Life Lessons Learned from Hiking with a Toddler

By Abbey Barden | Sep 03, 2014

One beautiful day this past July, the husband and I decided to hike Max Patch, a bald near Hot Springs that sits on the Appalachian Trail.  Because it is a fairly short, uncomplicated hike, the husband had a crazy idea: we should let our one and a half year old daughter hike the whole way by herself.  We brought along the baby backpack just in case, but we didn’t need it.  Much to my astonishment, my little girl did hike the whole way with just a little encouragement from Mom and Dad.

If you’ve ever hiked with a toddler before, then you know that it requires a great deal of patience.  I used that time to observe my daughter during her hike and reflected on what I could learn from watching her truck up the trail.  This is what I learned from hiking with my toddler:

  1. Take time to stop and pick up pretty leaves: I must admit, I never before noticed how many cool sticks and leaves lay just under my feet, waiting to be examined.  I would normally walk right over them, but not my daughter.  She picked up every one, investigated each, and then, when she found one she liked, she would run gleefully with it crumpled in her hand until the next object.  Hey, it’s a big world out there.  Run, play, explore, and don’t forget to slow down.
  2. Know when to move on: One of my daughter’s most endearing quirks is her love of sorting.  She is super cute as she screws up her mouth in deep concentration, trying to figure the best place for each type of thing in her world.  The trail did not escape her scrutiny.  Somewhere in her toddler brain she decided that rocks did not belong on the trail.  Therefore, she would pick up every rock we encountered and throw it to the side.  Occasionally, Charlotte would come across a larger rock, deeply embedded in the ground.  She would stoop down, pull it, push it, and then when she realized it could not be budged, she would run ahead to the next rock, unperturbed.  If you can’t change it, move on.  There are too many rocks to be moved.
  3. Change your perspective: Occasionally, my daughter would stop and stare up.  She would look for a while and then run to her next rock, leaf, obstacle.  This puzzled me, so I tried it.  What I saw was beautiful: the blue sky, the sun shining through the bright summer green leaves which overlapped in places to form darker shapes.   Chalk this up to one more thing I take for granted.  Don’t get so caught up on where your feet are or what’s on the edge of the trail.  Sometimes, you just have to look up.
  4. Know when to ask for help: Sometimes my daughter would encounter an obstacle like a large root or rock.  Without hesitation, Charlotte would pause, reach up her hand, and wait until help arrived.  There was no stubborn pride interfering with her hike, a lesson I could stand to learn.  She needed help, she asked, and help was given.  Ultimately, it took all three of us to help her reach her goal.
  5. Celebrate your accomplishments: When she finally crested Max Patch, little legs pumping, my daughter clapped and babbled excitedly.  She had done it, and to celebrate we gave her chocolate milk.  Seeing her so excited reminded me that we all need to take pride in our accomplishments.  It’s ok to celebrate yourself, be it your first hike or your 500th.
Abbey Barden writes a monthly hiking column for The Guide. She is a middle school teacher but has been a trail guide for the Boy Scouts in the past and she and her husband are still avid hikers.