Ever since moving back to Montana, our family has gone on an annual backpacking trip. The first year we went, the girls were ages 3 and 9. And this year at age 3, it was Eli’s third trip. Since he was born, for some reason, everyone else heads out a few days before I do, so I end up backpacking by myself with with just him and our aging Boxer, Roo. It is only a three mile hike one way, but when you are carrying or hiking with a toddler, it can be a challenge. Add the old dog, and you might even have your hands full. In the six years we have been doing this, we have never seen other families, until this year and I counted four! We backpacked into Coquina Lake, located in the Selway Wilderness on the Montana/ Idaho border.
I was too chicken to backpack with him when he was three months old, but in retrospect, there really is no reason why I couldn’t have. With him being as small and lightweight as he was, it would have been so easy. I guess I was scared that if something would have happened, I would be too far away for help. What I have realized, is that it is well worth it, to haul a toddler up a mountain. I have learned so many things from these experiences with him. For something that I absolutely dreaded until I did it, I am so grateful that I did it, all by myself, for three years in a row. I have enjoyed all of my trips with the girls, but I have learned more from him than I have with them, and truly understand why people should backpack with their kids.
Spend Quality Time Together– When it is just you, your child and nature, there are no distractions like you have in every-day life. No emails or phone ringing, no rushing off to work. In these moments you can truly focus on your experiences and interactions with each other. The memories we have made are priceless. We can chat while we hike or just be silent, but those moments are perfection. One of my favorite memories was when he was a year old. Eli wasn’t even walking at that age, he had decided he wasn’t going to walk until he could run. He didn’t want to stay in the backpack, so I put him down and he crawled around in the dirt. A younger couple was coming down the mountain and Eli had crawled into a bush. He popped out right in front of them and growled like a bear. The look on their faces… it still makes me laugh.
Everything Is Awesome– My son had to examine everything. I think we stopped every ten feet to look at something: a bug, a leaf, a rock. I got to see things through his eyes: a naive wonder at what is out in the world. The joy on his face as he explored made my heart happy. Things that I take for granted and don’t even notice, were things he thought were the best things in the world. I can’t remember the last time I examined a rock or watched ants or sniffed dirt.
Take Your Time – Because it has been just him and I, we can go as fast or as slow as we want to. I know when I get to our camping spot, I won’t have to worry about making dinner or getting to bed on time. We stop as often as we need to, and go with the flow. I think if we had rushed, both of us would have missed some great moments and memories. Because we took our time this year, Eli and I made it to the lake right at sunset and we got to see the most epic sunset ever.
Children Can Climb Mountains– There is that moment when you reach the top of a peak or ridge, that makes you feel invincible. For children, it is the same way. As short as their legs are, they can go just as far as adults and just as high. Watching him this year at the top of a summit, giggling with arms spread way and yelling “Woohoo!” will always be something I treasure. When kids are that small, they don’t have the fear of trying to things or of failing that we have learned, unfortunately, as adults. Goals are more attainable for them because they haven’t learned those negative mindsets.
Love The Outdoors– Children are never too young to learn about the beauty of nature. It’s fun to stop and check out animal poop or peer down at animals tracks. We saw bear, deer, bird and fox tracks, which was really cool. Even when kids are that young, they can appreciate the beauty and awe of mountain vistas. Now that he is talking more, he kept exclaiming “How Beautiful”, after every bend of the trail. Eli enjoyed every rock and every stick and every animal that we saw. He especially enjoyed the very frequent stops, so he could look around and absorb it. My little guy loves to be outside more than my other two kids.
Respect Nature– Backpacking with him has been a great way to teach him the Leave No Trace Principles. Eli loves to hike with a granola bar in one hand, the whole way. He was very careful about sticking the wrappers in his pocket. This last trip was also a great opportunity to remind him to not pick the flowers or yell at the chipmunks or squirrels. He also learned trail etiquette when another family hiked past us and to not wander off of the trail. In the muddy spots, he was particular about staying on rocks instead of making a mess in the mud or going around it. This was a great opportunity to teach him this before he learned bad habits, and a great reminder for me too.
