15 Tips to Get A Toddler To Enjoy Hiking



Jul 28, 2022

I love hiking and once I had kids it was important for me to share that love with my children. I wanted them to learn to love hiking so we could enjoy it as a family. Because of this passion I have learned that there are many things you can do to encourage your toddler’s enjoyment while out on the trails, once I learned the basics of hiking with your toddler.

toddler love hiking together

Toddlers are notorious for their varying moods. Some days a toddler might really want to go hiking and the next they say they dislike it. Don’t take what a toddler says to heart. Their opinions can change and the best way to have your toddler love hiking is to do it often!

A fun way to capture all your hikes and moods is through a Momma and Toddler Hiking Journal. This journal below I created as an interactive hiking logs for my toddler to do with me. It a great space for us to reflect on all the hikes we do together!

Hiking is a great activity to do while camping with your toddler. If you are planning a camping trip make sure to check out 30 Fun Camping Activities for Toddlers and Toddler Camping Toys.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase. Rest assured all products I suggest are products I have bought or would buy based on personal experience or through my network of other mommas.

When Can Toddlers Start Hiking?

As soon as your child starts walking he/she can start hiking. Now, I am not saying your toddler will be able to walk for a mile the first time out, but you must start early with baby steps.

how early can a toddler start to hike
My 13 month old learning to hike

The best way to start your toddler hiking is to bring a back carrier hiking backpack. Let your toddler hike as much as they want and are capable of and then let them rest in the backpack. Over time your toddler will hike more and more and spend less time in the hiking backpack.

Some days your toddler might have more energy and some days none at all. Don’t force your toddler to hike, otherwise they might not want to the next time. Let them know it's okay to rest in the backpack. Mine kids even enjoy naps in the pack!

How Do I Motivate My Toddler to Hike?

Whenever I hike with my toddlers I try to make it fun for them. You shouldn’t force distances or speed.  Remember that sometimes your toddler is just in an argumentative mood, so don’t let one bad hike, or even two, make you think you can’t go hiking again.

Just like seasons, moods change. Below I will share some tips on how I keep the hikes entertaining for little ones.  

how to get toddler to love hiking tips

If you do have a destination in mind that might be a stretch for your toddler to hike themselves make sure to bring your hiking backpack carrier.

I am a big advocate of books. Messages in books creep their way into a toddlers mind. If you read books about hiking and being outside in general you will be surprised how that idea manifests in your toddler. They will want to hike just like a character from a book does.

How Far Can a Toddler Hike?

This is a common question and one that is hard to answer. A toddler used to hiking might hike a mile or two in a day and the next day barely make it out of the parking lot. How far a toddler can hike varies significantly even within the same toddler.

how far can a toddler hike?

The best solution is to ensure you have a hiking backpack with you so you can carry your toddler when he/she no longer wants to hike. That is the main toddler hiking gear you need to start.

Also factors on the trail can also affect how far or how quick your toddler will hike. For instance, my 2 and 3 year olds hike quicker on trails that are narrower, ideally a single track trail. The wider the trail the slower they hike. Also interest points on the trail matter, are there waterfalls like at Ricketts Glen State Park or creek beds to play in?

However, the more you hike overtime the faster your toddler will go. My almost 4 year old is surprisingly quick on the trail compared to my 2 year old. The main reason is my almost 4 year old has gone hiking more. 

How far a toddler can go isn’t just about age, but also practice. My 4 year old nephew doesn’t go hiking with his family regularly. When out on the trails my 2 year old can go quicker and further. 

Pro Tip: Dressing your toddler for hiking matters. Toddlers who are cold or wet might not hike well.

15 Tips for Getting A Toddler To Enjoy Hiking

1. Make it Fun with a Toddler Hiking Scavenger Hunt

Create your own or use my scavenger hunt for hiking. Work with your toddler to find all the items on the hunt and offer a surprise if you complete it. Perhaps a treat or a cool sticker. 

Toddler hiking scavenger hunt

The best thing about this is you can vary the hunts depending on where you are hiking and what you think will be easy to find. For example, in the you can find all different color leaves, while in the spring it might be easier to find wildflowers. 

2. Make Hiking a Part of your Regular Routine

If you want a toddler to enjoy hiking do it often. Toddlers are creatures of habit. If you keep taking a toddler hiking he/she will get used to it. It won’t take much time at all before he/she is asking when the next hike is. 

