Whether you’re hiking on a trail in the national forest or simply strolling along the bike path, there’s one big rule for hiking with toddlers: never call it a hike.
Hike brings things like work and sweat to mind, even for young children who may not yet be able to speak. Call it a nature adventure with magical secrets and a big bowl of ice cream at the end.
Now that you have that down, the rest is gravy. This guide to hiking with toddlers in Vail makes sure of it. You’ll get a rundown on how to prep, what to bring, where to go, and other activities you can use as incentives (aka bribes) to get kids to go on the hike.
How To Be Prepared for Hiking with Toddlers
The first thing you want to do before heading out on your hike with the kids is to get in the right mindset. Repeat this mantra to yourself before, during and after the hike as needed:
“We love each other. We are family. We may act up when we need our nap, but we love each other. We are family.”
The next step is to keep the following tips in mind:
- Schedule the hike around nap time, not during it. Bad things can happen when you try to hike during nap time.
- Make sure you know all the details of your hike from the ground it covers to the time it’s expected to take. That way you won’t be fumbling with maps or directions when you need to keep an eye on the kids. Check in with the welcome center if you need additional details.
- Plan things to keep kids amused. Simply breathing in the fresh air may be enough to captivate adults, but it may not be enough to amuse young children. Engage in activities throughout the hike, like a scavenger hunt where the kids must find certain items along the way.
- Bribe. Unabashedly bribe. Use treats or other incentives to keep the kids moving forward. Perhaps you can reward them every quarter mile with a quarter, a dollar, or an apple slice.
What To Bring for Hiking with Toddlers
Since hiking with toddlers and even older kids is best done as short outings covering short distances, there’s no need to bring along your tent, sleeping bags or 12 days’ worth of canned ham.
You do, however, want to make sure you set out with the two most important things:
Bringing along patience ensures you’ll be able to amble, take your time, and move forward at a pace suitable for young kids with little legs. Yes, it may be a rather slow pace. And no, there won’t be any rock scaling this time around.
Bringing along snacks decreases the risk of someone getting cranky and having a full-blown tantrum in the middle of a Vail hiking trail. And that someone may not even be your toddler. So be sure to pack up those apple slices and peanut butter.
Now that you have the two most important items covered, it’s time to create a checklist for the rest of the things you need to bring.
All adults and kiddos should each have their own day packs. Giving small kids their own day packs give them a sense of responsibility and increases the chances they’ll use the stuff that’s in them. It also means you don’t have to carry their things.
Look for day packs with easily adjustable straps and plenty of pockets where their little hands can easily reach any little doodads they may need to stow.
Even if you’re not heading out on longer treks over tough terrain, water is an absolute must. Young children need to drink 1 to 2 cups of water per hour. Bring more than you think you need in case some gets spilled.
At the very least, bring those compact plastic ponchos. Put one in each day pack for good measure. Just like hunger, being cold and wet tends to induce tantrums in people of all ages.
Hiking Shoes and Comfy Socks
Forget the flip flops or hiking sandals. Go for sneakers on easy terrain, hiking boots on more challenging trails. Wool or synthetic hiking socks also go with the territory. This counts for both the kids and the adults.
The Right Clothes (and Hat)
Cold weather hikes demand a base layer, an insulating layer, and an outer layer. Don’t forget the gloves, scarf, and hat. On warm days, lightweight hiking pants and shirts can work. Bring a lightweight jacket, as warm days in Vail can still be rather chilly in the shade. A sun hat with a wide brim can protect the face from both UV rays and rain.
First Aid Kit
The toddler years are typically filled with bumps and scrapes, especially when you’re on outdoor adventures in the natural world. Make sure your first aid kit is filled with bandages, gauze, antiseptic, medical tape, and other items you may need for any ouchies along the way.
A multi-function tool can always come in handy for adults, as can bags for packing out any trash. Don’t forget the sun and insect repellents, either. Little kids may appreciate having a little map of the hiking trail, and you can also give them a whistle to use in case they stray off the trail.