I know that not all of my readers have kids or spend time outside. But, these are things adults can learn and experience too. It doesn’t take backpacking up a mountain to experience these things, maybe just a different perspective. A great way to do this, is to check out the guided activities in the book Put On Your Owl Eyes, especially if you aren’t fortunate to have the mountains and forests in your backyard. What are some other reasons that parents should backpack with kids? And if you can’t backpack, what other activities can you do to have similar experiences? o on adventures with your children, or without, and be outside with no limits. Love, Pauline
We only took one long hike with my kids when they were young. We hiked In to Loon Lake and spent one night. It was a great experience. Wish we could have done more. You’re kids are very lucky to be having this experience. Hike on!
I totally agree with what you said about being outside and not having the distractions we normally have. I need to get better at that. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂
I love this!!! My husband and I were just talking about hiking with our kids last night. Your pictures are great! And looks like your’e making lots of family memories!
Your story brings back many memories for me. We started hiking with our girls when they were only 3 months old and as they grew the experiences and the time spent hiking became part of our family history. My kids are grown and living on there own now but we still tell stories about the adventures that we took together as a family. As me and my husband hike today we love to see families hiking and to see the wonder on the kids faces. Hike on and hope to meet you one day i the woods!
My favorite memories of my dad are being outdoors with him. I know many people who share the sentiment.
These pictures are stunning! I loved what you had to say about this topic and I’ll have to check out Put On Your Owl Eyes! I have a 4yo, 2yo, and 6mo so I’m sure this book would get a lot of use!
Love your recommendations and the sunset looks amazing!!!. Nothing better than to see things through kids eyes. We had never had the opportunity to hike with our girls. I hope we can plan something soon.
Our oldest is absolutely anti-anything that is outdoors. Im glad we had some time to do this with her and hope she appreciates it when shes older.
We have a boxer that we take on our treks too! He is still a pup, and still trying to figure out the whole “don’t pull the human over” thing. HAHA but with our 4 children and the dog, it makes for a much longer hike than intended.. but I agree, it really is a wonderful perspective, seeing it all from the eye’s of children!
Boxers make the best kid “siblings”. Hes getting old.
This is very informative! I never thought about taking my kids on a hike to teach them about all of the things you mentioned. It’s a great and different way to see things. I have three and the older 2 are good with hiking (when they’re not being lazy pre teens lol) but I also have a toddler who is very rambunctious and I think this will help her. Thanks for that!
It’s the best thing ever. I think if more people got outside, especially with their kids, everyone would have less problems. 🙂
Oh man! I don’t get out much. I’m afraid of ticks!! But this is helpful. Maybe we’ll go out more someday!
Ticks suck, literally. But there are things to do so you don’t get them. Here’s a previous post I wrote. https://mamabearoutdoors.com/2019/05/14/tick-safety/
Great post! I couldn’t agree more. It was sad to me how many children my husband taught in middle school that never had outdoor experiences like these.
I agree! I think it is so good for our kids to experience the outdoors and enjoy nature! I would have been cautious too with a 3 month old, but mostly because you are sleep deprived and functionality is low!
This is a great article! We, too, love anything about being outside!
I have always wanted to go on backpacking trips with the kids but always thought they were to young. Thanks for posting this, I am going to get my kids out on some backpacking adventures now.
A Brilliant Love
Beautiful post. Well written, nice pics.
I think it’s great that you take your kids out in nature. My parents did that with us, and I have terrific memories!
I’m the one with 7 kids. But after having read this, I think I might try a trip this summer with two of my kids will appreciate it the most. They will make the others jealous with their enthusiasm. I just don’t think I could manage this with 7 at once!
We live in the midwest where there are badlands and we love hiking and walking through with the wildlife!
We have never been hiking, but have spent time camping which we really enjoy. This sounds like such a wonderful trip. We really love being outside.
We love hiking here in CA – just a few miles at a time with the kids. Would love a full on hike / tent camp adventure with them someday!
There is nothing like being outdoors with family. I agree that the time spent with them with no distractions is priceless. Beautiful pictures!
Love this! I haven’t gone backpacking with kids, but we love day hiking. One day I’d love to plan a longer trip.
I have never taken my kids backpacking but we have gone hiking and camping on separate occasions. I love to do so for all the reasons you listed above. Another reason is that there is so much to teach them while outdoors! Outdoors is a way better classroom than just sitting at a desk. The learning never ends outside. We haven’t been able to hike or camp this summer as a family. I’m super bummed about that. Loved your pictures!!!
Such a nice, positive article. I love the font choices on your blog too!