Of course there will be some days where your toddler just isn’t having a good time on a hike. They are human just like us. Adults have off days and so do toddlers. Don’t let one bad hike stop you from hiking again. 

toddler love hiking
Hiking is always part of our vacations

Build up a repertoire of local hikes and let your toddler pick which one he/she would like to go on. Look for different types of hikes, one that features creeks and river beds, one that leads to a playground, and one that has climbs in it. Variety is key to keeping up the excitement.

3. Take Pictures on your Hike with Toddlers

A great way to get a toddler to enjoy hiking is through pictures. While on a hike take pictures of interesting things to your toddler. Take pictures of them enjoying themselves and of nature around them. 

You can even let your toddler have their own camera and take their own pictures. I bet you won’t be able to wait to see the pictures they captured. 

When your toddler doesn’t seem enthusiastic about going on a hike, pull up pictures from old hikes. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of a sudden their mood changes and they can’t wait to go. 

Hiking with toddlers bring a camera
My son off with his camera on our fall hike

Also, the night after a hike reinforces the fun you had by reviewing the pictures you took that day. Perhaps their grandparents or neighbors are over, let your toddler talk about what they did by going through the photos.

Print out a favorite picture of your toddler hiking and frame it in their room. Your toddler will love looking at the picture and remember the fun he/she had on that hike. My toddler remembers the hikes we did almost a year ago!

4. Don’t Force Distance or Speed When Hiking with Toddlers

It is no secret that toddlers have shorter legs. Toddlers can’t hike as fast as an adult, even if they didn't stop every time something interests them. Don’t set unrealistic expectations about distance or speed. 

toddler hiking backpack carriers
Our two boys love riding in their hiking backpacks

Our two boys love riding in their hiking backpacks

The goal is to get your toddlers to love hiking. Therefore, the more often you go, the faster they will become. Over time toddlers grow up to be kids and kids that hiked as toddlers are even better kid hikers. It is an investment. So prepare for a slow speed coupled with lots of breaks. 

Let your toddler explore. To get a toddler to enjoy hiking let them pick the trail and set the speed. Don’t pull them along, if they are tired offer them a ride in a toddler hiking backpack.

5. Bring Lots of Snacks and Water

Snacks are a great motivator. Toddlers love eating and all have their favorite snacks. Make sure to bring lots of snacks and water with you. Don’t forget about keeping yourself fed and hydrated too!

toddler to like hiking lots of snacks
My two enjoying a nice snack in their spill proof snack containers

My two enjoying a nice snack in their spill proof snack containers

If you see your little one is flagging, offer a snack break. Find a nice log to sit on, a bench, rocks, or a nice grassy area to sit down and rest. Load them up with fuel and don’t be surprised when they are up and ready to go again. 

If you are almost to a perfect resting spot and your toddler is stalling, let your toddler know if they go a little bit further they will get a treat.

6. Do A Nature Arts and Crafts After A Hike is Over

Another way to get a toddler to enjoy hiking is to do arts and crafts projects after a hike. Find a nature arts and crafts project to do that first involves collecting objects on a hike. 

nature toddler arts and craft suncatcher

Tell your toddler all about the arts and crafts project and explain step one is to go on a hike and search for the items. This will get your toddler running to the car! Don’t be surprised if on future hikes they are looking for nature items to collect.

Some of our favorite nature art and craft from a hike is a suncatcher, sundial or the caterpillar from 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'.

7. Read Toddler Books about Hiking

I love books. They teach toddlers vocabulary, new ideas and tap into their imagination. Find a couple good hiking books and read them often to your toddler. 

If your toddler is anything like mine, he/she will soon be asking to go on a hike like they saw in “Goodnight Mountains”, "Hiking Day" or “the Hike”. 

Books also will familiarize your toddler with the concept of hiking. They will now think of hiking as an everyday activity. 

8. Create Variety in Hiking With Toddlers

Although toddlers love familiarity, they won’t like always going on the same hike. To get a toddler to enjoy hiking mix it up and take your toddler to new spots. Or if you know a great place to hike, mix up the trails and see different sections of the park/woods/mountain. 

toddler to enjoy hiking photo

Going in different seasons also mixes things up. See if your toddler can notice the seasonal changes on more familiar hikes. Perhaps take pictures and compare the same spot in all four seasons!

9. Find Hikes With Water Play

Have you seen your toddler around a water table, splash pad or pool? If so you will know toddlers love water play.

Hikes with small creeks and streams will be a hit for toddlers. Just make sure you have them in water appropriate sandals or bring an extra pair of shoes and socks. Also be prepared to stop for a good long water play session once your toddler reaches water. 

nature craft finding rocks

Pro Tip: Toddlers love to throw rocks in water, perhaps you can teach them to skip rocks! Or teach them to stack rocks and make art! Water play is a great way to get a toddler to enjoy hiking!