Child Backpack Carrier
Although a small child can run in circles around the living room furniture for hours on end without stopping, chances are high they’ll get worn out on a trail. Bring some type of baby carrier or hiking carrier just in case. A hiking stroller is another option on trails with level gravel or paved terrain.
Toddler-Friendly Hikes in Vail
We always say Vail has something special for everyone, and that includes families with toddlers looking for kid-friendly hikes. Here are a few of our favorite hikes that fit the bill.
1. Ford Park to Vail Nature Center
This incredibly easy hike is more like a fun-filled walk with plenty to interest the kiddos along the way. Start at Ford Park, head through the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, then cross the bridge to take the trail to the Vail Nature Center. Check out the exhibits inside the center. Celebrate a hike well done.
Biggest perks for kids:
- No elevation gains
- 7 acres of trails at the nature center
- A hidden teepee at the end of the trail past the center
2. Eagle’s Loop on Vail Mountain
Eagle’s Loop is a 1-mile trail atop Vail Mountain. Adults will swoon at the views. Kids will love getting to and from the trail, as you get to ride on a gondola up and then back down the mountain.
Take the Eagle Bahn Gondola up to the trail. Hike the 1-mile trail to Mid-Vail, checking out the educational signs along the way. Take Gondola One back down to the village.
Biggest perks for kids:
- Elevation gain that you don’t have to walk
- Double gondola ride
- Nature Discovery Center at the top of the mountain
3. Gore Creek Trail
From local wildlife to visiting families, everyone in Vail loves Gore Creek. The trail that follows the creek serves up an easy hike, no matter which section you take. The section that stretches through Vail Village and Lionshead is smooth and wide enough for strollers.
Biggest perks for kids:
- Paved path surrounded by unpaved trails to explore
- Opportunity to use their whistle to let you know where they’re heading
- Can pick a trail section that goes through Vail’s historic covered bridge
4. Gore Valley Trail
Gore Valley Trail is the section of paved trail that extends along Gore Creek from East Vail to the golf course. Here you’ll find an easy walk that takes you through aspen groves and glorious meadows, with plenty of picnic tables for a break or outdoor lunch along the way.
Biggest perks for kids:
- Loads of nature to explore, with the creek, waterfalls (depending on the time of year), and forest areas
- Loads of opportunities for sitting and snacking
- Chance to show off their knowledge of aspen trees
Other Toddler-Friendly Activities in Vail
With miles and miles of trails, you and your toddlers could go hiking in Vail for days, or even weeks, on end. Although that might not be the greatest idea, since young kids tend to have the attention span of fleas.
Mixing up your activities can result in a well-rounded trip and far fewer of those tantrums. Other toddler-friendly activities in Vail include:
Playgrounds and parks: Vail has won awards for its lineup of original playgrounds and parks. Simply pay a visit to Pirate Ship Park and you’ll see what we mean. You’ll find a fun handful of parks and playgrounds to explore and enjoy.
Gore Creek: Hanging out by Gore Creek gives parents a chance to soak in the serenity while giving kids a chance to splish, splash, and play. Just make sure the winter runoff has subsided and the water is at a slow and peaceful pace.
Children’s fountain: Vail Village is home to a shallow pool peppered with spraying fountains. You’ll find it next to Fuzziwig’s Candy Shop (perhaps not coincidentally).
Treat shops: In addition to the candy shop in Vail Village, the kids are apt to enjoy Rocket Fizz in Lionshead Village for sweet treats and drinks. If ice cream is on the agenda, you’ll also find ice cream shops in Vail Village and Lionshead.
Family biking: Take a family bike ride in and around town. Renting a bike in Vail is a breeze, and you’ll find options that even include tag-alongs and trailers for those with little legs too short to pedal.
Amusement Park: Shhh. Don’t mention Vail Mountain’s Epic Discovery to the kids unless you intend to take them there. If they’re big enough, they can enjoy activities that range from a mountain coaster to mini kids’ tubing.
Now that you know what to expect, what to bring and where to go on your family-friendly hike in Vail, all that’s left to do is book your vacation and pack your hiking shoes (and socks). Family-friendly lodging can be found throughout the entire town. Look forward to seeing you soon!