Hiking with Toddlers: Ultimate Guide



Feb 21, 2023

Hiking with toddlers is a great way to start your child's love for the outdoors early. With each of my 3 kids I eagerly waited as they learned to walk so I could witness their first steps out on the trails. I loved the young toddler "dinosaur walking", you know what I mean with the toddlers hands up near their face, on our hikes and watching as they explore the woods.

Hiking with toddlers and a baby Catskils Mountains Autumn
My family hiking with two toddlers and a baby

My kids have grown up on the trails, starting in baby carriers and as they grow older hiking more themselves. Hiking can happen year long and locally; we've hiked the same local trails hundreds of times and still enjoy it! But hiking vacations are pretty cool too!

My first product I made was a Momma and Toddler Hiking Journal. In this journal me and my toddlers have filled out our hiking journey together and recorded all of our hikes. The journal is interactive for the toddler including scavenger hunts, drawings and tools to document their hikes. It also is a great place for planning new places to hike and adventure!

This article I take you through everything I have learned about hiking with toddlers.

How Far Can a Toddler Hike?

This question is dependent on lots of factors; how often a toddler hikes, a toddler’s mood that day and the difficulty of the trail. The more often you hike with a toddler the farther a toddler can hike over time. Just like adults who start running, you have to build up the momentum and the muscles.

my toddlers hike to the mountain top
2 and 3 Year Old Hiked 1/2 Distance To Mountain Overlook

Based on my kids, my toddlers sometimes can hike 2 miles and other times barely make it half a mile. If my 2 year old is tired the day we hike he may not hike at all, but rather sit in the hiking backpack and wait to get out at the creek bed.

If you want your toddler to hike any meaningful distance you will want to hike often with them.

How do you Carry a Toddler on a Hike?

Back Carrier For Toddler

A backpack toddler carrier for hiking is best. A hiking backpack provides the best support for your back and comfort for your child. The backpack allows you to carry essential items on the hike and some provide handy features such as sunshades.

front carrier and back carrier when hiking with children
I can use a back and front carrier to carry two of my three children

There are many different back carriers to choose from and a range of price points. For anyone planning on hiking often, investing in a decent toddler carrier is the right decision.

I have two Kelty Journey PerfectFit Signature hiking backpacks, one for myself and one for my husband. This allows us to carry two of our three kids and carry all the snacks, water and gear we would need on a hike. 

The Kelty Journey PerfectFit Signature backpack was the right mix of lightweight pack with sunshade, storage space, child comfort and safety and my comfort with distributing child weight and back support.

napping in toddler hiking backpack
2 year old taking a nap on a summer hike

My toddlers and babies have no problems falling asleep in this carrier!

Soft Structured Carrier

A soft structured carrier can be used, but I don’t prefer it with toddlers while hiking. The soft structured carrier has your child pressed up against your body making it warm for both you and your child. There is very limited space, if any, to carry additional items and they are not as comfortable, especially over longer distances.

You might want to bring a soft structured carrier for short hikes and if you are with another adult who can carry additional needed gear. 

What to Bring on a Hike with a Toddlers?

There are many things you should ALWAYS take when hiking with a toddler. The better prepared you are the more likely the day will be a success. My kids live by snacks, if they get hungry they also get grumpy and will not be in a good mood to continue to hike. 

hiking with toddlers importance of snacks
Snack Break!

A snack can re-energize my little ones to finish a hike or even motivate them to keep moving; tell them they can have a snack break once you reach the creek or stream. Or use a snack as a bribe to get them in the hiking backpack.

My husband and I often get unpleasant when hungry so we appreciate having food to eat as well.

If you are planning on a longer hike you will want to bring extra food for a meal as well as snacks. The key thing to remember is always pack more food than you think you will need!

Best Toddler Snacks for Hiking

  • Cereal Bars- homemade or bought
  • Fruit (grapes, cut up strawberries, apples)
  • Sandwiches (PB&J or Turkey and Cheese)
  • Goldfish
  • Animal Crackers
  • Trail Mix
  • Dried Fruit
  • Raisons
  • Cheese

I put my toddler’.s snacks in a spill proof container It is best to be respectful of nature and find ways to prevent them from spilling their food all over the ground. 

Of course water is essential as well. Give your toddler their own water bottle that they can take hiking with them. Toddlers love to have their own gear!

Pro Tip: Leave spare water and snacks in the car. This way if your toddler, or you, are hungry or thirsty after your hike you don’t have to wait until you get back home or have to stop somewhere else.

Essentials To Bring On All Hikes with a Toddler

The essentials to bring are the same as when you go with a toddler or baby.

Diaper Supplies

If you are a momma of a toddler you know this already. If you are planning any time out with your toddler you know you need to bring:

Even if your child is potty trained a toddler can still have accidents and you don’t want that to ruin your day out. My toddlers have more accidents out on hikes than playing inside. They get distracted and forget to hold it. Bring the spare underwear and pants/shorts!