10. Sing Songs on the Trail

A song doesn’t have to be about hiking for it to be enjoyable while hiking. Toddlers love music and a great distraction if your little one is getting irritable is to sing their favorite song. It is also a great way of learning new words or reinforcing ones already known.

Our Current Favorite Songs to Sing on the Trail are:

  • The ants go marching 1 by 1: We sing it differently each time, commonly with our 3 year old making up what the ant stops to do
  • A,B,C: My 2 year old is learning the alphabet and wants to hear this song on repeat
  • The Wheels on the Bus
  • The Hippopotamus Song
  • This Land is Your Land
  • Or make up your own song with your toddler/kids

11. Invite your Toddler’s Friends on A Hike

Every once in a while make the hike special by inviting one of their friends. You don’t always have to just think of another kid their age, but perhaps a grandparent, cousin or aunt and uncle. My 2 and 3 year old love having their Nana come hiking with them.

hiking with friends to get toddler to like hiking

New people bring new energy and excitement to the hike. Perhaps they have a new song they can sing, a new game idea for the hike or a different way they can use their imagination.

This is one of my favorite ways to get a toddler to enjoy hiking. Also a great way to introduce hiking with toddlers to other families!

12. Use Positive Reinforcements While Hiking with Toddlers

Try to combat an upcoming tantrum or melt down by practicing positive reinforcements. Positive reinforcements done the right way leave your child happy and proud of themselves. The more fun your toddler has, the more likely they will want to go hiking more. Just be prepared to be grabbing your hiking shoes often!

You can ask your toddler to help get out the snacks, and when they do praise them and give them lots of love. Toddlers also crave attention. If you see your toddler doing something nice or helpful, like helping their sibling when they fall, this is another great time for praise, love and even a little treat!

13. Buy Toddler Specific own Hiking Gear

Adults get their own hiking gear, maybe you have hiking boots and hiking pants. Let your toddler pick out his/her own specific hiking gear that is used on hikes. 

Let your toddler pick out their own toddler hiking shoe. If you hike often specific hiking shoes are worth it. They have been traction to grip the trail or rocks, made to be durable, lightweight and breathable. Owning a pair also ensures you don't ruin your toddler's everyday shoes.

A great toddler hiking pants is toddler trail pants. My boys both love their Oakiwear Hiking Pants and the best part is that it is made to get dirty and worn while splashing through all the muddy puddles.

toddler to love hiking gear
My two toddlers love their hiking pants and binoculars

My two toddlers love their hiking pants and binoculars

If your toddler notices you always wear a backpack maybe it would be a good idea to get them their own hiking backpack! Your toddler can then carry a couple of his/her own snacks for the hike. 

hiking backpack for toddler
My 4 year old packs his own snacks in his backpack

Other fun hiking gear that might excite your toddler are binoculars, compass, bug catcher, magnifying glass or hat.

14. Let your Toddler’s Voice be Heard

Toddlers love to have their say. If you are used to hearing “Me Do” or “I Do” you know what I am talking about. Giving your toddler a choice goes a long way in their world. So when your trail divides into two ask him/her which trail to take.

Before going out hiking ask your toddler which hike you should do. This works well if you have several local hikes and your toddler knows a couple of them already. Both my 2 and 3 year old have their favorite hike, but sometimes when asked will opt for a hike we haven’t done in awhile.

If your toddler doesn’t know the options you can always describe different options. Describe some of the choices and let them pick; for example do you want to do the hike with the creek where we can throw rocks or the hike that we walk along a big river?

15. Play Hiking Games

Keep your toddler engaged while hiking. Simple games such as “I Spy” can pass the time as you walk and keep things interesting. If this is a new game, start by spying easy things in the distance for your toddler to spot. Once he/she catches on to the game let them spy objects for you to guess. 

"Playing "I Spy" from daddy's shoulder is my son's favorite")

**Tips: Toddlers learn by imitation a lot. Don’t be surprised if their “I Spy” is something you already used. **

Create a game on the hike. Challenge your toddler to find the biggest leaf or the longest stick. The goal is to keep your toddler’s mind going and engaged with their surroundings. 

My toddlers love to see who can spot the trail blazes first.

Why is it Important To Spend Time Outside as a Toddler?

The American Psychological Association finds that exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.

More and more studies have been done finding the numerous benefits of nature on children. Instilling a love for nature early on can set your toddler up for great coping skills, a healthy way to decompress, an active imagination, and so much more.

Even more the reason to start hiking with your toddler today!

Hope to see you out on the trails!