly. Carriers come in all shapes and sizes, and there are TONS of options. Find something that is comfortable for both the wearer and the one being carried. If everyone is comfortable, you’ll have a MUCH happier hike!
Another thing to consider is a bag to carry everything you’ll need. You’d be surprised at how streamlined your necessities may be. I choose a bag depending on the hike and which children I will have with me. One perk of frame carriers is that there is usually plenty of storage built in. Otherwise, you’ll need a backpack or waistpack, depending on whether you’re carrying a child on your front or back. If you have an older kid that is capable of walking the distance, consider having them carry their own snacks, water, etc. Having her own pack has made my daughter SO thrilled.
Revisit Your Favorite Spots
Hiking the same trails gives you and your children the ability to learn the terrain. It allows everyone to gain confidence and to feel more in control of the experience. There are trails and outdoor spaces around town that my kids are very familiar with, and it is so fun to visit them during different seasons and notice the changes that we see.
Find Your People
Early in my hiking adventures, I found incredible friends through Hike it Baby. I met numerous people while hosting hikes, but I found a handful that I really clicked with. We were all up for the same challenges in regards to distance, terrain, timing, and an overall disregard for the weather forecast.
Our kids have spent years of their little lives exploring the woods together, and we have forged unbreakable friendships. These relationships are as important to me as nature itself. Find adventure buddies, offer to host the first outing, build your community.
Preparedness and Good Humor
If you are outside often enough, you will encounter scrapes and bruises along the way. You will get rained on. It will be hotter than you thought, colder than you thought. You may run out of snacks, have forgotten a change of clothes, left with the wrong shoes on.
I have bandaged many a skinned knee . . . changed outrageous diapers on the side of the trail . . . been rattled at by a rattlesnake . . . miscalculated mileage . . . carried a half-naked toddler over a mile of terrain while she screamed for trail mix. Life happens! I always like to think that it could happen at the zoo or the playground in front of a TON of people, or it could happen on a trail with just nature and the people you’ve chosen to adventure with. I’ll always hope for the best, plan for as much as I can, and try my best to see the humor in whatever else may come our way.
An Evolving Journey
When I first started hiking, I had my toddler on my back at all times. This influenced the trails and the distance I started with. My ability to go farther and push harder grew with time, but she greatly preferred Mom’s back to her own two feet. I chose to think of this as a great workout! But, I wondered how long I could keep it up as she grew. Eventually, she ventured for longer and longer on her own. Now she’s six and can cover 4-5 miles with enthusiasm!
If you have a kid who is hesitant to walk for long stretches at a time, I’d suggest making your trips short in length but frequent in occurrence. They will become more comfortable, and their endurance for and appreciation of hiking will grow with time. Watching them develop in this way is extremely rewarding!
Parenting is Easier in the Woods
I’ve had several people comment that they’re impressed when they see us out on the trails. This is especially true if I’m carrying more than one child, or if the trail seems daunting. My response is: It’s sometimes easier (and way more fun!) to climb a literal mountain than it is to stay inside all day. Anyone with young kids can probably see my point. Being outside together gives us a shared focus, a calm pace of togetherness, a sense of adventure, and a release of energy. The planning and packing and getting there may take effort, but I find that it is almost always totally WORTH IT.
I would love to hear any questions anyone has about getting outside and exploring or hiking with kids! What have you found helpful? What has held you back?
Find Hannah’s recommendations for kid-friendly hiking trails in Birmingham here!