I also recommend a spare outfit and socks, in case your toddler discovers water and gets soaked. It is not fun being stuck in wet clothes when it is cold outside.   Even if you wait until you get back to the car to take them home, extra dry socks are always welcome. 

Pro Tip: To avoid your toddler getting wet you can dress them in raingear, especially rain pants!

Bug Spray

No one likes being bitten while out hiking for the day, but I also don’t like spraying my toddlers. Instead of spraying them I spray their clothes before I put them on as well as their hat and the hiking backpack. This trick keeps the bugs off my toddlers without directly spraying them.

Small First Aid Kit

Toddlers learning to hike will fall. My 15 month old started walking on the trails and the first time out he immediately fell and got a bloody nose! He picked himself up and insisted on carrying on. 

He fell four more times in 5 minutes before learning how walking on trails works. It was difficult watching him fall, but he was so proud of himself when he finally mastered it!

Toddlers are going to want to be like their parents, which means they want to hike with you! Make sure you bring the first aid kit.   

How do you Dress a Toddler for Hiking?

Overall, to start hiking with your toddler, you do not need any special clothes for your toddler. They don’t need hiking boots and special hiking pants, a pair of decent shoes with treads and pants to start are fine.

Of course if you start taking them hiking frequently and you want to invest in more toddler specific hiking gear that is great, but you don’t need it right away! 

Toddler Hiking Shoes

A toddler is a new walker whose feet muscles are still developing. The best hiking shoe for a toddler is one that is flexible and lightweight and also supports their feet from the elements.

The toddler hiking shoe should provide traction to help stabilize them on different surfaces. A shoe that is worn through will not provide any help to your toddler.

My young toddlers have had great results with OshKosh Bump Toe Sneakers and older toddlers wearing either Keen CNX hiking shoe or Merrell Trail Chaser Jr. Toddler shoes often are hard to find in the right size so have a variety of companies to check!

If you are planning on hiking to a water destination, a lake, stream or creek bed, toddler hiking sandals might be best. Just like the hiking shoe the sandal should provide good traction, be lightweight and flexible.

Keen water sandals are great for water hikes
My boys both in Keen Newport H2 Sandals on this local creek hike

The added benefit of a hiking sandal is the ability for your toddler to go in the water and the sandal to dry quickly afterwards. The sandal must be a secure fit.

My kids all have Keen Newport H2 Sandals and wear them on all our summer water hikes. Not only are they a great toddler hiking sandal but also an overall toddler sandal to be used all summer long.

Toddler Hiking Pants

toddler hiking pants sitting in hay
My two in Oaki Trail and Hike Pants

A toddler hiking pants will be one that repels water and stains. You don’t want to worry if your toddler sits in mud and what he/she brushes up against; poison ivy and toddlers is never fun. You want toddler hiking pants that are made for the elements and easy to clean.

Good candidates are rain pants for toddlers. These can be worn over other pants adding a layer of warmth and protection especially in colder months.

My toddlers wear Oakiwear Trail and Rain Splash Pants. These toddler hiking pants work wonders. My toddlers can splash in all the puddles, sit in the mud and roll around without ruining any clothes. The hiking pants are easy to clean and long lasting. 

In summer months layering your child or having them wear pants won’t be necessary, but could be smart. In summer I suggest a lightweight hiking pants for sunny hikes or shorts that dry quickly when wet for shaded hikes.

My kids have Columbia Silver Ridge Pull-on Pants for sunny summer hiking. The hiking pants protect their legs from sun and foliage. My kids get them wet and by the end of th hike the pants are dry.

Having specific outfits they wear only when hiking can bring excitement and help them build positive associations with hiking.

For more tips read How To Dress Your Baby/Toddler For Hiking.

How to Select Trails to go Hiking with Toddlers?

The goal is to have your toddler like hiking, this way they will want to go over and over again. Choosing trails that your toddler will be able to hike for sections on their own increases their interest. A hike where they are stuck 100% of the time in the toddler hiking backpack is no fun. 

trails for hiking with toddlers
My crew hiking a trail with nice overlook but not much elevation

Pick trails that don’t cover tons of elevation and are of reasonable length. Toddlers, like us, have to build fitness; their first time out they will not be able to cover as much distance as their 10th time. Start with small distances and build on it in subsequence hikes. 

When your toddler is tired, use the hiking backpack, that is why you have it! When they are in the pack you will be able to cover more ground at a faster pace. If you are strategic you can let them hike the flat sections and ride the uphill and downhills.

Pick a trail that has a pond/lake/stream. Toddlers LOVE throwing rocks in water and this will add to the excitement of going for a hike.

Pro Tip: You don’t have to go far to go on a hike with a toddler. Often state parks and local parks have hiking trails. Local trails can be hiked over and over again growing your toddlers ability.

When Should you go Hiking with a Toddler?

