Day hiking with a toddler

hiking -

Day hiking with a toddler

It's Wednesday, I have the hours between when the bus picks up and drops off my oldest kids to do with as I please, and for the last few days I've been thinking it's the perfect day to head out for a decent sized hike with my two-and-a-half year old daughter and our pup. 

Hiking with kids is deceptively simple. Go outside and walk! Want to level up? Pack snacks and wear footwear that won't make you cringe every time mud appears.

MUD. ALWAYS. APPEARS. Don't fool yourself. 

At home it starts with the snacks. I pack twice as much as I think we'll need and enough to hopefully stop me from wanting to grab a spicy chicken sandwich on the way home.

The weather is a perfect early fall day. It's 59° and there are a few puffy clouds in a bright blue sky. I've been hoping to spend the day at a particular spot, so we get in the car and I plug it into the GPS.

Right. They're giving each park a day off a week to allow for regrowth and rest... it's a great idea that I totally forgot about. We decide to head to an old favorite, instead, Brandywine Creek State Park. I've been hiking this same trail for 10 years. I know it'll be a hit with her and I can put together the mileage I'm itching for. 

We pull in, unload, and are ready to hit the trail. On a cooler morning like this, dry feet are top of my list. I know if either of us end up with soaked cold feet, it'll be tough to keep on for too long. There are a few creek crossings and puddle areas out here, so we're ready for them. I love a neoprene boot for hiking. They're rugged, waterproof, warm, and have handles for me to carry them by when she inevitably kicks them off while she rides in the carrier. 

We see a few friendly faces on the trail, including one woman I swear I have seen every time I'm here, no matter when, for the last 10 years. I'd love to know her story. After we've been out for a bit, my friend texts to see if I want to walk today, so I tell her to join us! She'll be able to catch up pretty easily-- the one mile we've put behind us has taken us 40 minutes. I know and expect this and love listening to my little one chat about everything she sees. She controls the pace early on. I used to try to push my older girls more, "can we keep it moving?" and ultimately, it just leaves us all a bit frustrated. Too slow for me, too rushed for them. I've learned to break it up. When my little is walking, her pace works just fine, and when she tires out and rides, I can move at whatever speed I want to, so we trade off. 

When my friend catches up, my daughter is tired enough to ride in my soft-structured carrier on my back for a bit, so we chat and catch up and move up the trail at our own speed. 

At a spot along the river we stop and enjoy some snacks (down goes the cucumber, applesauce, and a granola bar) and turn around to head back. There are a few more ups and downs for my daughter-- walk, ride, walk, ride-- and before I know it my little one is asleep on my back and we're coming back to the trail head. I say goodbye to my friend and decide to grab a snack and try to put on another mile while my little one sleeps. 

She wakes after a half hour, hops down to walk and explore more (a really real red leaf, hello fall!), and we head back to the trailhead again with more than 5 miles. I'm really looking forward to those chicken salad sandwiches in the cooler on my front seat right now, and I know enough after doing this so many times to leave something in the car for her, so there's another snack once I clip her into her car seat. 

I'm pleasantly surprised with the day-- good weather, a sweet & curious trail companion, a little time with a friend, a tired dog, and a lot of trees. I am sapped in the best way, and planning the next day I can make it outside to do this again.