Originally posted on PDXParent.com on August 8th, 2022
Hiking with toddlers is a ton of fun … and also an exercise in patience. These hikes make it easier.
Toddlers don’t seem to be all that interested in hiking towards a goal or learning about what they encounter along the trail. Instead, most want to experience nature with their whole bodies and spend lots of time in one place. On hikes, it is common for toddlers to plop down in the middle of the trail for dirt play, run into a creek and get soaking wet, pick plants, wave sticks, refuse to walk, and sometimes even have a huge fit on the trail. (Pro tip: Turn back BEFORE kids get tired and cranky.)
If you want your toddler to hike, it’s important to pick short trails without too many hazards like rushing water, drop-offs, poison oak, etc. Unfortunately, you cannot totally eliminate all hazards in nature and, on any trail, you will still need to keep an eye on what your kids put in their mouth (mushrooms and toxic plants!) and keep kids from running ahead out of sight. That said, there are trails that are better for toddlers. Below are six of these better-for-toddlers hikes, all within a 30-minute drive of Portland.
Tualatin Hills Nature Park – Beaverton, OR
This awesome park in Beaverton has 1.5 miles of paved trail and 3.5 miles of non-paved trails. Dogs are not permitted in the park, so the park is a great place to view wildlife like deer, birds, and amphibians. You will want to keep an eye out for bikes on the paved trails and avoid the trails that get too close to the ponds if your kids tend to run towards water. Restrooms and fun exhibits are available at the nature center.
Salmon Morgan Creek – Brush Prairie, WA
There is a lovely forest tucked away in the middle of a Brush Prairie neighborhood and it’s a great place for toddlers to roam. In addition to several flat trails, you will find many climbing logs, massive trees (perfect for hugging and peering into), and lots of shade. You may even have a midday owl sighting. The Red Cedar Trail and Fir Loop are great for toddlers as long as you don’t take the side trails to a viewpoint and the creek. The Alder loop can be quite muddy and have some stinging nettle along the trail. There are no restrooms available here. Please respect the neighbors and do not block driveways.
Columbia Springs – Vancouver, WA
Columbia Springs is a neat place for toddlers. There are five short trails that combine to make a 2 mile hike. The trails vary in difficulty and trail surface. There are plenty of trees and rocks to climb on, as well as two wildlife viewing decks, hatchery fish tanks, and a fish feeding pond. There are bathrooms onsite.
Hoyt Arboretum – Portland, OR
There are so many trails at Hoyt Arboretum and they vary in toddler-friendliness. For the most toddler-friendly hike here, start out on the paved accessible trail as seen on this awesome map from Super Nature Adventures. For a more challenging toddler hike, check out the trail from Stevens Pavilion, past the Fairy Forest, and along the Spruce Trail to the Redwood Deck. The loop beyond this gets less toddler-friendly. You could also check out the Magnolia Loop, but there are a few road crossings that require some hand-holding. Hoyt has a lot of kid-friendly activities as well.
Powell Butte – Portland, OR
Powell Butte Nature Park is an excellent spot for kids to work on their uphill hiking and take in distant mountain views, all while hiking on an ancient and extinct volcano. The most toddler-friendly section of the park is the uphill paved Mountain View Trail. It is a 0.7 mile hike to the Mountain Finder overlook, where on clear days you will see the five closest major volcanoes and some lesser mountains. The Mountain View Trail doesn’t have much shade, so be sure to bring sun protection. From the Mountain Finder overlook, you could also add on the 0.8 mile Summit Lane loop. The visitor’s center has restrooms and displays.
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge – Sherwood, OR
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is one of several kid-friendly wildlife refuges in our area. Here you can hike 2 miles out-and-back on the year-round River Trail to a wetland observation deck. This gravel trail can be used by all-terrain strollers and there are no dogs allowed, which allows you to see tons of wildlife like birds and deer. There are a few spots along the trail that come close to water, but the trail is wide and you should be able to keep kiddos away. There is one drop-off down to the creek just past the trail junction with the Ridgetop Overlook trail (so just grab your kiddo’s hand at this junction and release when you pass the drop-off). Leave some time to explore the nature center. Flush toilets are available near there. Learn more here.
- Find trails with nearby playgrounds to incentivize (just don’t let kids see the playground before your hike)
- Hike in the morning when temperatures are cooler and bellies are full from breakfast
- Bring lots of snacks and water in a fun reusable water bottle; bring a high-value snack for when times get really desperate
- Bring ways to engage your kids (like magnifying glasses or a stuffy/doll), but wait to bring them out until you need them
- Expect that you will walk slowly, make lots of stops, and mentally prepare yourself that you may not complete your hike as expected
- Bring a back-up carrier
- Encourage kids to keep going and proudly celebrate small wins
- Know that your kids will get older and be able to hike farther; toddler hiking is all about exploration and instilling a love of nature
- Learn from other parents, such as Backwoods Mama, Trips with Tykes, and Hike It Baby.
Can’t get enough of the great outdoors? Check out more family-friendly hikes here.