Unlike babies, who sleep multiple times a day, toddlers nap once, maybe twice a day if you’re lucky, or, not at all. You can go hiking at any time, but my personal recommendation on what works best for us if we are only going on a half day hike is below:

If your Child Naps Once a Day

Go hiking before their first nap. After being out for the morning your toddler should be in a great position for a nice snooze. The trick with this is to NOT let them sleep on the way home. If they nap in the car sometimes this is enough for your child not to nap once they get home.

If your Child Naps Twice a Day

Go hiking between their naps. Allowing your little one to get their first nap in will ensure they are in great spirits to start the hike. If you plan on going for a longer hike they might be able to get their second nap while in the hiking backpack.

If your Child Doesn’t Nap

This is my older toddler right now. I find he has the most energy in the morning and that is the best time to start a hike. Later in the day he can get more cranky and it is a coin toss if he will be in a good mood or not.

You know your toddler best and can determine when they are at their best! You can also try out different times and see what works best for you. Some toddlers will happily nap in the backpack while other toddlers not so much, and this can also be a factor of when you go.

Expectations for Hiking with Toddlers

Hiking with a toddler requires patience, lots of it! If you are used to hiking without a toddler you will be surprised at how much slower you go.

Toddlers are notorious for stopping often to look at the flowers, pick up a stick or throw rocks. They don’t always just put one foot in front of the other and walk, and no amount of rushing them along seems to do anything. 

expectations for hiking with toddlers stopping often!
A nice caterpillar stop on a hike with my boys

If your toddler does great on one hike don’t assume they will also go that quick or long on subsequent hikes. Toddlers are not predictable

The goal is get your kids to like hiking so you can go more often. Over time they will become better hikers, they will go faster and stop less often, but it takes time. Be patient with them and try not to compare how far you went before having kids!

My almost three year old has made enormous progress in his ability to hike, yours will too!

Tips to Make Hiking Fun for a Toddler

hike with family members for fun
My two boys love to go hiking with their cousins

  • Take pictures of your hike and show them to your toddler later, just make sure they are in a couple of the pictures. My nearly 3 year old loves looking at pictures of himself hiking!
  • Go on hikes with other family members or friends with kids. Kids love to be around other kids.
  • Allow them to throw rocks into the water or try to find the biggest stick! Make it about the journey not the destination.
  • Sing songs as you hike. My family loves to make up our own version of known favorites.
  • Let them be like you, if you are wearing sunglasses give them a pair they can hike with!
  • Make the hike into a scavenger hunt. To download my pdf Toddler Scavenger Hunt click here.
  • Buy a couple hiking books you can read with your little ones. Our current favorites are Goodnight Mountains and All Aboard! National Parks: A Wildlife Prime

For all my tips check out 15 Tips To Get Your Toddler To Enjoy Hiking or Read Toddler Hiking Gear to find some fun hiking toys for toddlers.

What is a Toddler Led Hike?

A toddler led hike is a hike or part of a hike where you let your toddler run the show. Let your toddler pick which way to go at a fork in the trails and when to stop. You let your toddler stop for 15 minutes to collect flowers or stones. 

toddler led hikes in woods
These two love to make all the decisions

Often toddlers just want a say. They want to assert themselves and be able to be in control. So why not let them? 

On these hikes you have to give up control, which is hard for a parent. Don’t set expectations other than to have fun in nature and go with the flow. 

This is a great thing to do once in a while to mix things up.

Can Pregnant Women Hike?

As long as your doctor has okayed it pregnant women can hike! I have hiked through all my pregnancies and for all but the last two months was able to carry my toddler in a hiking backpack if needed. 

pregnant and hiking
Hiking 36 weeks pregnant with baby number 3

Hiking is a great low impact exercise that helped me stay active while pregnant. Don’t push yourself to hike the tallest mountain, but rather hike for enjoyment.

For further information read my 11 Tips on Hiking while Pregnant.

Safety Tips for Hiking with Toddlers

  • Always tell someone when and where you go hiking
  • Carry a first aid kit
  • Bring a cellphone in case of emergencies
  • Check the weather before hiking, plan for temperature changes with elevation change
  • Stay on marked trails
  • Keep your toddler in eyesight 
  • Don’t play near drop-offs
  • Teach your toddler to stay put if they get lost 
  • Bring a whistle

Final Thoughts on Hiking with Toddlers

If you are planning on going on a hiking trip make sure to test out the hiking backpack with your child prior to a long hike. This will allow her/him to get comfortable in the pack and help with expectations. 

I will take a toddler on walks in the neighborhood with a backpack so he sees the backpack as an everyday item he uses. Kids gravitate to what they are used to!

Hiking is a great activity to do with your children and I constantly checking the weather to see the best days to take my kids.

Hiking might be part of your camping trip and if so you might be interested in reading my 30 Fun Camping Activities for Toddlers.

Looking for a fun toddler nature craft you can do after your hike? Check out how to make a nature suncatcher with your toddler! Or you can create a sundial from rocks.