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Look Who’s Hiking: A Trail Baby Primer

March 14, 2018

By Megan Zabel Holmes, Board Member, Trailkeepers of Oregon


After a new baby arrives, it feels intimidating to get out of the house, let alone out on the trail. These little humans seem to require so much in the way of supplies and accessories, not to mention what it takes to soothe their unpredictable temperaments. To the uninitiated, hiking with an infant might seem like undue torture. But it doesn’t have to be! With the right plan and attitude you can unlock a new level of quality family time. Here are some lessons I’ve learned (most of them the hard way) about hitting the trail with the smallest adventurers.

A man with a baby in a baby carrier on his chest standing on a cliff high above a wide river.

Baby does her best Lewis and Clark impression. (Photo by Megan Zabel Holmes)

Start small.

Work your way up to Dog Mountain — but start with Latourell Falls. Even if you were bagging glaciated peaks before parenthood, a couple of practice rounds will be helpful before you head deep into the wild with your new hiking buddy. Consider a two-mile loop that never has you too far from the car in case things get dicey. This is a good opportunity to test out your baby carrier and packing strategy, make adjustments, and optimize for the next round.

A man with a baby—who seems to be wearing voluminous pants—in a baby carrier on his chest, standing against a backdrop of a coniferous forest,

My child wearing a jacket as pants because I failed to properly outfit her. (Photo by Megan Zabel Holmes)

Embrace your new pace.

If you’re accustomed to crushing four thousand feet in elevation gain at three miles per hour, you’ll likely find yourself in a different boat (a much slower one) after junior has joined the squad. You’ll be making stops to change diapers, refuel, and touch the conk mushroom. Sometimes you’ll need to stop for reasons only your child understands. The sooner you embrace this new speed, the more fun everyone will have. You, too, get to smell the moss and touch the bark. Watching your kiddo’s curiosity bloom—and rediscovering your own—is worth the downshift.

A smiling baby sitting among purple-blooming flowers on a hillside meadow, with scattered coniferous trees in the middle distance and mountains in the distance.

Unbridled nature glee. (Photo by Megan Zabel Holmes)

Reconsider what “success” looks like.

Once, after an hour of preparation and packing plus another hour in the car, we got to the trailhead to find gale-force winds. Lousy weather plus critical errors related to nap and meal timing were insurmountable. So we just went to the brewery instead. It happens. We still felt like winners. If you can trick your attitude into gleefully rolling with the punches, you’ll find ways to have fun with Plan B. And Plan C. And . . .

A baby’s hand reaching to touch a fungal conk growing from the cut end of an old log.

Touching all the things. (Photo by Megan Zabel Holmes)

Go. Go anyway!

Sometimes it’s hard. It won’t always work out the way you planned. But sometimes, it will! And when it does, it’s magic. There’s no greater joy than sharing your love of the outdoors with your child, and watching that sense of wonder start to grow within her, too. So go on, get out there! It only gets easier with practice. Occasionally ending up at Double Mountain instead of on the mountain isn’t so bad, either.


Good first hikes with babies

Latourell Falls

Old Salmon River Trail

Falls Creek Falls

Catherine Creek


Megan Zabel Holmes: megan.holmes@trailkeepersoforegon.org 






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