5 Baby-Friendly Backpacking Locations in the US
Summer is almost here! If you’ve been toying with the idea of taking your family backpacking, let this be the summer. We’ve got five family-friendly hikes perfect for babies, toddlers and little kids.
The great writer and naturalist John Muir observed, “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Children embody the truth of this statement. As they plod along a trail—stopping frequently to inspect a puddle or a blade of grass—they are filled with wonder. Children do not set out on a hike with any goal in mind, and yet they are wowed at every turn of the trail, whether it’s by the size of a tree, the flicker of sunlight through the leaves, or a glistening spider web suspended mid-air. It’s for them that we pick up the packs and hike out from the trailhead—away from the car, the cell phone reception, and the climate controlled environments. Their wonder at the natural world helps us to pause and appreciate the moment…and the pine cone.
All the hikes we highlight below are excellent first backpacking options for families with babies and toddlers—no dry camping, five miles or less to camp, minimal elevation gain and easy to moderate trail conditions. If you’re brand new to backpacking, check out these Backpacking Tips for Beginners from REI. The Outbound Collective has great info for taking your kids on their first backpacking trip too.
Three quick tips before we get started:
- Check current trail and weather conditions before you pack the car and hit the trail
- Pack lots of snacks
- Enjoy the journey (you’ll get there eventually!)
From the Pacific Northwest to the Northeast, here are five backpacking hikes for babies, toddlers, littles and the adults who love them.
Hoh River Trail, Olympic National Park, Washington
The Hoh River Trail takes hikers into the lush temperate rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula. From the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center, the trail is well maintained and relatively flat—making it a great option for hikers backpacking with babies and toddlers. Trek five miles to the appropriately named Five Mile Island. Because the trail follows the Hoh River, you won’t have to carry a lot of water. After spending the night at Five Mile Island, head back the way you came.
Total distance: 10 miles
Season: Late June through September
Permit required? Wilderness camping permit, $8 per person per night plus a flat $6 permit fee. Vehicle entrance fee, $30.
Contact: Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, 360-374-6925
Vallecito Creek Trail, San Juan National Forest, Colorado
From the trailhead parking lot at Vallecito campground, head north on the Vallecito Creek Trail. The trail starts out level and passes a number of rock formations that the kids will enjoy climbing on. The trail passes the campground and crosses Fall Creek before meeting up with Vallecito Creek. Stop and take a picture in front of the boundary sign for the Weminuche Wilderness. It’s Colorado’s largest wilderness area that covers nearly a half a million acres! For the next twenty miles, the trail follows Vallecito Creek north to Hunchback Pass. For families hiking and backpacking with babies and toddlers, there are a number of back-country campsites three to six miles from the trailhead. Spend the night listening to Vallecito Creek—nature’s sound machine. The next morning, return the way you came back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 6–10 miles
Season: June through August
Permit required? Weminuche Wilderness required registration, free.
Contact: San Juan National Forest, 970-247-4874
Bjorkland Trail, Lake Maria State Park, Minnesota
Just an hour drive northwest from Minneapolis, Lake Maria State Park offers visitors a big woods, wilderness-like experience. This state park comes highly recommend by Maura and Bobby Marko—founders and bloggers at We Found Adventure and the Facebook Group Backpacking with Babies and Kids.
“Our family’s favorite backpacking destination is Lake Maria State Park in Monticello, Minnesota. This park offers 17 campsites scattered across a series of small lakes. Campsites are one to two miles from the parking area making it easy for the littlest adventurer to hike on their own. If you’re not ready for backpacking in a tent just yet, there are also three hike-in cabins available (reservations required). We have often found that the best places to adventure with our family are found in our own backyard. Find yourself an easy, nearby park or trail for those first backpacking trips as a family.”
There are lots of campsites and trails to choose from. For a low-key adventure, hike the mostly flat Bjorkland Trail west to Bjorkland Lake where there are numerous campsites. To guarantee a lakeside site, make a reservation online.
Total distance: 2 miles
Permit required? Backpack sites, $15–$23. Camper cabin, $55. Vehicle permit, $7–$35.
Contact: Park office, 763-878-2325 or email@example.com. Office is open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.–3p.m.
Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
This accessible section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) covers one of the most scenic stretches of the AT in Shenandoah National Park. On this short out-and-back (or one-way with a shuttle car) you’ll trace the ridge of the Blue Ridge mountains and be treated to panoramic views. From the Pinnacles Picnic Area, head north on the AT. Enjoy the vista from Jewell Hollow Overlook. Spend the night at Byrds Nest shelter, 2.2 miles from where you started. Depending on the season, you might get to camp with some hardy thru hikers.
The next morning, continue backpacking north to Thornton Gap if you have a shuttle car, or return the way you came back to Pinnacles Picnic Area. This is a great entry-level overnight on the AT for families with babies and little kids. The trail is never far from Skyline Drive but still feels remote. The low mileage, stunning views, and shelter experience will make for a memorable hike.
Total distance: Out-and-back, 4.2 miles. one-way, 5.1 miles.
Season: Year-round. The park encourages hikers to visit in mid-July through mid-May in order to avoid June, the busiest thru-hiker season.
Permit required? Backcountry permit, free. Vehicle entrance fee, $25.
Contact: Backcountry office, 540-999-3500×3720
Gilson Pond and Birchtoft Trail, Monadnock State Park, New Hampshire
The thousand-plus acre Monadnock State Park surrounds 3,165-foot Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. We like the Gilson Pond hike for families because it offers remote walk-in camping options that aren’t too far from the parking lot. There are five site options that allow you to choose your own adventure. Walk-time to site one is just two minutes, or twenty minutes to site five (add time for little legs). At these distances, it’s easy to make a second trip and haul in luxury items like a cooler or camp chair. If you can swing it, we recommend site five for the views it offers of a forested ravine. From Gilson Pond, you can hop on the Birchtoft Trail and climb west up towards Mount Monadnock. A summit is possible for experienced hikers willing to carry the little ones.
Total distance: 0.2–2 miles
Season: May through October
Permit required? Camping fee, $25 per night (reservations required). Park entrance fee, $5 per adult, $2 per youth ages 6–11.
Contact: Park Headquarters, 603-532-8862
Backpacking gear can be pricey. Did you know you can rent camping gear like tents, sleeping bags and backpacks from REI? Many BabyQuip Quality Providers rent child carriers as well. Before you buy, research rental options for your backpacking destination.
Kathy is a freelance writer, an Independent Quality Provider with BabyQuip and the mother of a very active one-year-old boy. When she’s not changing diapers, developing engaging content for clients, or helping families travel with little ones, she enjoys reading, gardening, yoga, and naps.