Hiking with toddlers is extremely rewarding especially if you love to hike! I remember vividly when my oldest daughter hiked her first hike without ever stepping foot in a carrier or a stroller. I had my youngest on my back. It was an amazing experience especially since we had zero tantrums.
Our kids have hiked up to four km with over 200 metres of elevation as young as two years old. It is amazing what little kids can accomplish. It is not surprising that companies have even developed hiking boots for toddlers!
However, tantrums do happen and toddlers’ feet become filled with lead as they decide to stop moving their feet.
For those times when you need to get those feet moving to finish the hike or preventing the lead from accumulating in the first place here are 6 ways to motivate your toddler while hiking.
Play a game
Playing a game on the trail can help motivate your toddler. The best part is that kids start moving their feet when they are playing a game and without even realizing it, they have started hiking again. Then, the whining slowly stops and hiking becomes fun again for everyone. Check out our full list of hiking games on my post Hiking games for toddlers.
Make sure your toddler is well fed before the hike. Also, feed them little snacks on the go to keep up their energy. Lately, our toddler has been eating her lunch before hiking!!! That means I am bringing double the food so we still have some snacks throughout the actual hike.
Bring a treat
This is a separate category from food for a reason. A treat does not have to be seen as motivation but rather something that makes hiking special. Enjoy the treat while taking in a view or at the end of the hike. Our daughter loves hiking. She also loves that we stop for a treat when we arrive at our destination. It is all part of the outdoor experience.
Treats can also be used to motivate kids while hiking along the trail. I know many parents, including myself, have been chased by their toddler trying to “catch” the treat. This treat can be jellybeans, gummies, or crackers! One time our daughter chased us to eat her pieces of lunch sausage.
Singing songs can help a toddler enjoy the hike. Singing the songs will help them focus on the songs rather than hiking. Some song suggestions include: Great Big Moose, Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Row Row Row Your Boat, Hokey Pokey, If Your Happy and You Know it, Etc
Tell a story
Make the story part of the hike by including elements of your surroundings into the story. Our daughter loves talking and pretending our hike is part of a story. Throughout the hike, we might pretend we are saving someone and have to cross bridges or fly on a dragon to a rock in order to collect a key.
The stories have endless possibilities and these motivate her to hike. This idea came from hiking with our friends that have kids and one of them is a few years older than our oldest daughter. We used to hear the dad near the end of the hike playing jack and the beanstalk up the mountain with his son. Their son Fee Fi Fo Fum’d all the way up to the base of Black Tusk Mountain when he was only 5 years old!!!
Hike with friends
It does not just have to be their friends but can be your adult friends too! Often kids get distracted by others and become hike with more enthusiasm. Kids are also less likely to complain if they see others their age hiking.
Our daughter at the age of two has hiked up to 4 km with friends. Also, she absolutely loves hiking alongside her grandparents. It is extremely helpful for us because they help keep her entertained throughout the hike.