7 Strategies to Get Your Toddler Hiking Independently

Toddler Hiking Independently

Recently our 3-year-old son has begun wanting to hike on his own. He’s increased the miles he wants to go without a ride. Now he’s up to 3 miles of independent hiking! A recent hike we took was to George Crosby Manitou State Park near the North Shore of Minnesota. The hike we chose included some inclines, lots of roots and rocks along the trail, and a lot of stairs to a beautiful waterfall. Our son was determined to hike the whole trail and complete it without help! While the going was a bit slow at times, he had a lot of self-determination to keep hiking on his own – and was adamant that he didn’t need to get in the carrier backpack! It’s been a process to build up to this point, but I’m so proud of how well he’s doing with hiking on his own! Here are some strategies that have helped us be successful with gaining hiking independence.

  1. Start small! I always say this about basically everything related to getting outside with kids. But, seriously, don’t expect your kid to hike 5 miles when they’ve never hiked on their own! Our son’s first independent hikes were under a mile. Over the last few months, he’s been building in distance and determination to NOT have a ride!

  2. Prepare to carry your kid. Don’t leave the backpack carrier at home quite yet! Unless you want to give a shoulder ride or carry a wiggly toddler in your arms. But honestly, that sounds terrible to me. Even though the backpack carrier is empty, it’s still nice to know it’s there if we need to give our son a ride. There’s this amazing new carrier out called Trail Magik that actually straps to your backpack so your kid can go between hiking and a ride easily! I interviewed the creators for a podcast episode and will get to try out my own Trail Magik in a few weeks! I honestly can’t wait!

  3. Be positive and encouraging! If your kid is determined to go the distance, then positively support them in that goal. Keep upbeat, even when they’ve slowed down. Encourage them to push themselves. Your positive attitude and encouragement will help your toddler continue to push the mileage they’re accomplishing.

  4. Let them take the lead. Toddlers love to be leaders. Our son is no exception to this. If we let him take charge of the trail he will keep going and push himself further. Another added bonus is that he’s setting the pace. This leads to less exhaustion and frustration!

  5. Refuel at the destination. Make sure to have plenty of water and snacks for your adventure – and take a good break at your destination! Refueling can give your kid the added energy needed to make the return trip to the car, without being carried. We also like to spend some time at our destination playing and exploring. Sometimes we’ll even bring our fishing poles and fish for a while before heading back to the car.

  6. Don’t have them carry a backpack yet! The time for carrying their own backpack is just around the corner. (I’m already planning that River will get his first backpack and hydration system for his 4th birthday!) However, when toddlers are first hiking independently they don’t need another barrier or distraction to keep them from focusing on the trail. Plus if your toddler needs a ride then you’ll need to carry their bag too. I’m certainly not going to carry my son’s bag AND him!

  7. Celebrate this milestone! Once you’re all back at the car, don’t forget to celebrate this awesome new milestone! Whether it’s a high five or a dance party, let your kid know they rock!

With a little bit of time and a lot of patience, your toddler will be gaining miles under their feet. Soon you’ll be back to wearing your old trusty hiking backpack and your buddy will be out hiking you! When did your toddler start hiking independently?

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  1. My boys are 6 and 9 and I can vouch for these tips that they work! We never used a backpack but we carried them on our shoulders many of times. It would have been nice to have one when they were really small just in case though!

  2. I love all these tips! We started to hike on state parks now that my kids are loving the nature walks. Thank you for sharing!

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